Tuna Conserva – Fundamental LA, Westwood Blvd, Westwood

tunaconserva-fundamentallaI’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.


Atun Escabeche – Churros Calientes, Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles


Here is the proper way to cook a fresh piece of tuna: Get a skillet. Get it nice and hot, add a little oil. On the other side of your kitchen, place your tuna fish on a clean plate. Lift the plate and point it at the hot stove. Count to three. Cross the room, shut the burner off, then return to and eat your tuna.

This is not the method followed at Churros Calientes, sadly, much to the detriment of the sandwich. There is a certain tragedy inherent in tuna, as I have noted before, and that’s in a well-cooked piece. Overcooked, the pathos becomes too much to handle. This was a fine piece of meat, and it gained much from a flavorful herb/spice/vinegar marinade. I really wanted to like this sandwich. But all flavor played second to the dry, mealy tuna, the result of much too much heat. There’s no saving something like that. An inherent tragedy is one thing, but a willful one is something very different.

(Though it is outside the purview of this blog, I would like to note that the churros at Churros Calientes are phenomenal. Really stellar churros, well worth going out of your way.)

Ahi Burger – Library Ale House, Main St, Santa Monica

library alehouse

The tuna steak sandwich might be my absolute favorite thing to order, though it is not my favorite sandwich. It’s a risk/reward proposition, the cut of meat is so tremendously easy to ruin, but so sublime when done well. As you can see by the photo, the folk at Library Ale House know what they’re doing. The slice of tuna in their ahi burger is firm and moist, not quite thick enough for the warm-outside-cool-center that marks the very best sandwiches, but quite good nonetheless. The tuna is joined on the bun by asian slaw with a bit of heat to it, a citrus ponzu dressing and wasabi aioli. That’s not an especially adventuresome lineup, but it’s one that’s certain to be delicious. There’s a sweetness, some spice to counter that, and the slaw is a fine textural contrast.

I try to keep things positive around here, but I cannot speak of tuna fish without noting that someday they will all be gone. As I have noted this before:

Tuna is a fine, fine meat and some day when our grandchildren ask us what it was like I think it will be our great shame to tell them that most of the tuna we ate was dry, coming out of a can only to be drowned in mayonnaise, gussied up into fully moldable slop.

That may be what’s coming, but it is not what is yet here. Today we still have sandwiches like the above, and I am ever so grateful to have them.

Albacore Sandwich – The Kitchen, Fountain Ave, Silver Lake, Los Angeles

I have a special place in my heart for sandwiches built around a quality piece of tuna, and I have an extra special place for delicious sandwiches built around a quality pice of tuna. That’s the albacore sandwich at The Kitchen, a combination of tuna, Asian pear, pickled red onion, mixed greens & wasabi mayo on a well-toasted baguette. That’s a great combination. The sweetness of the pear balances the spice of the wasabi, and the greens bring earthy undertones. That the bite of the red onion is slightly tempered by the pickling is the real signal of quality here.

Tuna is a delicate meat, easily overwhelmed by assertive flavors. The pear and the greens are subtle and play well, while there was restraint in the wasabi that kept it from being too strong. Red onion could easily blast out the rest of the sandwich, but a bit of pickling keeps everything in harmony. The baguette was well toasted, you can see a bit of char on the underside in the photo. That kept things crunchy, and made the bread yield to a bite rather than require a clamp-and-tear maneuver

Simply put, this sandwich had the mark of proper execution from top to bottom, and that’s a wonderful thing. Many a well-conceived sandwich falls short by the time it makes it to the plate, and the times when that doesn’t happen are well worth celebrating.

Tuna Melt – @YC, E Taylor St, San Jose, CA

@YC cafe is a coffee house, one of those numbers that’s tucked into the corner of a block of new condos. It really seems like espresso and pastries are the focus, but there’s a half dozen or so sandwiches on rge menu. Breakfast sandwiches seem to be the specialty, but I wasn’t really in rge mood for eggs. So, figuring I might be degrees of separation from the specialties, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I ordered the tuna melt, the proprieter asked me if I wanted cucumber and onion included, and I settled in.

Some time ago I wondered just how much impact context had on sandwich quality, and that’s a question that comes up again with this tuna melt. Contextually, it had two things going for it. The first was rgw aforementioned uncertainty, and the second was that it was a cold, rainy afternoon. A grilled sandwich on a day like that is pretty much the definition of “hit the spot,” isn’t it? So with those two things going for it, I was pretty darn pleased with this sandwich. Canned tuna, some cheddar cheese but nothing special, a bit of cucumber and onion, @YC seemed to have made a pretty good something out of not much. It was warm, cheesy, buttery, crunchy goodness, and I don’t think I could have asked for much more.

Surf and Turf — Dave’s Chillin’ and Grillin’, Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles

Dave’s Chillin’ and Grillin’ is a site that will be featured again on this site in the not-too-distant future. The eponymous proprietor of this particular establishment is a Boston transplant who, dismayed that he was unable to find a quality sandwich in Los Angeles, set up shop in the Eagle Rock neighborhood. Dave’s is the closest sandwich establishment to my residence, and luckily one of the best.

As I headed into Dave’s yesterday, I noted that the chalkboard on the sidewalk listed specials for Tuesday through Friday, leading me to believe Monday had no such featured sandwich. Still, I verified this was the case at the counter, and was told that today’s special was the “Surf and Turf.” I was then informed that this was a tuna and pastrami sandwich. I imagine my eyebrows must have leaped nearly off my forehead. Not only did this sound like a sandwich so interesting that I simply had to try it, but it allowed me to test my newly-minted theory that pastrami was the perfect complementary sandwich meat. I felt that if anything would stretch the theory to its limits, it must be this.

The Surf and Turf was basically a tuna melt with pastrami, as touted. Tuna salad, pastrami, tomato, and cheese sauce grilled on white, with Dave’s signature red pepper spread. On my first bite, I was disappointed. But then I paused, and thought about a normal tuna melt. This was markedly better. I suppose I expected the sandwich to be transcendent, but armed with my new point of reference, my theory held up, and I was treated to a very fine sandwich indeed. The pastrami was indeed a fine counterbalance to the tuna, which itself was a step or two above most sandwich shops. Nice, large chunks of tuna, light on mayonnaise, and with a healthy dose of pepper.

If I were to construct this sandwich myself, I would do things just a bit differently. I feel that the cheese sauce would work better if it were replaced by actual slices of cheese. I feel that the inclusion of tomato, if it must be added, would only benefit with adding either onion or lettuce, or both, after the two halves of the sandwich came off the grill, for a true snap and added texture. My final quibble is, I feel, merely a byproduct of having partaken of Dave’s so often. His patented red pepper spread, which really makes his meatball and his sausage subs something unique, was good on this sandwich, but perhaps just a soupcon  of overkill. A solid brown or whole-grain mustard would have been just as good, and wouldn’t have overwhelmed the meats quite so much. But overall, a lovely surprise of an unorthodox sandwich. I imagine I’ll find a reason to return on a Monday soon enough.


Tuna Steak Sandwich – Made at Home

When I went to Ike’s Place, I tried the first sandwich on the menu for a reason. ” In that sandwich,” I wrote, “one often finds the favorite child; The sandwich loved longest, made most often, the sandwich in which someone’s dream begins to take form.” For me, this is that sandwich. Don’t get me wrong, I have no plans to open my own establishment any time soon, having no desire to turn my passion into my business and having no access to capital. But this is my sandwich. It is the sandwich I think of in idle moments, the sandwich that instills me in me a possibility I know I must pursue.

When I spoke of the tuna steak sandwich at Ramsi’s Cafe on the World in Louisville, I made it a point to mention how shameful most of the tuna we eat is. That still stands, one day the tuna fish will be gone and when we are asked about it all we will be able to do is lower our heads and think about how we allowed so magnificent a fish to be associated with such mediocre cuisine. This sandwich is an attempt at something better, a love note to a fish, an attempt to live up to a possibility.

I don’t have it quite right. It’s a good sandwich, probably the best I’ve ever made, but it isn’t quite right. The preparation starts with slices of carrot, about a sixteenth of an inch thick. They go into a marinade of soy sauce, rice vinegar and water (in a 1-1-1 ratio), ginger, toasted garlic, red pepper flakes and a touch of honey. After a few hours in there they come out, and the marinade goes into a skillet to be cooked down.  Similar slices of cucumber are prepared but left unadulterated. Wasabi mayo is prepared, with a strong emphasis on the wasabi. I’m no great fan of mayonnaise. In fact, my attitude might be best characterized as “tolerant.” It has its place, but if you use too much…well, I hope you’re right with the lord, because I’m not likely to forgive you. But I find it unobjectionable as a sort of neutral vehicle for another flavor, and it performed well here. The bread went into a 200 degree oven to really maximize the crisp, although I’m not really sure how much this adds to the final product. Anyhow, the tuna steak is coated on both sides with sesame seeds and black pepper, and it goes into a hot pan for a scant couple of minutes. Cooking tuna for a sandwich is no different than any other application, and as always it’s best to undershoot. After coming out of the pan the fish is cut into quarter inch slices, laid atop the carrots, and finally drizzled with the reduced marinade.

It isn’t quite right. Between the carrots and the sauce there’s too much soy. I still want to get the ginger and the garlic onto the sandwich, but I need to back off the soy somehow. Perhaps the ratios in the marinade can shift, I’m still not sure. I might have gone too heavy on the wasabi, although to be frank I prefer that to going light. The flavor of the fish is well represented in the sandwich, but it’s missing something that would bring the ingredients from combination to harmony. I think a bit more black pepper in the coating will help things come together. But don’t let me run this down! This is a damn fine sandwich, and I only spend so many words pointing out its flaws because I know what it is capable of. This is already the best sandwich I make, and it’s only going to get better.

Tuna Steak – Ramsi’s Cafe, Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY

The tuna steak sandwich at Ramsi's Cafe in Louisville
Click for close-up

Ramsi’s Cafe on the World takes their extended name seriously, if their sandwich menu is to be believed. The options span a wide world: Bison steak, Jamaican seitan, chicken tandoori, falafel, chicken parmesan and more. They all looked tasty but the tuna sandwich sang a siren song I could not resist. Tuna is a fine, fine meat and some day when our grandchildren ask us what it was like I think it will be our great shame to tell them that most of the tuna we ate was dry, coming out of a can only to be drowned in mayonnaise, gussied up into fully moldable slop. But not so at Ramsi’s! Understanding the heights that tuna can reach, they instead go with a six ounce filet of tuna fish on homemade cuban bread, topped with pickled mangoes and a sesame ginger dressing. Fruit and meat is a delicate combination, one that can yield stellar results or go south in a hurry. The tuna and mango are the former here, coming together in one of the finest sandwiches I’ve had in a long time.