Sunday, July 27, 2014

Berger Review/Chain Reaction: The Counter, Irvine, CA

California - the land of sun, stars and burgers. Yup, burgers. Think of the burger places that have spawned from Cali already - In-n-Out, Umami Burger, and countless others just on the verge of national domination. The Counter may be the next one.

To date, the Counter has almost 40 locations, including over 20 in California and a brand new one in the middle of Times Square. National domination may already be occurring.

I visited the Irvine location which can be found in a small outdoor mall with indoor and outdoor seating. The bar had a decent crowd even at 12 PM on a Tuesday.  The space was modern, airy and packed with people on their lunch break. (Wow, people take lunch breaks in California!)

I snagged an outdoor table and was handed a small clipboard. This is how you order at the Counter, check your boxes and voila!  

Customize your burger the way you may have once ordered sushi.  They offer combinations but I happily composed my own masterpiece:

Grass Fed Beef, cheddar, jicama, jalapenos and a soy sesame dressing - bowl style, meaning no bun and over lettuce. Or simply, a cheeseburger salad.  I'm not sure there could be anything more perfect than that.

Unless of course you wanted to order fries or tots or both, which as a solo diner, I could not consume but my neighbors all seemed to enjoy theirs.

Or maybe you want to mix it up with a turkey, veggie or chicken burger. Add in some bacon or sprouts or quinoa or peanuts. There are dozens of toppings to choose from and most are no additional charge or just $1 extra.

My masterpiece was $11. And it was heaven. Time to get building yours.

Until our next Berger,

Find a location near you!

Berger Review (Fancy): The Mark by Jean Georges, New York

What do Iggy Azalea and The Mark by Jean Georges have in common? Fancy.

As a forever fan of the fancy lunch, the Mark may be one of the best. Tucked in the back of the Mark Hotel with a glorious atrium ceiling lies this spot which is perfect for any celebratory occasion or if you just want to splurge. We did both. 

My starter was a tuna tartar delicately placed on homemade potato chips topped with chive oil. Something about sushi and potato chips is just a winning combination. You can definitely indulge on raw bar or caviar. Even a simple salad here is exquisite. Try the kale. 

The burger sang to me. The Mark Cheeseburger is made complete with Brie and black truffle dressing. Is it decadent? Yes. Is it rich? Yes. Should you order it? Yes. 

Frankly, I'm not sure why you should order anything else. JB and I each had one. 

Yes, we tried some sides. Fries were crispy and well-salted. Asparagus had the right amount of snap. Mashed potatoes were creamy and buttery. 

Other food was had - salmon, pasta, frittata and, obviously, key lime pie. But the burger was the star. 

Keep shining. 

Until our next Berger, 

The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges
Mark Hotel
25 E. 77th Street
New York, NY

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Quicksie/A Chain Reaction: Luna Grill, Irvine, CA

I love a good, quick spot for lunch. Fine, I love good long spot for lunch, too. However, the quick ones are not so easy to find. Except in the great state of California.

My latest find is Luna Grill. This chainlet has about a dozen locations in SoCal plus a few in Dallas for good measure. The name of the game is Mediterrean - think kebabs, gyro platters and falafel - or as the place is also called "The Great Kebabery".

Add to the list of fast casual spots with outdoor seating. Like Panera but better. Way better.

In short, my falafel platter rocked. Pita was as fresh as could be. Kebabs looked amazing and frankly so did everything. They even have grass-fed burgers in case you know anyone who likes those...

Until our next Berger,

Luna Grill 
Various locations in SoCal & Dallas

A New BBQ Contender: Smokin' Wolf, East Hampton, NY

On the East End of Long Island our BBQ choice is always Town Line. We would never have strayed without our friends from Groupon. Tempted by a $60 offer for $30 at Smokin' Wolf in East Hampton, I bought the voucher and waited for an excuse to go.  

As we passed Town Line en route, JB almost turned into the parking lot. Just a few miles further was half-price BBQ. Granted on a Saturday in the summer, a few miles is more than just a few minutes. And Big Z was getting hungry. 

Luckily, similar to TownLine, Smokin Wolf is counter service. You can eat inside, but we chose the picnic tables along Montauk Highway instead. 

You would think that $60 would go a long way for lunch - not so in the Hamptons. 

JB and I chose a 5 meat platter for $32 to sample as much as possible. And sample we did. Ribs, brisket, sausage, chicken,  pulled pork and corn bread soon arrived on this sprawling platter: 

Sometimes ordering a platter like this is a mistake.  Each meat can easily lose it's uniqueness - but not here. The platter was big enough that the flavors were easy to isolate. It's tough to rank favorites  except when it comes to ribs. Ribs always win. After ribs, I'd rank the brisket, sausage and pulled pork the same. Poor chicken always gets last place in BBQ. But really everything was good. Not as good as Townline though.

I did prefer the Smokin' Wolf mac and cheese though. And the boys did love their burgers and fries. 

As a bonus, they have homemade pies and huge cookies, plus ice cream. 

Readers, we have a new BBQ contender in the ring. 

Until our next Berger, 

Smokin' Wolf
199 Pantigo Road
East Hampton, NY

P.S. You can find another Groupon conquest here.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Fine Gastropub Fare: The Cuddy, Sag Harbor, NY

The Hamptons needed a good gastropub and it got a great one when the Cuddy docked in Sag Harbor in the summer of 2013.  Part bar, part restaurant, the Cuddy is a place with excellent drinks, yummy food and a casual vibe.  The kind of place that welcomes you again, again and again.

I was welcomed by a stellar drink from their cocktail menu - the Lucia Margarita with Jalapeno tequila, vanilla essence, lime and grapefruit juice. Yes, it was strong but wasn't that the point? They also have 5 rotating beers on tap and 7 rotating bottles or cans (cans are making a comeback you know) including our new favorite the Montauk Brewing Company. 

Dinner could have gone the way of pub grub but the sheer atmosphere encouraged us to stray from the typical.  JB chose a kale, quinoa, sunflower seeds and pomegranate salad to start that I insisted he share.  My baby romaine caesar was well executed plus had the bonus of bacon.
A burrata and haricot verts salad are on the list for the next visit.

I adored my sea scallops entree with corn and bacon jam (noting a bacon theme?).  The dish was light, well-seasoned and perfectly composed.  JB, however, was disappointed in his lobster spaghetti, though the lobster was plentiful, it was still raw.  My guess is that that the chef feared he would overcook the lobster, but frankly, undercooking lobster is worse.

I will admit that the Strip Steak and fries looked pretty amazing.  And as luck would have it, this week Thrillist published a list of the top 5 burgers in the Hamptons and the Cuddy's version is holding court amongst all of the other serious players like 1770 House, Rowdy Hall and its across the street neighbor, LT Burger.  All the more reason for a return visit.

The Cuddy
29 Main Street
Sag Harbor, NY

P.S. Don't forget dessert! I could have had three orders of the mini chocolate pot - delish.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Going Downhill Fast: The Riverhead Project, Riverhead, NY

It pains me when restaurants that showed so much promise start to tank.  And tank. And tank.  The Riverhead Project brought hope toward the revitalization of the East End town that is its namesake.  TRP opened in 2010 as a hip spot with eclectic fine dining, innovative drinks and an overall sense of good style.

Food was good to start but the dining room was never too full.  There were always complaints about the service and for some reason, despite the modern aura of the place, the clientele was just old.  If a "hip restaurant" has no "hip" people, it starts to lack hipness.

But JB and I are believers so we went for a celebratory lunch.  At 1PM we were one of two tables in the place.  I inquired about their PowerLunch special which on their website offered 3 courses for $20 in under an hour.  "Oh, sorry," said the waiter, "We don't do that anymore." Huh?

We were disgruntled though trudged on anyway.  In lieu of bread at lunch, TRP offers a peppery popcorn.  This is the best thing on the menu.

In a word, our fish tacos were terrible.  The guacamole and pico de gallo were bland.  The fish itself was flavorless but the crema on top was overpowered with what tasted like fish sauce.  Yuck.  I tried to wash it down with prosecco.

There were fries on the plate though at such a high end place, they seemed like a cop out.  Fish tacos, in my mind, should have something else, like a great corn salsa or spicy cilantro salad.  The chef here is just phoning it in.

So we skipped dessert and crossed the street to the newish Blue Duck Bakery outpost.  One Key Lime Pie Square for me, one enormous apple strudel for JB and we hit our dessert quota.  We are fans  of Blue Duck Bakery, TRP - not so much.

Until our next Burger,

The Riverhead Project
300 East Main Street
Riverhead, NY

Blue Duck Bakery
309 East Main Street
Riverhead, NY