Yesterday’s sandwich, the #1 at Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli, left me unsettled. My understanding of the sandwich world had not been overturned, but it had certainly been jostled. Immediately after finishing at Saigon Vietnamese, I walked the 500 feet to Bánh Mì Saigon. All that had been jostled, I thought, would soon be set still. All questions would be answered, all doubts banished. Bánh Mì Saigon was packed. It was getting late in the afternoon, and I took such a crowd as a bit of confirmation, an unspoken collusion between me and all of these other people who knew good sandwiches from great sandwiches from very good, and greatest from great. There was a healthy line, and a small crowd who had already ordered stood waiting for their sandwiches. I spent a few minutes in line, then stepped to the counter and made my order. As I reached for my wallet I was shocked to see my order ready to be taken away. I glanced behind me at the assembled crowd, and questioned whether this was really my sandwich. I was assured it was, money was exchanged, and I went on my way. The picture you see above is the glamour shot, from previous visits. As I held the sandwich that day:
The photo may not reveal what I need to mention, so I will cut to the quick: I have never had such a delicious, yet heartbreaking sandwich. I don’t know how long my sandwich had been sitting there before it was handed off to me, but it was too long. I have little doubt there are portions of the day where Bánh Mì Saigon does enough business to hand off #1s as soon as they’re bagged, but getting towards four in the afternoon on a Friday is apparently not one of those times. The pork, the thing about which I frequently daydream, the thing I had most looked forward to, could only be described as tough. It was dry. The caramelization I so treasure went too far. The rest of the sandwich had no hope of picking up the slack; having sat for an indeterminate amount of time, the baguette lacked any warmth and had lost some crunch. These are errors of execution, that they can be so easily avoided is what makes them so tragic. Indeed, from past experiences I am certain that Bánh Mì Saigon is capable of avoiding them. That they failed to do so is an almost unspeakable disappointment. It was still very good, but it was nowhere close to what it could be. In fact, it was not as good as the sandwich I’d just had at Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli.
Is this the final hailstone that caves in the roof I spent yesterday propping up? I don’t think so, in a large part because were I to say that this is no longer the best sandwich it will not be because some other sandwich surpassed it but because it regressed. Rather than being bested, it can only fail to meet its own challenge. On this particular day, it did fail to do that. I don’t know what the future holds. It’s possible Bánh Mì Saigon had a bad day. It’s possible they’ve grown lazy, content to coast on their reputation. It’s possible they lost something in their transition to a new space, or something as simple as a change in cooks has lead them astray. But the question I attempt to answer is not “What is usually the best sandwich,” or “what could be the best sandwich?” It’s “What is the best sandwich?” That’s not a question I have an answer to right now. Here at the end of On Sandwiches’ Month of Bánh Mìs, I regretfully offer you no conclusion. This is a serious issue, and I do not want to make mistakes in haste. I will be hesitant to change what I consider to be the best sandwich, but I will not be unwilling. I am not sure when I will be able to revisit this issue, but when I do I will share what I find with you. That I have not settled this question does not mean it cannot be settled. Certainty awaits, and I look forward to obtaining it.
Great end to the series.
We all have a favorite or best something that sometimes misses. TV show, author, band or in my case, my local diner’s breakfast burrito that in my ten plus years of eating it, sometimes falters. But I think that’s okay. Reminds us of why it’s the best in the first place and that perfection doesn’t come without work and occasional failure.
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