I had a fantastic night in Dublin a few weeks ago, spending my last night in the Irelands with my family eating good food and enjoying great entertainment. We were on South King Street in anticipation of seeing Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre (post on that to come in the near future), so my well-traveled sister recommended we eat dinner at an international noodle bar chain called Wagamama.

It has been my traveling experience that eating becomes quite a drag when you are with a large group (11 in ours! Gotta love big families!) Eating out is expensive and inconvenient and eating in is boring and inconvenient, but you have to eat somehow, and quite often. Miraculously, this place solved the inconveniences I’m used to when eating out with my large family.

After our taxi driver dropped us off on a side street and somehow gave us directions away from South King Street and everywhere we needed to be, we eventually (with the help of some locals) figured out how to get where we wanted to be, and we found ourselves at Wagamama, just across the street from Gaiety Theatre.

My mouth was watering upon my first look at the menu. This place was perfect for our large group. There is a good mix of vegan and meat dishes. There are plenty of different tastes to please everyone. And while the menu uses Japanese terms for a lot of the dishes, there is a glossary at the top so that you can actually figure out what it all means! I also love a menu that directly specifies whether or not a dish is vegetarian, it helps me take a lot less time to figure out what I want. The best part of this restaurant for my family was that it definitely pleased my younger siblings who more often than not prefer some sort of Chinese-inspired noodle or rice stir-fry- for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Irelands didn’t often have anything of that caliber to offer during the three weeks they were there. My mom had actually brought over a bunch of their favorite noodles with her so that they could make them on their own, which they did, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

After debating between the yasai chilli men, or a serving of the vegetable gyoza and wok fried greens from the appetizers, or the yasai yaki soba, the last on that list is what I ended up with (no mushrooms, no pickled ginger; I’m still sometimes picky). Immediately upon receiving it, I knew I made the right choice.

yasai yaki soba- teppan-fried wholewheat noodles with egg, beansprouts, peppers, white and spring onions, and garlic, garnished with fried shallots, sesame seeds, and coriander vinegar

Typically I find noodle dishes too bland for my taste, regardless of who makes them. Maybe that’s too much of a blanket statement, but it’s what I’ve found to be true more often than not. There was soy sauce on hand, and I intended to make use of it after I took a few bites, but I never ended up needing it. I can’t tell you how or why, but it was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten out in a while. There were so many flavors all through it, and I was definitely shoving as much as I could in my mouth at a time in an effort to finish it all before I got too full (it was quite the generous serving, and yes, I did finish it.) I’m curious about the coriander vinegar; I do not like vinegar in most dishes, and typically request it to be omitted from my food if I am eating out. The fact that it was in this dish somehow passed by me, and actually I didn’t even realize until writing this post that I ate that dish with the vinegar in it. Does coriander vinegar have some sort of a different taste? I don’t recall tasting anything remotely like the vinegar taste that I don’t enjoy.

My mom got the yasai katsu curry. Not up my alley when it comes to food and tastes, but she loved it and ate every last bit of her dish as well!

yasai katsu curry- sweet potato, aubergine, and butternut squash deep fried in panko breadcrumbs, served with a curry sauce and japanese style rice, garnished with dressed mixed leaves and red pickles

My two youngest brothers ordered off of the kids menu and they were not disappointed either. Here is my youngest brother, clearly enjoying his food (and his chopsticks- a utensil he uses -gasp- breakfast, lunch, and dinner, regardless of the food).

He even got to have apple juice with his kids meal. I tasted it, and it was no Motts or anything of the sort. It tasted like a fresh squeezed cider!

As we were in Dublin and it is part of the European Union, we paid in Euros. My dish was €10.95, which comes out to approximately $13.75. Given that price, and that my dish was one of the cheaper ones on the menu, this is not a place I’d frequent every week (I assume others may pass it off- I am frugal to a fault), but it was a great experience that I’d be up for again if circumstances allowed! So far as I can tell, the only Wagamamas in the States at the moment are in the Boston area. Why does Boston get all the love? I’m ready for this place to expand here! Worldwide, you can find Wagamama in such countries/cities as Belgium, Egypt, Kuwait, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, and a lot more.

Have any of you ever eaten at Wagamama? Where was it? What was your experience?

This Life in LA- The Counter

I live in Los Angeles and really it’s a bit ironic- I am so much a country girl at heart and yet I live right off of Hollywood Boulevard. I drive directly through Hollywood on my commute to and from work each day. I am surrounded by tourists who actually want to be here, and residents who seem to be okay with their over-priced apartments, food, gas, and everything else.

You don’t need to take this as an idea that I’m unhappy here. I’ve found plenty to enjoy in this crazy city. I have good people around me, I enjoy my job, and there is a lot to explore here.

So thus begins another consistent posting topic- “This Life in LA.” It is meant to be a series of posts of what I’ve experienced here in LA. The good and the bad, if you will, but mostly the good.

Today’s experience- eating at The Counter.

The Counter is a burger place that offers “custom built burgers.” It is primarily a California restaurant, with a few other locations across the states and two in Dublin, Ireland. I’ve no care for meat, and as a vegetarian I typically avoid places like this, but luckily for me there is a veggie burger option here. They claim “fresh and 100% natural angus beef, hormone and antibiotic free, humanely raised and handled.” No organic certifications, but they seem to be on the right track.

I went with two people I love dearly, my good friend Graham and my boyfriend Jeremy, because good food is meant to be enjoyed with good people. This was a place I’d been curious about for a while, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to be as delicious and immediately satisfying as it turned out to be.

I mean, seriously, check out the menu!

Happy hour ends at 7pm here, and happy hour means half price appetizers and $2 off drinks (if I remember correctly). We got there around 6:40 and were quick to ask for TWO orders of the parmesan french fries, two beers each for the guys, and a mojito for me. Sure, mojitos do not necessarily go well with burgers, but they are QUITE tasty!

I was overwhelmed by the options. We each got our own paper menu with a pencil and we marked off our selections. Veggie burger- that was easy. On a bun for sure, there is something entirely satisfying about biting into a burger, whatever type it may be. The cheese is where the options already started to become too numerous for me. What style of burger did I want? I LOVE feta cheese, but would it satisfy what I wanted in flavors? I ended up choosing the Tillamook cheddar on the basis that I wanted a standard, all-American burger. So the toppings for me ended up being dill pickle chips, grilled onions, organic mixed greens, and tomatoes. No premium toppings, as none of them really appealed to me. The sauce choice was another issue for me. I ended up choosing the hot wing sauce (everything is better spicy), but it was a hard choice between that or the sweet barbecue, or the basil pesto, or the chipotle aioli, or the peanut sauce.

The food came out fast and fresh. I tried to sit and slowly enjoy mine, and the urge to shove it all into my mouth was difficult to keep at bay- it was one of the best burgers I’ve eaten. I suppose from the concept of “building” your burger exactly as you want it added to the high-quality food they have, you really can’t go wrong. And those FRIES! Oh those fries. I really should find a recipe. I don’t care how terrible they might be for you, they were a fantastic splurge.

My burger and those amazing fries. I couldn’t help but eat some before I took the picture. Did I mention we ate outside in the beautiful California sunshine right on the Miracle Mile strip?

If I hadn’t been so full, I could have gone all-out and also ordered an “adult milk shake.” Yes, that’s right, milk shakes of varying flavors, with the addition of alcohol. Genius!

The price of the evening was medium, which really is about the maximum I prefer to spend going out. So, it was definitely a treat and not somewhere you’ll be able to find me often. But when I do go back, I can’t wait to try some other variations of burgers. An Asian-inspired veggie burger with sprouts, cucumbers, and peanut sauce? A Greek burger with feta and tomatoes? Or I could go “gourmet” with brie and scallions and sun-dried tomatoes?

Have you eaten at The Counter before? What burgers have you built? What combinations do you think would work well together?