Hidden Kimchi: The Counter, Corte Madera, Calif.
Korean cuisine (both authentic and fusion) is still fashionable in 2014, in ways that South Korea’s former first lady Kim Yoon-ok could not have predicted when her husband Lee Myung Bak was President from 2008 to 2013. One of her causes as First Lady was making Korean cuisine popular worldwide. Sometime Korean food fusions, such as the famous Kogi Taco truck, add a fun or inspirational twist to traditional dishes or tastes. But some hanshik fusions don’t mesh.
Since my family are all too familiar with my love of Korean food, one told me she saw a Korean barbecue burger on the menu while having lunch at The Counter in Corte Madera, a small city about 15–30 minutes north of San Francisco. Always on the prowl for the latest Korean restaurant or “hidden kimchi,” my term for a place that serves one or more Korean items but doesn’t specialize in the cuisine.
The Counter is a Southern California-based “fast-casual” burger joint that has grown 24 locations in the states plus locations in Australia, Ireland, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate. The restaurant concept is serious burger customization, boasting about more than 312,120 possible topping combinations.
Menus vary by region and location. The only restaurants with a Korean barbecue burger listed on the menu now are Corte Madera and one in Southern California.
After ordering it during one Sunday lunch rush, I received a beef burger topped with lettuce, sliced fresh cucumber, grilled red onions, pickled carrots and daikon on a brioche-style bun slathered with The Counter’s own Korean barbecue sauce. The one-third-pound burger costs $9.25; and the half-pound burger, $12.25.
When I see a hidden-kimchi item containing Korean in the name, I ask myself, Is this really Korean? The sauce tasted like a ginger-forward teriyaki sauce, rather than the slightly sweet, sesame-forward character of kalbi marinade or the garlicky-sweet blend of even bulgogi sauce.
And the fresh sliced cucumber and pickled carrot and daikon are more characteristic of a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich.
No, there were no distinctly Korean flavors or approaches, but The Counter did blend the Japanese and Vietnamese flavors in a tasty burger. For arriving in about 15 minutes of the order, the meat was perfectly grilled — medium-well is always my choice. and the crunch of the pickled carrots and daikon was fresh and just sour enough to cut through the burger’s juicy fatness.
201 Corte Madera Town Center
Corte Madera, CA 94925