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.

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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.

Pulled Chicken — Simple Things, Kinross Ave, Westwood

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Simplethings has been featured here before (twice, in fact) and I was recently delighted to find they had opened a branch in Westwood. I happened to arrive on a rather blustery day, cold for Los Angeles, and it seemed the heat of a pulled chicken sandwich was just what I needed. Friends, did this sandwich ever set me right. It’s chicken, arugula, pickled onions, garlic aioli, chevre spread,and chipotle bbq sauce on a pretzel roll. That’s a lineup that might offend some purists, but I’m trying to become less dogmatic in matters like that. So long as everyone executes as well as Simplethings, that shouldn’t be too hard. This sandwich was a delight, and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a sandwich that came together as well as this one did. Aside from the arugula nothing in particular stood out, leaving the sandwich less a series of notes and more a single, harmonious tone. Not every sandwich excels with something like that, but there’s no question this one did. It was rich, balanced, sweet but with some heat to it, and the pretzel roll brought deep flavor of its own. All in all, an excellent sandwich.

Braised Portobello Sandwich — fundamental LA, Westwood Blvd, Westwood

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I’ve had a number of portobello sandwiches lately, some of which I’ve discussed here. I try to vary things, but I also have a special place in my heart for the mushroom sandwich and I think they get short shrift. As such, I intend to just keep talking about them until I feel like more people are eating them, or I see them at more establishments. This is my blog, and I love mushrooms. I’ve featured fundamental LA before, and they make repeat appearances for good reason. They tend to excell in both concept and execution, and the number above is no exception. The mushroom is joined by avocado, frisee, pickled jalapeño and miso tahini dressing on toasted sourdough bread. The mushroom and the avocado form a deeply rich duet, the frisee is a delightful textural contrast, and the whole thing packs a substantial flavor. This is a great sandwich, and all the more evidence that if you’re steering clear of mushrooms you’re doing yourself no small disservice.

Pig-n-fig — Earl’s Gourmet Grub, Venice Blvd, Mar Vista

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I’m not sure where the grub comes in at Earl’s Gourmet Grub, as the establishment strikes me as fairly typical for a New American eatery. It’s clean as a whistle too, no claim to grub via the greasy spoon. One doesn’t dine on aesthetics, though, so frankly you can call a place whatever you like, so long as the food is good. And the fig-n-pig at Earl’s is good: prosciutto di Parma, blue cheese, fig hash and arugula pressed on a nutty whole-grain bread. I found the bites without blue cheese to be preferable to those with, though I could see another individual preferring the opposite. Overall the sandwich works: the prosciutto is rich and salty, the fig hash a sweet balance, and there’s enough arugula there for it to be a full participant, and not a spectator. Too little lettuce is quickly becoming a frequent irritant in my sandwich eating, so when there’s plenty I appreciate it. The bread has an earthy, buttery flavor to it and the press gives the whole thing a crunch. All in all, a fine sandwich.

Single Pastrami — Willie’s Grill and Deli, Victory Blvd, Burbank

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Don’t let the vertical orientation throw you; those pickles were easily pushed on top of the pastrami, easily making a proper sandwich. That’s not the story here. The story is how a sandwich that’s just pastrami, pickles and mustard relies heavily on the quality of the pastrami, and therefore one should have a reliable method for finding above-average pastrami. Luckily, such a method exists.

Willie’s Grill and Deli happens to be tucked inside the Alameda Jr. Liquor Market, a clean, well-lit liquor store with an ample selection. That’s a good sign for any sandwich counter. The logic is simple: By joining up with a cash-heavy, usually-profitable business the sandwich counter has access to lower overhead, in the form of cheaper rent when they’re a separate business or just general subsidy when they’re owned by the same people. This takes the pressure off they typically-thin margins of a restaurant, and more often than not that means a bump in the average quality of the food. Things tend to be more fresh, from quality producers, or provided at a better value. That was certainly the case at Willie’s, and it only strengthened my belief that if you’re looking for an above-average sandwich at a modest price, you can do a lot worse than head to a liquor store.

Portobello Mushroom — The Village Bakery & Cafe, Atwater Village

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I’ve reviewed a fair number of vegan and vegetarian sandwiches on this blog, and if you dig into the archives you’ll find vegan reviews from a most trusted associate. The reason I do this is actually quite simple: they’re often delicious. At many establishments these sorts of sandwiches are shunted off into their own little corner of the menu, all too easy to ignore. Don’t make that mistake; go looking for meatless options, consider them, and I wager you’ll find a reward is quick in coming. Such is the case with the above, a marinated, grilled portobello mushroom with some white bean hummus. Sure, there’s a cursory bunch of lettuce and a slice of tomato with a bit of red onion, but this is really a two-note song. That’s a difficult thing to pull off, but if you’re surprised that it works I’d wager you haven’t dined on mushrooms recently. It’s a dense, rich flavor, one done a disservice by the frequently-applied “meaty” label. The umami notes that are so present in meat are present in well-prepared mushrooms, but it’s its own food. Let it be so, and enjoy it for such. While the mushroom was the standout here, the hummus was a bit sparse in application. That’s especially unfortunate in that what was there was quite good, garlicky and rich in its own right. I appreciate an establishment watching out for excessive filling creep, but not at the cost of the sandwich overall. This was quite good, but with a little more hummus it could easily have been great.

True Burger, Los Angeles, CA

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I’ve taken issue with hamburgers before, because I believe the form encourages excess which only in very rare instances actually excells. But I still go in for one from time to time, largely because the ideal of a hamburger is strong, and when someone makes one with that ideal in mind the result is often really quite good. Take the above burger: white cheddar, roasted tomato, fried onions, spring mix, bacon jam, ketchup and ginger mustard. As a lineup, that’s just a basic bacon cheeseburger. But each ingredient has been carefully considered and slightly upgraded: the onions extra crunchy, the tomato a bit sweeter for the roasting, the bacon relatively unobtrusive in jam form. There’s one apparent misstep and one actual one, and both are worth discussing. The bun looks large and likely to send half the burger out of the side, but it was soft and juice-absorbing and the whole thing held together without any issue. The spring mix looks sparse, and it was. I generally do not care for lettuce as an afterthought; if you think it’s worth having on the burger then put it on the burger. Burgers are generally quite rich, and can easily support an echo of richness in a respectable amount of lettuce. Regardless of the error with the spring mix this was a very, very good burger and a fine example of the form’s higher end.

Southern Fry – Plan Check Bar + Kitchen, Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles

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The menu at Plan Check isn’t very crowded, but everything on it seems to have the benefit of a lot of thought. There’s nothing simple, and the southern fry is no exception. It’s nost just fried chicken, it’s jidori chicken, a particular type of breed known for strong flavor. Bacon would be a popular addition but it’s also a lazy choice, and it’s not the one made here. That’s duck breast ham you see pictured, and spicy green pimento cheese and pickles round things out. I’m generally skeptical of the upscaled sandwich—after all, there’s nothing wrong with a simple fried chicken sandwich—but there’s a clear vision at work here and I respect anyone who thinks that they can make something humble into something genuinely special. It’s a successful effort here, resulting in a delicious sandwich. Exquisitely crunchy fried chicken with a strong, meaty flavor, plenty of heat, and a salty sourness from the pickles and the ham. It’s not Top 10 good, but it is well, well above average, and that’s always something worth celebrating.

OMG Lamb Sandwich — Community, Hillhurst Ave, Los Feliz

omglambCommunity is a restaurant in Los Feliz with no small reputation, and the OMG Lamb sandwich is another example of my faith in the top of the menu. It’s not an infallible rule, but generally speaking, whatever’s listed at Number 1 is likely to be a pretty good bet. I find it to be the item most labored over, the one that started someone dreaming. I don’t know if that’s the case with Community and to be honest…I hope it wasn’t. the OMG Lamb sandwich is good, quite good, but it doesn’t feel revelatory. In short, it isn’t OMG. Well marinated lamb joins cucumber-tomato salad, dressed greens and jalapeno yogurt, on ciabatta, slices so thin as to be flatbread. The lamb is juicy and well prepared but the dominant note of the sandwich is pepper, present with the lamb and echoed in the yogurt and overall there wasn’t much past that note. I’m being picky, because as I said this was quite good. But I’ve been at this long enough that I have to be picky and besides, I’m not the one making divine promises.