Curried Chicken – Food Lab, Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood

I have discussed Food Lab before, and my experience there left plenty of motivation for a return visit. The menu contains a number of sandwiches that sound delicious, and on this day I elected for the curried chicken sandwich, with lingonberry chutney on raisin walnut bread. It comes as described, with a towering pile of what is effectively curried chicken salad. I’m not at all opposed to sandwiches that are mostly a big pile of one ingredient, but this particular sandwich functions less as a delight and more as an exhibit of the need for balance. The chutney was a sweet counterpart to the chicken where it was present, but with that much chicken there just wasn’t enough of it. Spreading it on the top and bottom would have been a good start. Needless to say, the lower notes of the bread are similarly lost to the chicken, which is too bad. Curried chicken, lingonberry chutney and raisin walnut bread is a fine lineup, but it makes a poor show when the chicken reads the lines for all three.

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Confit Onion & Feta Chicken Sandwich – Bloom Cafe, Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

Confit of onion is a classic technique wherein onions are simmered with white wine, stock and herbs until it reduces to a jam consistency. That’s what was involved here, along with chicken, feta cheese, red bell pepper and some greens. I like this sandwich in concept, but in eating it I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just go with plain old caramelized onions. Onion confit can really be done up royal: homemade stock, anchovies, secret blends of spices, hours on the stove, you can really get into it and produce something special. But if you half-ass the thing you just end up with half-browned onions that are really kind of bland. That’s really too bad, because while the feta and the chicken are a great combination the sandwich was lacking the notes of sweetness needed for a decent harmony. I will say that it was nice of Bloom Cafe to provide the sandwich on regular old toast, and not slather things in mayonnaise where it wasn’t necessary. That indicates to me a strong conceptual awareness, something that makes the failure of execution in the onion confit all the more disappointing.

Clementine, Ensley Ave, Los Angeles, CA

The Tony’s Veggie-Luxe at Clementine is corn, red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, garlic and three cheeses grilled on sturdy slices of whole grain bread, and it’s delicious. I was reminded of the sandwich I had at Bread Nolita, the one where the eggplant and the zucchini were hopelessly lost in the cheese. This sandwich was everything that that one could have been, a delightful melange of vegetables, heavy on the sweet but with mushrooms to provide a grounding influence. The cheese was present but restrained, and the bread grilled in a way that walks just to the edge of burnt and stops, peering over that line. That might not be your thing, but I think it provides a wonderful depth of flavor. There’s nothing fancy about this, it’s just a delicious sandwich.

The Fernando doesn’t disappoint either. A toasted ciabatta roll held tinga de pollo, coleslaw, avocado and something they claim to be a secret sauce, but whatever it is it’s lost behind the smokey adobo flavor of the tinga de pollo. There’s spice here, but not too much of it, the coleslaw has a fresh snap, the avocado is as wonderful as avocados are, and the chicken was moist and flavorful. I don’t know that there’s much of anything you could do to make this a better sandwich, and that’s a rare feat. It’s balanced, complete, and tasty as all get-out.

The German – Emil’s Swiss Pastry, Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

Emil’s is first and foremost a bakery, and most of their attention goes into the cakes and the tarts and the macaroons and not into the sandwiches. This might spell doom at some establishments, but at Emil’s a secondary concern is still a concern, so despite the fact that the chicken schnitzel in the German sandwich was not fried fresh, care was still taken. It was placed by itself in the sandwich press while the rest of the sandwich was prepared, giving it an acceptable, if not quite full, level of crunch. The German is a simple sandwich, and the rest of the sandwich is simply tomatoes and cranberry sauce on Bavarian rye. There’s enough mayo to keep the bread from being soggy, but not enough to be noticeable otherwise.

Perhaps I’m guilty here of the soft bigotry of low expectations, but much of my pleasure with this sandwich stems from the fact that it could have been much worse. It could have been a soggy patty and soggier bread, a sorry sandwich carelessly tossed out by a place more concerned with cakes and other confectioneries. But it wasn’t. It was tasty enough. I’m not certain the tomatoes needed to be there, as the sweetness from the cranberries is far superior and not burdened by the mushy texture, and I would have used some of the balsamic that went on the spring mix on the sandwich to temper the sweetness a bit. So this could have been much better, but it could have been much worse. I often rail against ‘good enough,’ but I do so in the sense of lack of effort, of an acceptance of mediocre results. But there was care taken here to avoid the worst of outcomes, and so I feel comfortable in celebrating it for what it was: a pretty good sandwich.

La Cubana – Tortas Boos Voni, Mission St, San Francisco, CA

I try to take all sandwich related requests and suggestions seriously, but time and opportunity often conspire to keep an establishment on the to-visit list for quite a while. Tortas Boos Voni is one such establishment: More than a year ago, I dined on a pair of tortas milanesa and began to think that there was a really special torta out there somewhere. In the comments, regular commentor Doug recommended Tortas Boos Voni. It was only last week that I visited, but mercy do I ever wish I’d gone sooner. Simply put, this was the best torta I’ve ever had. I decided to skip the milanesa and go for the cubana, simply because it’s a higher degree of difficulty. It includes two kinds of milanesa, that of beef and of chicken, as well as ham, hot dog, and a well spiced shredded chicken thigh, all in addition to the usual tomatoes, onion, and mayo.

Balance is important on a sandwich, but what the ideal sandwich really drives for is harmony. Balance is the easiest way to get there; making sure ingredients contrast each other and that one doesn’t stand too far above the others is an easy way of making sure everything works together. The route taken by sandwiches like the cubana is more challenging, but done right it’s perfectly effective. The recipe for the sandwich is meat, meat and more meat, but the harmony is there. The issue is that if something like this falls out of harmony, it’s a long way down. Should it go wrong, it is likely to go very, very wrong.

But the cubana at Tortas Boos Voni doesn’t go wrong. It’s worth noting that this was a massive sandwich, easily a foot long and more than six inches across, with no real taper to the bun. So you have a huge sandwich with five different kinds of meat; making this sandwich a success is not a task for beginners. Well, someone at Tortas Boos Voni has an experienced hand, because this was spectacular. Everything inside was hot and tender, the patties milanesa both crisp. The bread was well toasted and stayed crispy for the substantial length of time it took to eat the sandwich. There wasn’t enough avocado, the exact problem I had with the last cubana I ate, but it wasn’t enough to derail the overall quality. Given how good this sandwich and the one at Casita Chilanga were, I’m almost afraid of how good they would be if given a proper amount of avocado. That, I put it to you, is the mark of a good sandwich. It could be better, sure, but it’s a little scary to think about what that might mean.

Chicken Salad Sandwich – Little Chef Counter, San Pedro Sq, San Jose, CA

 

Just because running around eating my favorite sandwiches wasn’t the best way to pay tribute to San Jose before I take my leave doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. I dearly wish Little Chef Counter had been around before my last year in this city, because they’re doing really wonderful things with sandwiches. My last experience there was disappointing, but every one before and since has been anything but. The chicken salad sandwich is the latest example of their excellent offerings: big chunks of chicken join Shashito peppers, romaine lettuce, peach jam, and a few slices of bacon on a hearty roll. There’s nothing too fancy going on here, just a very good sandwich. The bacon (as is so often the case) wasn’t strictly necessary, but it didn’t detract from things. The sweet flavor of the peach jam was the dominant note in the sandwich, and the chicken itself was very lightly dressed, everything I could have asked for. I’m sure there are fine sandwiches to be found in my new city, but I can guarantee you that on some warm afternoon I will find myself wondering what new sandwich Little Chef Counter has cooked up, and wishing that I were there to eat it.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich — La Brea Bakery, Downtown Disney, Anaheim, CA

There are times when the sandwich you eat is the perfect sandwich. There are also times when the sandwich you eat is the perfect sandwich for that particular time or occasion. This offering from the La Brea Bakery was possibly both. Recently re-opened just outside of the gates of Disney’s California Adventure, the La Brea Bakery is, naturally, known for its fresh-baked bread. When I saw that one of its items was served on a pretzel roll, I did not hesitate. My adoration for the pretzel roll is, I believe, well-documented on this site.

The sandwich — grilled chicken, butter leaf lettuce, avocado, tomato, and aioli — was fantastic. It was far better than the sum of its parts and its crowing achievement was the pretzel roll, enhancing everything contained therein. Even the inclusion of butter leaf over some of the more preeminent staples of sandwich lettuce was an inspired choice. As I had recently experienced at the Village Bakery and Cafe, the decision to slice the grilled chicken rather than present a complete, boring grilled chicken breast was once again the most correct decision that could have been made.

If there was one problem with this sandwich, it was that there was an unusually high amount of filling creep. But even as by sandwich became messier with each bite, I still marveled at the pleasure derived from eating it. The La Brea Bakery provided me with an unexpected treat on day I sorely needed one.

Grégoire’s Restaurant, Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

What a pleasure it is, to find an establishment willing to put some effort into the humble sandwich. Part of the joy of sandwiches is how simple they can be; one often needs nothing more than two pieces of bread and a bit of something else to have a fine bite to eat. But another part of the joy of sandwiches is that they really can be taken to some wonderful heights. Such is the case with Grégoire Restaurant, a tiny establishment in Oakland that does brisk takeout business providing “gourmet food made affordable.” Above is the pulled lamb shoulder sandwich: lamb, with espellette pepper, sour onions and artichoke chips on ciabatta. This was an exquisite sandwich, a layering of subtle flavors all built around rich, savory lamb. The artichoke chips were bits of fried artichoke, which brought a bit of crunchy texture to the sandwich with a flavor not typically seen. The onions were not particularly sour and the espellette is a rather mild pepper, leaving the sandwich well balanced and altogether delightful.

Unfortunately, I did not quite care for the fried chicken sandwich, but I want to make no mark against it. Here we had fried buttermilk chicken with spicy cole slaw on french roll. A simple, honest sandwich. The spice was in the manner of wing sauce, which is far from my favorite heat profile and a big part of what I didn’t enjoy about the sandwich. The chicken was fresh fried, though, the slaw crispy and well paired. The execution was there, and in light of the first sandwich it was clear there was no real failing here, it just wasn’t my style of sandwich. This isn’t a two-ingredient sandwich because someone was lazy or anything of the sort. It’s was that someone put these two things together, saw that it was enough, and was wise enough to stop there. The resulting sandwich wasn’t for me, but it’s easy to see someone else thinking it quite nice. That’s inevitably the result when someone cares, and it’s very clear that someone at Grégoire’s cares very much indeed.

Chipotle Chicken — The Village Bakery & Cafe, Los Feliz Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

As our esteemed founder discovered, the Village Bakery & Cafe is definitely an establishment that knows what it is doing. (Unlike some other establishments we could name.)

The Chipotle Chicken was a very satisfying sandwich that was well worth my time. The sauce was flavorful and not overpowering and the delicious bun both enhanced the experience and masterfully curtailed any danger of filling creep. The true triumph of this sandwich, however, was the simple fact that the chicken was cut into slices. Not deli-thin slices that would more properly called cold cuts, but perhaps twice-filleted and grilled hunks that fitted together to make for a pleasing experience, both in terms of flavor and of texture.

Far too many establishments provide one massive chicken breast flopped from the grill onto a bun and call it a day. Not here. The chicken is purposefully carved and assembled to make for a more pleasing experience. Mission accomplished. It is a simple step and creates a world of difference from the standard chicken breast sandwich. Preferable every time.

Chicken Bacon Avocado — Vons, Figueroa Blvd., Los Angeles

The made-to-order supermarket deli sandwich is, of course, something we have examined many times before at On Sandwiches. Today we explore another and question two things: storage and application of avocado, and abundance of the “large” sandwich.

Many sandwich shops and supermarkets, of course, offer avocado on sandwiches, either as a staple or as an addition at a customer’s whim. In most sit-down restaurants, the avocado will be freshly sliced and place on the sandwich. In many sandwich storefronts, however, the avocados will be pre-mashed for the sake of ease of storage and application. These are not so much “avocados” as “guacamole with one ingredient.” This is what was provided for my Chicken Bacon Avocado sandwich at Vons. It is understandable, although discouraging to the sandwich purist. Time is money, after all, and if it is simpler and more expedient to simply produce a #2 scoop of mashed avocado and spread it around the bread, why wouldn’t a manager or CEO (or whomever) make that call? While the sliced avocado is preferred, this is still something to take note of, and to think about when obtaining a sandwich with avocado. (Please note that although it has been a while since I have partaken of Subway, when last I was there, the avocado was still sliced to order; a somewhat surprising fact given the photographs of their menu items and the overall reality of the franchise.)

The second point I want to address here is at what point offering a “large” sandwich becomes unnecessary. What you see above is a perfectly acceptable sandwich. Unfortunately, I ordered a “large” version of this sandwich, which — due to the nature of the focaccia bread on which it is served — resulted in the counter employee simply making two of the above sandwich and wrapping them separately. I would argue that this is not a large sandwich. This is, in fact, two of the same sandwich. Again, perhaps I am a stickler of semantics here, but these are not the same thing.

The sandwich(es) was (were) actually quite good. Nothing revolutionary, of course, but all the flavors married well and added up to a satisfying experience. And then, of course, I had to eat another sandwich.