First Annual LA Street Food Fest

LA Street Food Fest

VIP Patio

Saturday, we hit up the LA Street Food Fest.  When we arrived, there was a line that wrapped around the block.  Fortunately, we had snagged pre-sold VIP tickets but even then, there was a 1/2hr+ wait to get in because they were checking names off a list.  I appreciate the effort to be green and not have people print out anything but it would be faster and still eco-friendly to have VIP attendees print out tickets, collect them at the door, and then recycle the paper.  Looking for each person’s name on a list really backs up a line…

The VIP lounge was okay.  The free drinks, swag bag, and use of indoor restrooms did make the $30 price worth it, in my opinion, but I was disappointed by the lack of exclusive VIP vendors.  Only 3 were present on the patio – Dim Sum Truck, The Fry Girl and T Salon.  A few more would have made the VIP lounge feel more…VIP-y.

Dim Sum Truck stand

Roast Duck taco sample from Dim Sum Truck

Dim Sum Truck was fantastic and I look forward to finding them on the street.  They were giving out samples of their roast duck taco and shu mai dumplings.  The roast duck was delicious; they left the crispy skin on the duck!  The shu mai was moist, plump and had good flavor though I found the soy sauce dressing they put on it a little on the salty side.

Making Doughnuts Fry Girl style

Cinnamon Sugar Mini Doughnuts from The Fry Girl

The Fry Girl (mini fresh doughnuts) was my husband’s favorite.  For a guy who’s not big on sweet things, the fact that he went back for seconds was a big deal.  They offered up two toppings – powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar.  We went with the cinnamon.  Lightly fried and sweet, these were wonderful.  I now want the mini doughnut making machine that they used in my house…

The teas were actually quite good.  They were giving out samples of a berry one and a chocolate-vanilla.  I enjoyed the berry one more.

We headed down to the main area to hit up some of the big-name trucks.  First on my list was the Grilled Cheese Truck except the wait was already at 2+ hours.  Um….eek?  It would have been a great perk for VIP attendees to get a few “fast passes”.  Wandering around, it seemed that most of the trucks had at least a 1 hr wait.  The more popular ones like Ludo Bites, Komodo, Fry Smith and Buttermilk were around 2hrs.  *sigh*  Looking around, Coolhaus (gourmet ice cream sandwiches) barely had a line (that changed quickly as the day got hotter) so we rushed them.

Brown Butter Bacon Chocolate Chip and Strawberry with Chocolate Brownie from Coolhaus

Coolhaus was doing 2-flavor sample bags for $3 or 4 flavors for $5.  We went for the 4 flavors – brown butter bacon ice cream with chocolate chip, ginger snap with wasabi ice cream, chocolate with mint ice cream and strawberry ice cream with chocolate brownie.  The brown butter bacon was good – rich ice cream with bacon bits.  The ginger snap with wasabi was disappointing as I didn’t taste wasabi at all.  The strawberry with chocolate brownies was a familiar and comforting combination.  I’m not a mint fan so I didn’t try that one at all.  Husband chowed down on that and had no complaints.  These were the perfect size for consuming neatly and quickly in 2-3 bites.  I hope they actually add mini-sandwiches to the Coolhaus menu.

Next, up was Mama Koh’s chicken (Korean-style chicken wings) which was an actual stand vs. a truck.  The LA Food Fest marked their debut to the public.  They had almost no wait whatsoever.  All the chicken had been prepared beforehand so all you had to do was pay and then grab a dish.  Quick and efficient but the chicken wings lost their crispiness.  They were covered in a deliciously sweet n’ spicy glaze though.  I enjoyed these and hope to see them popping up around LA soon.

A not so tasty thing from Sabor da Bahia

Another stand nearby, Sabor da Bahia was serving up Brazilian food.  They were out of their chicken appetizer samples so I tried a black eyed pea fritter with some sort of shrimp paste on it.   This was…not good eats to me.  The paste was good but the fritter part was salty and extremely fishy tasting.  I ended up tossing this.

Dogzilla

Dogzilla LA Food Fest menu

Dogzilla was present and I was quite enamored with their take on the hotdog.  Regular franks become Japanese-fused oddities with toppings like yakisoba noodles, furikake, nori strips and teriyaki sauce.  I didn’t get to try any due to the 2hr+ wait but I am now keeping my eye out for a chance to try these.  And hopefully get a shirt, one day.  A  hot-dog eating Godzilla?!?!?  Brilliant…

At this point, a couple of friends finally arrived (gotta love the LA traffic) and we ran around looking for something they wanted that didn’t have a crazy wait.  We tried to brave Louks‘ line but ended up eating at Fresser’s as that line went quicker.  The pastrami they served up was quite good – tender and very peppery.  My friend said their pot roast was delicious.  The caprese sandwich I had was mediocre.

After our friends had their bite, we decided the crowd and heat were just too much to deal with and left to go to Wurstküche which ended up having a crazy line out the door.  I was later informed that the Food Fest had started turning people away and that many more attendee-hopefuls didn’t even bother waiting in the long line.  Those who didn’t get in flooded the nearby restaurants.

I don’t know much about the organizers of the Street Food Fest but I wonder if they had ever put together an event of this size.  The venue they chose was fine and accommodating for the size of the event but there was a lot they could have done to improve the experience for their patrons.  The first thing they could have done was limit the number of people.  They announced they were expecting around 10,000 attendees.  Frankly, I think that was too much for food trucks to handle.  With only 2-3 people able to work in the space, cooking food “made-to-order” for those numbers without creating an enormous backup wasn’t feasible.  On top of limiting numbers, spreading the food festival over a weekend instead of just one day would help mitigate the crowd issue as well (though there are costs associated with this, I know).  Also, the organizers only released VIP tickets for presale and then later released a small number of regular tickets.  Releasing all the tickets for pre-sale and selling whatever remained at the door may be a better choice for next year; it certainly would have help reduce the wait at the door.  As for the lines, it was confusing trying to find the end and various trucks had lines that collided with each other.  After my years at Comic-con, I know there are many creative ways to try and keep things orderly, one of which are End of Line signs.  And worst case scenario, if it’s too long to manage, cut it off and ask people to come back in a half-hour.

While I didn’t really get to try most of the trucks I was hoping to, I didn’t think the Food Fest was an absolute failure.  It’s a great concept that was wasn’t executed as well as it could have been but it is the first year so kinks are to be expected.  If they do it again, will I return?  Absolutely.  Though I fully plan on getting VIP tickets again and being there well ahead of opening…  In the meantime, I’ll be hunting the various trucks I didn’t get to try on the streets.

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The Counter revisited

I heard The Counter had a Kung Pao shrimp burger as their Burger of the Month for September.  Being genetically pre-disposed to loving Asian foods and also being a seafood lover, this sounded nommy.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to try very hard to convince the husband to go with me for lunch one day.

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

The Counter - Kung Pao Shrimp Burger

I guess I’m a fan of The Counter’s non-beef burgers though I keep telling myself that I will try another beef burger again.  This shrimp burger was quite tasty – grilled jumbo shrimp topped w/ a pickled cucumber salad & fried rice noodles w/ lettuce, onions & a spicy Kung Pao sauce.

There were about 5 pieces of properly cooked large shrimp, enough to register with my taste buds in every bite.  The rice noodles gave a nice crunch to the burger and the sauce actually had a little kick to it.  It was a bit messy to eat and I had to, on occasion, use a fork.  But in my opinion, a good burger is going to leave you licking your fingers.

The Shake of the Month was a chocolate brownie coffee malt – Vanilla ice cream w/ real pieces of chocolate brownie, a hint of coffee, malt powder and topped with  whipped cream.  The husband ordered one so naturally, I drank about half of it.  OMG, this could give the apple pie shake a run for its money as my favorite.  The coffee was subtle and there was a nice balance of chocolate and vanilla.

The Counter is slowly growing on me and I’m figuring out combinations that I like.  If they made the Kung Pao Shrimp burger a regular item, I’d be happy.

This visit earned The Counter an upgrade to 3 1/2 NOMs.

Read about my earlier visits.

The Counter Marina Del Rey
4786 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey CA 90292
(310) 827-8600
http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter on Urbanspoon

The Counter – Marina Del Rey

Having heard of The Counter from Yelp, I finally had the chance to visit the Marina Del Rey location twice for lunch with the husband and some of his coworkers.

Based on the crowd inside, this was a pretty popular joint for the lunch crowd.  The first time, we managed to snag seats at the bar but on the 2nd visit, we had to wait about a 1/2 hr for tables to open up to accommodate our group of 8.

When you get seated, the waiter hands you a clipboard with a menu and a form.  The menu lists sides, drinks and some classic burgers and sandwiches.  The form is if you want to go the build-your-own-burger route.

First visit:

After looking over the menu, I noticed an apple pie milkshake.  SOLD!  This was an amazing milkshake.  Vanilla ice cream blended with real apples, cinnamon, graham crackers, it tasted like apple pie a la mode.  Rich, thick, creamy, this shake was everything a milkshake should be.  DELICIOUS!

Step 1 – Choose a burger.  You have a choice of various sizes of beef, turkey, veggie, and grilled chicken.  All beef burgers come cooked Medium unless specified otherwise.

Step 2 – Choose a cheese.  There’s a large selection of cheeses from Feta to jalapeño Jack to American.

Step 3 – Choose up to 4 toppings.  The list included the usual onions, lettuce and tomato but also had more exotic items like Roasted Corn & Black Bean Salsa and dried cranberries.  There is also a premium topping list which costs a little extra.  This includes guacamole, fried egg, bacon and chili among other things.

Step 4 – Choose a sauce.  From horseradish mayo to spicy sour cream to a sweet bbq sauce, there’s quite a large variety.

Step 5 – Choose a bun: English muffin, hamburger bun, honey wheat bun.  You an also opt to go lo-carb and have your burger served on a lettuce blend or mixed greens.

The Counter - My husband's breakfast burger

The Counter - My husband's breakfast burger

The husband did his usual – beef burger with Swiss, bacon and a fried egg on an English Muffin.  I call it his breakfast burger.  It’s actually really good but ugh, my heart always stops for a moment when I see it.  This falls very much into the “comfort food” category…not to be abused but used for those times when you need a hug via your stomach.

The Counter - my custom burger

The Counter - my custom burger

The Counter - closeup of my burger

The Counter - closeup of my burger

I opted for a 1/3 beef burger, Medium, with jalapeño Jack, lettuce, tomato and scallions, apricot sauce on a honey wheat bun.

When our burgers arrived, I had a mountain of a burger sitting in front of me.  There was no way I could pick up the entire thing and eat it so I had to cut it in half.  As you can see, the toppings all look fresh and the burger moist; however, it looks more medium-rare than medium to me.

The nice thing they do here at The Counter is serve the sauce on the side.

After my first bite, my first regret was not getting the regular bun.  The honey wheat bun was dry and the taste was akin to cardboard.  As I took more bites, pouring the apricot sauce prior, I realized that the burger itself was fairly bland.  Did they not season the patty?  When I commented on this to the husband, he agreed that his beef seemed un-seasoned to him as well.  Hrmmm…

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The Counter - Fifty-Fifty

We also split an order of the “Fifty-fifty” – sweet potato fries and regular french fries.  It also comes in an onion ring variation.  The fries and sweet potato fries were both good – crispy, not overly oily.  I ate more of the regular fries for some reason even though I’m a sweet potato fanatic.  The aoli sauce in the back was really good as a dipping sauce.

Overall, the first visit wasn’t as good as I expected.  The concept is smart but the resulting  burger just wasn’t impressive.  In-n-Out has a better tasting burger, I think.  However, I would come back here for that apple pie shake any day…

My first visit to the counter receives 3 NOMs mostly for the awesome milkshake.

Second Visit:

We returned a few weeks later.  This time, I decided to stay away from the beef and go with chicken instead.  I, of course, order the apple pie milkshake again.  I also noticed that they have monthly specials – a burger of the month, a sauce of the month and a shake of the month.  The burger of the month was a lamb burger and while looked tempting, I stuck with the chicken.

This time, I went with a southwestern flair, choosing Roasted Corn and Black Bean salsa as a topping and going with a regular hamburger bun.  I have to say, this 2nd burger was a lot better than the first.  The chicken had more flavor (is that salt and pepper I taste on it?) and was moist and the salsa was delicious.  I may give the beef burger another chance but I would probably try to pick more flavorful toppings as well.

3 NOMs still for The Counter.

The Counter Marina Del Rey

4786 Admiralty Way

Marina del Rey CA 90292

(310) 827-8600

http://www.thecounterburger.com/

Counter on Urbanspoon