The Franklin Phenomenon is a very good sandwich, but in addition to being fine on in its own right, it also stands as a good lesson. With turkey, monterey jack cheese, spinach, tomato, red onion with a chipotle mayo on pretzel bread, it’s hardly anything fancy. But between the use of spinach (rather than just lettuce) and pretzel bread (over something a little more typical) it’s clear that there’s a bit of extra effort involved. It doesn’t take much, which makes it all the more tragic when you find yourself in an establishment that isn’t going to bother. Luckily that’s not the case at Locali, and as a result you have a well-balanced, simple, tasty sandwich.
I’ve talked about the tragedy inherent in tuna fish before, but the short of it is that one day (possibly not far off soon) it will all be gone, and when it is gone it will be to our deep shame that most of the tuna we ate was dry and flavorless. Fundamental LA is a regular feature here at On Sandwiches, and I figured if I could trust anyone to do justice to tuna fish, it was them. The tuna conserva sandwich was billed as evoo, herbs, shallot, olives, tomato, avocado and lettuce on 12 grain. It was all of those things, but given their relative strengths I can’t help but feel olives should be written in bold, or perhaps twice. The olives really outshined everything else here, large, firm and briny. That would be fine on some sort of olive sandwich, but I came for the tuna. It was totally lost and it occurred to me that the sandwich could have been pulled chicken just as easily as tuna fish. Compounding all of this was that this is tuna conserva, a fancy sort of preservation involving poaching that carries an implicit promise of higher quality. Tuna salad is one thing, but if you aspire to tuna conserva the least you could do is leave the olives at home. I’ll doubtlessly be back at Fundamental LA, it’s still clear they’re aiming high and they have a number of other delicious sandwiches, but this one is a miss, and all the more tragic it’s a miss with tuna fish.
I suspect that if I were to list the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, breakfast sandwiches would be over represented on the list. There’s something a little cheap about them – between the bacon and the fried egg, it’s a little bit tough to make a bad one. That’s no excuse for not giving it your all, though! Take Chaumont Bakery, for example. The fried egg is joined by beef bacon, melted provolone, greens, mayo and mustard. That last item is no footnote, and the bright, tangy notes from the mustard made this a fine sandwich. And it doesn’t stop there! Chaumont Bakery, being a bakery, really has some stellar bread. In many places baguettes aren’t quite what they used to be, the stiff crust yielding to an American palate that prefers things a little softer. Not so here, where a stiff crust surrounded tender insides that made the perfect sop for the egg yolk. The average breakfast sandwich is already pretty good, when someone minds the details as well as Chaumont Bakery did it’s nearly perfect.
This is not my first “This is not a sandwich” post. Hope though I might, it is not likely to be my last. But, I can say with some certainty, I will never write one so heartbreaking. I found the above item on the buffet line at the Cosmopolitan hotel on the Las Vegas strip, a swanky joint pitching itself as the fashionable alternative to garish tourist traps. It was a fine buffet up until I reached the above, which I found sitting behind a sign that read, simply, “bánh mì.”
I’ve eaten a lot of bánh mì. Given that it’s roughly Vietnamese for “sandwich,” it’s only natural that there’s a good deal of variation between establishments, between sandwiches. It’s a big world. There is little room in it, however, for the nonsense featured above.
Look at it. Spongy bread more at home in a steamed bun, a bit of meat, a bit of carrot and daikon. And they have the nerve to call this a bánh mì. Where’s the baguette, the sandwich’s nod to its colonial roots? Where’s the cilantro? Where’s the sandwich, for crying out loud? What I see is little more than an ill-formed fusion taco, a poorly thought out gimmick, a monstrosity barely fit for a cooking channel reality show, a…I haven’t the words.
I want to stress something important: This is not pedantry. This is not the exclusive concern of the blogging sort of enthusiast. This matters. The bánh mì is in its infancy as a trend, but word is spreading. More and more people are hearing the good word and their finding their curiosity peaked. And what if some of those people should happen to find themselves on vacation, at a hip casino, enjoying the wares of a buffet featuring some quite good food? Well, they would try the bánh mì. And, finding the above, I can only guarantee their disappointment. Part of that is my fault; I’ve long praised the bánh mì with language both flowery and strident, and I accept my fault in this. But the above sandwich is not my doing. Someone’s going to hear about the bánh mì, they’re going to eat the above, and they’re going to say “That’s it?” It’ll be over for them, and that’s why this matters.
The bánh mì has brought me no small amount of joy, and it breaks my heart that some charlatan behind the line in Las Vegas might be taking that joy from person after person, day in and day out. It’s just…gone. Not lost, though. Stolen.
As any enthusiast knows, a great many sandwiches start with leftovers. I’d happened to make some grilled sweet potatoes with cherry salsa, going by a recipe I happened upon when looking for something delightful but vegetarian. The potatoes were grilled and then tossed with lime zest, cumin and chili flakes, while the cherries were combined with scallions, fresh ginger, a dose of lime juice and more zest. It was delicious, and a few days later I pulled the leftovers out of the fridge with a sandwich in mind. It would have been simple enough to just toss the two onto some bread and be done with it, but in my mind leftover sandwiches don’t end with whatever you have in the fridge, you start there.
The flavor profile already had plenty of sweetness from the potatoes and the cherries, and there was more than enough brightness from the lime. Not bad, but it all lacks depth. A deeper richness would really round things out, and for that two ingredients occurred to me. On the left above there’s a layer of peanut butter on the bottom bun, and on the right I went with avocado. Both are creamy and have plenty of fat, bringing that richness I felt was lacking. The salsa also hadn’t been as spicy as I’d like, so some hot sauce went on both sandwiches.
Ultimately, these weren’t spectacular. They were good, but some of the sandwiches I’ve made have really knocked me over, so it’s hard not to be a tad disappointed when something doesn’t gel completely. Maybe a different bread might have helped, the whole wheat kaiser rolls I had on hand were a bit dry and not so flavorful. Some sandwiches are a bit tricky to figure out, but luckily doing so is plenty rewarding.
Having had a number of pleasant experiences at Fundamental LA in the past, I was curious to see what they might do with turkey. I don’t think much of turkey as a meat, usually finding it bland and its presence signalling an uninspired sandwich. The latter wasn’t quite a concern at Fundamental LA, as they put together roasted turkey breast on 12 grain with jalapeño apricot jam, arugula, and a lemon aioli. That’s a good lineup, a well conceived sandwich. As is too often the case at so many establishments, though, the execution was lacking. You can see it in the photo above, the big hump of turkey suggesting more of a domed construction than a proper stack. This isn’t pedantry or mere aesthetics; the construction of the shape has an immediate, direct impact on its consumption. There were too many bites of this sandwich that paired off a couple of ingredients at a time, robbing your humble enthusiast of the full, harmonious experience. Where everything could be tasted together this was quite good, though my personal preferences suggest more jam. But those bites were far too scarce, reducing what could have been a great sandwich to one that was just alright. I’ll find some exception turkey someday, but it isn’t here.
What’s the best French dip in Los Angeles? I have a particular affinity for the Frenchs dipped at both Phillipe the Original and Cole’s (in that order.) Some time ago I was surprised to learn that the general line on these establishments, at least in a certain crowd of Los Angeles eating enthusiasts, was that they weren’t that good. OK, sure, but far from the best French dip in town. So I’ve made it my business to try to find a representative sample of the sandwich. The early returns are in, and while I’ve yet to find a truly bad sandwich, most of them also aren’t great. The French dip is a pile of roast beef, some au jus, and generally some manner of horseradish or other peppery accompaniment. It’s delightfully simple and tough to screw up, which leaves it with a wonderfully high floor. But the fact that there isn’t a whole lot to it, which means it has a pretty limited ceiling. Which one is better than the other might just depend on the day, the context in which one eats it, or a host of other things that aren’t really about the sandwich itself. That’s not a tremendously satisfying conclusion, and it may be unfounded. Luckily, continuing research means eating more sandwiches, and I guarantee to you that I will do just that.
On more than one occasion, both on this site and elsewhere, I have summarized a sandwich as “10/10 concept, 2/10 execution.” This is simply my preferred way of saying that something is a good idea but whoever executed it fell short. Although I hadn’t given it much thought, prior to eating at Gjelina Take Away, I would have been skeptical that the inverse was possible. 10/10 execution, 2/10 concept? If it’s such a poor concept, surely carrying it out can’t bring high marks. I’m still not sure if such a thing is possible, but if it is you’ll find it pictured above. Beef brisket on a bánh mì is not something I would have come up with, and I would argue that that’s for good reason.
Lots of things can and do go onbánh mìs, with a variety of flavor profiles resulting. That said, they tend to have commonalities between them, usually in the form of…well, Vietnamese flavors. I’m not sure an enjoyable bánh mì is possible without that, and the brisket bánh mì wasn’t encouraging. The beef was awfully rich and seemed bland in comparison to the kind of thing I’m accustomed to in a bánh mì, and overall the sandwich lacked a brightness that a good bánh mì has in spades. The brisket was just too much, and the cilantro wasn’t up to the task of reeling it in.
All of that said, this sandwich felt like exactly what it was intended to be. The brisket was tender and juicy, the vegetables fresh, present in sensible proportion, and the baguette had a tremendous crust. In short, 10/10 execution, 2/10 concept.
At first glance, the Gasol chicken sandwich seems like an incongruous lineup: chicken with melted swiss, roasted green chili, pesto,lettuce and red onion. But notice that it lacks tomato, a clear signal that this wasn’t quite thrown together. Of course, just because something is given a bit of thought doesn’t mean it’s going to work well. As it turns out, the Gasol chicken works quite well. The lettuce is plentiful enough to be an ingredient rather than an afterthought, and combined with the roasted chili and the pesto there are some fresh, bright veggie flavors that pair well with the chicken and the cheese. So what at first appeared to be a disparate gaggle of ingredients turns out to be a harmonious bunch indeed. That’s the magic of sandwiches, I suppose, and I dare say we’re all much better off for it.
The last time I was at The Curious Palate, I noted that a good number of their sandwiches would be quite a bit of legwork to put together from scratch. This is one of them: thai marinated chicken thighs, peanut sauce, scallions, avocado and a sweet sort of Japanese pickles on 5-grain wheat. Even if one were working with leftover takeout (a too-often neglected route to quality sandwiches) it’s still a stretch. But that’s what cafes and restaurants are for, after all.
Effort aside, this was a sandwich that seemed better in concept than it was in execution. Bites that had everything were quite good, with the scallions and pickles bringing bright tang and sweet notes to the sandwich. Where they were absent, though, the peanut sauce and the avocado made for richness on top of richness with little to balance things out. Too much richness, I have found, leaves a flavor profile that seems dull, almost muddy. That’s disappointing, but overall the sandwich clearly falls under the aim-high-and-miss I find so easy to forgive. Perhaps the next time I’m out for Thai I’ll have half my meal boxed up and give it a shot on my own.