Bun Mee is fancy. The pork they serve isn’t just pork, it’s Kurobuta pork, a particular breed. You can get Pellegrino, the menu and the building both feature sharp design, and the menu is full of treats, salads and fries. The sandwiches are expensive as well, from $6-8 compared to $3-4 at the other San Francisco establishments I’ve sampled. It’s closer to Cô Ba than any of the other places from the past month. The first sandwich I tried, the Bun Mee Combo, didn’t make me think much of the elaborate trappings. Aside from the standard carrot/daikon/cucumber/jalapeño/cilantro, the sandwich boasts grilled lemongrass Kurobuta pork, paté de campagne, mortadella, garlic aioli, and shaved onion. That last bit is over the top, I think. I’ve never tried to shave an onion, but I can’t imagine it going very well. Thinly slicing, sure, but never shaving. As if everything else weren’t enough, shaved onion strikes me as the final snap in the unfurling of a fancy flag. Fancy or not, though, this sandwich just wasn’t great. There was a lot going on, and none of it was really bad, but there was so much at play that nothing stood out. The garlic was lost behind the jalapeño and the richness of the paté, the lone slice of mortadella playing farther in the background than it should have. There was fair balance here, in that nothing blasted anything else away, but there was very little harmony, in that nothing seemed to be working together. Had this been the only sandwich that I tried, I would have had a fairly negative impression of Bun Mee.
Luckily for both myself and Bun Mee, I also tried the Juicy Steak. It was a revelation. With the same standards as above, the Juicy Steak held grilled flank steak with lime pepper aioli, lotus root relish, shaved onion, and crispy shallots. The steak lived up to its billing, moist, meaty and flavorful. The lotus root relish brought a delightfully earthy sweetness, echoed in the crispy shallots. This was far, far from a traditional bánh mì, but it was also very good. Bun Mee is the first place I’ve seen attempt and succeed at presenting an upscale bánh mì, and I have to say I’m very heartened by that success. The Combo might not have been special, but the Juicy Steak was and it left me very curious to try the other things Bun Mee has on offer. Given the vision of the future of the bánh mì on offer at Lee’s, Bun Mee was extremely heartening. Someone here knows what they’re doing, and the world of bánh mìs is richer for their contributions.