Patty and I met seven years ago in culinary school. Our wacky natures naturally gravitated to one another and she’s the only person I know who has the same laugh as me, which thrills us both to no end. She used to work in the now defunct Stars in Manila, and when she moved to LA, she worked as a pastry chef at some restaurants. With us, it’s always about food, whether we’re talking about it or eating it.
So it seems only natural that while I’m in LA visiting Pat, she decides to throw a little dinner for me so that I can meet some of her friends. She refers to the dinner as a ”˜cook-in’, as opposed to a ”˜cook-out’ because she doesn’t have a deck, which works out fine. Pat decides on a tapas (small plates) party. We spend the morning at the Farmers Market and then do a quick run to the gourmet market and Sur La Table.
Pat initially wants me to make bread, since she’s never quite forgotten that cheese-swirled loaf that I made for her when we were in culinary school. But the guests are to arrive in seven hours and the cool LA weather has me nervous as to how fast my dough will rise. So Pat sets me to work on the menu she’s devised.
I proceed to make a goat cheese bread pudding, a savory dish. The goat cheese is enticing: pearl white with a smooth texture. It reminds me of carabao’s milk. I try not to let Pat see that I’m nibbling little pieces of the cheese while I’m slicing the bread.
These are whole eggshells that I’ve painstakingly lopped the tops off of. They’ll be used as containers for the savory custard with thyme that Pat’s whipping up. Of course I’m enraptured to be so close to all this egg glory, and I pause a few times to capture the moment.
This is how the custard in shell looks like after it’s been baked.
After cutting some strawberries, I plate them with a few sprigs of mint and then drizzle the lot with one of the several balsamic vinegars that Pat has in her collection. It sounds a little weird ”“ strawberries in balsamic vinegar ”“ but the acidity brings out the sweetness of the berries very well.
After an entire afternoon of work, Pat and I bring out the spread:
Pat spied these little tapas plates at Sur La Table. They’re meant to balance atop a wine glass so that one hand is free for nibbling. Smart, eh?
As I’ve said many times in this website, I’m really not a cook but a baker. However, being with Pat brings out my inner cook that lurks in the background (like the majority of you people who read this blog. You know who you are. Heheh). I enjoy the cooking very much and as you can see, there’s a wealth of ideas to pick up for my future parties.
After a few days with Pat, I join my sister Charley who has an interview at Santa Monica, so off we go. She’s adamant about eating at this place called “The Counter.” “Oprah’s pronounced it the best burger in America!” She gushes. If you haven’t already guessed, my sister is the biggest Oprah fan.
The Counter turns out to be this nondescript (the word ”˜unremarkable’ comes to mind) place. It could be a coffeeshop in Nashville for all I know ”“ light blue is the color theme here interrupted by frames of pop art. Again, it doesn’t look like a burger joint. But the line that stretches out the door says that this place is all about THE burger.
The burgers at The Counter are customized, so the customer gets to choose his own adventure, so to speak. Apparently, this place makes about 312,120++ different burger combinations, and how anyone had the time and patience to count that is beyond me. It’s a 5-step process that includes choosing a burger (beef, turkey, or veggie); choosing a cheese; choosing up to 4 toppings; choosing premium toppings (like avocado, a fried egg, honey cured bacon, etc.); choosing a sauce; choosing a roll. Knock yourself out by viewing their menu.
I get too overwhelmed with the choices so I wimp out and go for the Old School Burger, which is the usual patty with the roll call of vegetables and garnishes. One bite, and I immediately regret my decision. It’s bland as can be, nothing like the divine explosions of flavor that my sister’s burger merits. She’s taken the time to imitate the burger that appears on the cover of The Counter’s website: a superstar cast of cranberries, sautéed onion strings, onion rings, and a honey wheat bun among others.
Our friend Nico, also does a spectacular job of making his own very “LA burger” as evidenced by the avocado.
Take it from me, people, never admit defeat when it comes to choosing your food. Persist and resist culinary conformity! Adventurousness pays … deliciously!
The Counter Gourmet Burgers
2901 Ocean Park Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90405