Beef on Weck – Top Round Roast Beef, La Brea Ave, Los Angeles

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A beef on weck in Los Angeles! The beef on weck is a specialty of the greater Buffalo area that, sadly, hasn’t gained much traction beyond western New York. The last time I saw one was more than five years ago, at the All-Star Sandwich Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I ordered it without hesitation then, and I ordered it without hesitation when I saw the menu at Top Round. In both cases I was well rewarded.

The beef on weck is all all-time great as far as doing a lot with almost nothing. Roast beef on a roll sprinkled with kosher salt and caraway seeds is all that’s really there, though usually with some horseradish. And that’s all it takes; the herbal notes from the seeds balance well against the richness of the beef, the salt ramps everything up, and the horseradish brings a pleasant heat. (Like all sandwiches with horseradish, this did need more horseradish.)

I don’t know how long it will be before I see another beef on weck, but I know that when I see it I’m going to order it. I heartily recommend you do the same.

Indian Summer — Clementine, Ensley Ave, Los Angeles

clementine-indianClementine is another regular feature around here, and with good cause. With a season menu things are always coming on and off the menu, and not so long ago that menu featured one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. This time around I opted for the Indian Summer sandwich, a combination of smokey, spiced grilled chicken, grilled peaches, watercress and yogurt masala dressing on toasted bread. That’s a fine lineup, and in a perfect world a fine lineup always leads to a fine sandwich. We live in this world, though, that is not perfect and sometimes features chunks of grilled chicken on the dry side and too large for the sake of the sandwich. Or you end up with too few peaches, or a inconsistent application of dressing, and overall just a sandwich that wasn’t quite balanced. Some bites were quite good and demonstrated the potential of the sandwich, but in the end the execution was lacking. I’ll try Clementine again, they’ve more than earned that, but this sandwich was a reminder that even the better establishments don’t get everything right.

Burrata Sandwich — All About The Bread, Melrose Ave, Los Angeles

allaboutthebreadburrataAll About The Bread has been featured here previously, but on a recent visit I sampled one of the newer items on the menu, the burrata sandwich. Burrata is showing up on more and more menus, and with good cause. A creamier mozzarella, it’s a decadent addition to any sandwich, boosting the richness in a way that’s less obtrusive than, say, meat. (I also found it with roasted heirloom tomatoes and a fried egg in an open-faced number, which of course is not a sandwich, and as such I will offer nothing but to say it was delicious.)

Here the cheese joins sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pesto, tomatoes and roasted peppers on All About The Bread’s basic roll (which really is stellar), resulting in a bright, rich sandwich with strong vegetable flavor. I want to note specifically that it doubles down (twice, in fact) with two types of tomatoes and both fresh basil and pesto. Sandwiches being about balance and harmony as they are, doing this sort of thing certainly runs the risk of throwing the whole sandwich off, but I think it’s successful here. It certainly wasn’t overbearing, and I think it’s because neither standard tomatoes nor fresh basil are particularly assertive flavors. All in all, the burrata makes a fine base for a delightful sandwich.

The Big Lobo — Lobos Food Truck, Los Angeles

bigloboI will fully admit that I ordered this burger knowing roughly what I was getting, but I have a point that I needed to make, despite having made it before and knowing that I will feel compelled to make it again in the future. This Hamburger Is Too Big. It is two patties, cheddar and jack cheese, a fried egg, guacamole, and bacon. That’s not a bad lineup, but look at the thing. It’s lopsided upon arrival, stacked so large that it cannot be consumed in any spiritually meaningful way. It’s a bite of this, and a bite of that, and then a moment chasing around everything that fell out during the previous two bites, and then a moment to wipe one’s fingers, and then a moment to sigh, and then back to the burger.

Understand that this is not a categorical stance on hamburgers. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had was a hamburger. But something about hamburgers pushes people to go beyond the limits of good sense, and I cannot figure out what it is. I would suggest to you that that list of ingredients need not be a burger at all, but I am aware that a ground beef patty brings a savory depth some folk cannot do without. That’s fine. But why on earth are there two?

I feel a bit unfair singling out the Lobos Truck here. Needless to say, this is a problem one can find in burger joints both chain and local, upscale and down, anywhere and everywhere. I don’t know where this ends, but until that day I remain perplexed and disheartened.

Gobbler — Earl’s Gourmet Grub, Venice Blvd, Mar Vista

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I don’t think much of turkey. I feel there are very few instances in which a meal wouldn’t be better served by using another meat (I favor duck), and in cold cut form I think the predominant flavor is “salt.” But I try to remain an open-minded sandwich enthusiast, so when I saw Earl’s Gourmet Grub had a sandwich built around smoked turkey I decided to give it a go. My previous visit to Earl’s was a rewarding one, so if anyone could pull this off I figured it was them. The sandwich is turkey with picked red onion, green apple, blue cheese and arugula on rustic wheat bread. This is clearly not your average turkey and cheese, and I think that’s key here. Turkey isn’t bad, per se, but I don’t believe it’s strong enough to carry a sandwich, something it’s asked to do far too often. Here the turkey plays a supporting role in an ensemble piece, where the main draw is the tangy apple/blue cheese combo. As you can see the from the photo there was plenty of arugula, avoiding the all too common error of obligatory lettuce. All in all it was a fine sandwich, and I look forward to more from Earl.

Fried Chicken — Fundamental LA, Westwood

fundamentalLAfriedchickenFundamental LA has appeared on this blog before, and so long as they keep making sandwiches they’re likely to continue appearing. Here they’ve gone the simple route, combining fried chicken with jimica and parsnip slaw on a house-made biscuit. I’ve had fried chicken sandwiches that are probably better, notably the Southern Fry at Plan Check, but I don’t know that I’ve seen one that does more with less. This is your standard chicken biscuit, raised well up with a spicy, crisp slaw that’s a good bit tastier than a few bread & butter pickles. There’s nothing wrong with the old standard, but Fundamental LA excels in demonstrating what’s possible beyond that.

Pork Bánh Mì — The Hero Shop, Downtown Los Angeles

banhmilosangelesWhat a fine example of the bánh mì! This being downtown Los Angeles it was also $9, a hard price for any bánh mì enthusiast to swallow, but some things can’t be helped. Unlike the last time I payed an outrageous sum for a bánh mì, though, this one was well worth the price.

Long-time readers have heard me sing the praises of the bánh mì before, (at length), but allow me once again to explain what makes them so special. Good sandwiches are about harmony and balance. The ingredients have to work well together, each one contributing to a unified whole, and they must be balanced, with none contributing more than is required. The very best bánh mì demonstrate this better than any sandwich I’ve ever come across. They build around a protein, usually but not always meat, and specifically one with a deep, savory profile. The marinades involved are often boast a dozen ingredients, replete with strong flavors like lemongrass and fish sauce, but often balanced by sweeter notes. The vegetables on the sandwich, thinly sliced carrot and daikon radish, provide a crunch and an acidic tang that helps dial back the central protein. The cilantro is a bright (too bright for some) herbal note, one that I find ramps up everything behind it, and the jalapeño brings heat without throwing off the acidic or peppery notes present from the vegetables or the marinate, respectively.

In short, a great bánh mì is perfect. I have sampled a great many sandwiches, and there isn’t another archetype that comes close. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the above sandwich perfect, but it was very, very good. Quality pork, house-made paté, and a baguette with a good bit of tooth to it all go a long way, and when they’re going into a bánh mì there’s very little that can compare.

Village Burger — Atwater Village Tavern, Los Angeles

atwaterburgerI the the hamburger is a problematic form, and as I’ve expressed before there’s something about it that encourages the worst sorts of excess. There are a good many people in this world who think that a hamburger isn’t finished until you’ve piled short ribs on top, and if you’ve gone that far you might as well wrap them in bacon and roll them in a mac & cheese crust. Not all hamburgers fall prey to these bizarre instincts, though, and the burger at Atwater Village Tavern is a good example of how one can do something that isn’t the standard lettuce-tomato-onion setup without losing one’s head. It’s angus beef, very lightly dressed coleslaw, processed avocado and a bit of pico de gallo on a sesame seed bun. It’s a good lineup of flavors, it’s not quite what you’d expect, and the fresh slaw and the sesame seed bun bring a nice textural contrast to things. All in all, a fine hamburger.

Prime Rib Sandwich – Simple Things, Los Angeles

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It needed more horseradish. I have said that after literally every horseradish-containing sandwich I have ever had, and the prime rib sandwich from Simple Things is no exception. Let me get the bottom line out of the way: this was a tasty sandwich. Beef, greens, tomato, horseradish on crispy ciabatta is a winner, and sweet caramelized onions and horseradish are a fine pair to cap things off.

But. Needed more horseradish. It always needs more horseradish, and I’m starting to wonder how that can be. Is horseradish really an ingredient that people enjoy consuming in tepid measure? It is distinct, in the sense that anyone who goes in for it knows what they’re getting. I talk a lot about balance and harmony here and one could accuse me of promoting the opposite here, but what I’m actually advocating is the raising of horseradish to the role of starring ingredient. The lineup above describes a fine sandwich but it is also an exceptionally simple one. Why not let it stand out? Were it up to me I might triple the amount of horseradish involved, name the sandwich after it and be done with it. On Sandwiches, though, is ultimately an exploration of what sandwiches exist, not what sandwiches are possible. The prime rib at Simple Things stands as so many good-but-uninspiring sandwiches do: without enough horseradish.

Tuna Conserva – Gjelina Takeaway, Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice

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Gjelina is either an exceptionally lucky establishment, or someone there is a wizard. Out of the more than 400 establishments I have patronized, I have never had a sandwich as well constructed as that one. The taste was fine, flavorful tuna, peppery arugula, sweet roasted red pepper and caper aioli is a well-balanced lineup. But the sandwich stayed together from first bite to last, never shifted much, there was absolutely zero filling creep, and each bit of crust was robust but yielded just before the dreaded clamp-and-tear had to be applied. I consider a sandwich successful if it hits even a few of those marks, but to hit all of them is some kind of magic. I’m genuinely unsure of how much credit to award Gjelina because I’m not sure how much of this can be achieved on purpose. How much control does their baker exert over the density of the crust? The air was not especially humid but the ocean wasn’t far; could this same sandwich come together in the inland empire? This is not, I suspect, a question with an answer. No matter. This was a fantastic sandwich, and that much is certain.