Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Counter, Santana Row

The Counter
Do-it-yourself burgers in an urban diner setting.

We first heard about The Counter when they opened a store in Palo Alto on California (pictured)--alas, long after my office had moved from that area. Our friends on Santana Row whose condo overlooks the site of the new location had been watching it for months, so it was with great excitement that they announced to us that it would be opening on July 2. Better still, The Counter did a training day to which they invited Santana Row residents, and our friends invited us, so we got to go on June 30.

They didn't have all the decor up yet, but The Counter in Palo Alto has a modern-urban feel which this location says they're going to keep. The restaurant itself is all gleaming silver and white, brightly lit, with huge open windows and a counter that resembles an old soda fountain counter. A faux garage door hangs as if poised to close over the large front window. The whole place exudes a diner-like feel, updated to this decade or perhaps the last.

It might have been a training day, but the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable. The only strange thing was the instructions for ordering, making sure that we ordered a variety of dishes to give the kitchen practice (e.g., no more than 2/3 lb. of the same kind of meat per table). We had no problem as we liked a variety of the dishes anyway.

The appetizers, though all fried and unhealthy, must be tried. The sweet potato fries are delicious, as are the fried dill pickle chips, and they give you several sauces for dipping. Our waiter told us about an appetizer plate called "The Sampler," which wasn't on the menu, that featured those two plus their regular fries and their onion strings, so we ordered that, and all four were nicely warm and crisp.

The do-it-yourself burgers are the featured menu item, though they have pre-assembled burgers if you're not in an adventurous mood. You can order from 1/3 to 1 lb. of ground beef, ground turkey, veggie burger, or chicken breast; one cheese topping, four burger toppings (ranging from the standard tomato to shredded carrots, cranberries, or pineapple), and one sauce (you can get a roasted garlic aioli, for instance, or a dijon vinaigrette dressing, or apricot sauce, or sweet barbecue, or nine or ten others). Then you can pick your bun (regular, honey wheat, or english muffin) or choose to have it in a lettuce bowl.

The veggie burgers are really good. They're actual veggie burgers, not meatless patties trying to taste like beef. The chicken is good too, and I'm told the beef burgers are good. We were less impressed with the turkey burger than we've been in other places, though. Assembling your own toppings is definitely the way to go, though it can be daunting. We all erred on the side of too little spice to our toppings, and the veggie burger in particular needs something like the dijon or the barbecue. But the burgers are good, the toppings are fresh and plentiful, and the sauces are served on the side so you can dip or spread, as you like. Everything's tasty--the garlic aioli was less garlicky than I was expecting, but still good. And we got out of there for about $15 a person, which around here is not bad for lunch.

I have yet to try a dessert or milkshake there, but I'm told they too are worth trying. Perhaps that'll be the subject of a future post. In any case, if you're in Santana Row and looking for a good, cheap option, The Counter or the nearby Wahoo's Fish Tacos will serve admirably.

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