Category: Southwest/Beach Cities
Come, Prince, and see how much theme has been squeezed into this small space along the vigorous 2nd Street row. Behold your personal space for contemplation, pointed with arches and mirrors, lit with elegant metal lamps, walled with stone.
Well, it's not too distant from that. Young women pass between tables, a gentle tintinnabulation sounding from their belly dancing belts. Soulful music shivers from overhead. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but it feels like a coastal somewhere.
You'll get a basket of puffy miniature pitas. For your best experience ask for the Spicy Humus, with tahini and shocks of paprika, and apply it to everything else you eat.
Most of the dishes will be familiar--shawarma, kabobs, saffron-topped basmati rice--but lunch specials are a helpful introduction. The Chicken Shawarma Pita is a tightly wrapped revelation of firmly grilled, juice-filled meat, with tomatoes and pickles for polite company rather than being stacked to the ceiling. It's lightly padded with a garlic sauce, and has a singular intensity that makes it difficult not to wolf down.
It doesn't look like much swathed in yellow paper, so here. My camera is an insolent bastard that chooses to focus on french fries rather than the item I point it at, so I can only hope to convey the powerful flavor present in this cylinder of chicken.
Speaking of fries, the garlic fries are crisp and good, but lessen the impact of the meal, so go with the Tabbouli, fresh, dark and tangy as hell. Even better, busting out one of the mini pitas, filling it with tabbouli, and dragging it through the spicy humus == good times.
Sit out on the sidewalk patio and enjoy with a perfectly respectable Moroccan mint green tea... but next time I look forward to trying their coffee. It is a Lebanese place, after all.
The theme continues. Check out this cute bill-delivery device. Like a repurposed red felt fez.
Thanks to Kalani for introducing me to one of the places in his 'hood.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Southwest/Beach Cities, Lebanese )
"Custom Built Burgers." It's kind of like what Fuddrucker's and Flakey Jake's tried to do a couple of decades ago, but The Counter is not as shame-worthy. You agonize over a checklist of preferences, fill in the squares, and they whisk it away. Hey, I feel like a 2/3 pound burger with gruyère, pepperoncinis and sun-dried tomatoes on an English muffin; can I have that? Yes, Victoria, you can.
The Santa Monica location is closest to us, and you can practically follow your nose to it; the scent of meat-on-metal is intoxicating. Right away I get the beef burger (100% vegetarian-raised Angus, they tell me) on a honey wheat bun, with a roasted garlic aioli sauce. It blushes a perfect pink under a melted sheet of sharp provolone and a moist batch of honey-cured bacon. Under that is Bermuda red onion. At the bottom of this stack the poor lettuce greens are crushed like the downtrodden proletariat.
Bianca chooses the non-carnivorous route: a soft loaf of a veggie patty, with horseradish cheddar, roasted chilies, grilled onions and sautéed mushrooms that somehow all stay together in a spicy, self-contained explosion.
The beef, turkey, chicken or veggie burgers are each available as 1/3, 2/3 or a whole damn sixteen ounces avoirdupois, but honestly, you don't need a pound of burger. With the bun and the toppings it's an absurd derby hat of a meal that will challenge your mandibular elasticity as it is.
There are other goodies to crowd your tiny table. We get the "Fifty-Fifty": fries and sweet fries, steaming thin and crisp, with a horseradish mayo dipping sauce that careens around the roof of the mouth. There's chili on the menu, and when I see "chili" on a menu I try it; the turkey chili comes in a skullcap-sized bowl, the very picture of a healthy chopped-meat-and-bean chili, topped with cranberries (I know, but it works) and scallions. It thins and separates after a while, and is not ideal for cascading down the sides of an already-perilous burger.
To drink! Voss water, Mr. Pibb, beer and wine, et al, but hey. Shakes. Banana, peanut butter, coffee, chocolate, et al, and we learned with great merriment that you can combine these things. Naturally I get a coffee peanut butter shake, which is bliss. Bianca one-ups me with a chocolate/coffee/caramel.
The Counter is also in Corona, Irvine, Palo Alto, San Jose, Walnut Creek, and even a few other states. So it's a chain, but its heart is in the right place.
My nighttime photos didn't turn out, so I'll just have to go again...
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Healthy/Organic, American, Santa Monica/Culver City, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Southwest/Beach Cities )
I'm sure pretty much the entire swath of boulevards running down the southern west coast is now a series of trendmaking corporate party dives, made for denim skirts, drinks with poppy names, and saying "whooo!" very loudly.
Cafe Boogaloo is a little different, having been there for over a dozen years and bringing far better food and music. It has the drinks with the poppy names (the Cajun Martini has jabañero infused vodka, but I'd go with the traditional Hurricane), but brings a gourmet touch to its unpretentious atmosphere*.
If you're tucked into one of the small tables near the front, you'll have to yell at your dining partner over the blues, New Orleans soul, or zydeco played from the stage, but that's the charm of it. The sounds are great, and the food is incredible. (On our first visit, we nodded heads to T-Lou and his Zydeco Band, playing from their new-at-the-time album Super Hot. Bona fide NOLA.)
Louisiana cuisine is already ridiculous in how savory it is, and the Boogaloo kitchen takes it a step farther**. How about red beans and rice with wood-grilled Andouille sausage? Or cornmeal-crusted catfish with a chipotle remoulade? Those are sides. Dinner choices will have you chewing your fingernails: Catfish, BBQ chicken, or roast beef "debris" po boys. House-smoked duck, mushroom and Andouille sausage gumbo. Jambalaya, o'course. With roasted garlic mashed potatoes or grilled Texas cornbread.
By this point we're stupid, and while completely unable to devour more food, we toy with the idea of the key lime pie with Macadamia nut and coconut crust, or the flourless chocolate cake with berry coulis.
They have a Sunday brunch if you want to hurt yourself some more.
* There is a sign that says "Absolutely No Mustang Sally". Which is fine with me. Even B.B. King can't make me want to listen to it.
** I won't say "kick it up a notch." I won't.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Soul/Southern, Cajun/Creole, Southwest/Beach Cities )