Fat Banh Mi-Ki — Fat Sal’s Deli, Gayley Ave, Westwood, Los Angeles

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I love the bánh mì. A bánh mì is the reason this blog exists. There are 28 separate bánh mì reviews on this site. If there’s someone who’s been to more bánh mì places than I have, they aren’t blogging about it. So when I look at the above…it’s wrong.

Marinated steak, pickled vegetables, a spicy coleslaw, fried onion rings, tomato, jalapeño, cilantro, a teriyaki glaze and sriracha mayo. That’s a far cry from what I know the bánh mì to be, what with the onion rings, the tomato, the coleslaw, the teriyaki. It’s just a mishmash of pseudo-Asian ingredients and the sort of fried indulgence for which Fat Sal’s is known, and they have the gall to call it a bánh mì. Teriyaki?!!?

The thing is, I’m not sure I care anymore. This was a good sandwich.. Sweet, spicy, tender and crunchy and really just balanced from top to bottom. I’ve held fast to dogma for a long time, claiming to be some arbiter of something I didn’t invent and can’t claim to fully understand, and maybe it’s time to be done with that. There’s room in this world for the pure experience, but there has to be room for the rest of it, no? This was a really tasty sandwich, and maybe that’s the last word.

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Pastrami with Chimmichurri — Wally’s, Westwood Blvd, Westwood

pastramiwallysNot even two months ago, I was eating a chimmichurri rib eye sandwich and bemoaning the lack of chimmichurri options in the world at large. Last Saturday, I walked into Wally’s cheese shop and caught sight of the special. Wally’s specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches, but this was something a bit different: pastrami, chimmichurri and aged Gruyère. Now, despite my having featured Wally’s before I imagine this was just a coincidence, but what a delightful coincidence it was! The rich, herbal chimmichurri was well paired with the smoky pastrami, and the nuttiness of the aged Gruyère rounded things out in a way that was hardly expected but really quite successful. This is not a sandwich without risk, the flavors involved could easily have clashed. But this is exactly the sandwich I was talking about when I wished chimmichurri was used more widely, and I salute Wally’s for accepting the risk and coming out with something delicious.

Chimichurri Rib Eye Sandwich — Simple Things, Kinross Ave, Westwood

simplethings-ribeyeSimple Things has been featured at On Sandwiches a few times, and they’ve become a trusted source for a good sandwich. My point with this post isn’t about this specific sandwich, which was in fact good. (Sliced ribeye, roasted cherry tomatoes,
onion jam, arugula and chimichurri on ciabatta. A fine lineup.) My point here is to talk about chimichurri. In its simplest form nothing but parsley, garlic, oregano, olive oil, and vinegar it can be tweaked a thousand different ways. It’s delicious, and as I ate this sandwich I wondered why on earth we don’t see it more often. I can’t count the number of sandwiches I’ve seen that are meat, greens, and horseradish. That’s fine, I’ve loved more than a few of them, but surely we would be better off if the vibrant notes of chimichurri were not so hard to find. It can’t be logisitcs, chimichurri is something of a cousin to pesto and that’s everywhere, in grocery stores both freshly prepared and in lesser, shelf-stable forms. Simply put, I can think of no reason this sauce shouldn’t appear much more often than it does, and I salute Simple Things for working to change that.

Fried Chicken — Fundamental LA, Westwood

fundamentalLAfriedchickenFundamental LA has appeared on this blog before, and so long as they keep making sandwiches they’re likely to continue appearing. Here they’ve gone the simple route, combining fried chicken with jimica and parsnip slaw on a house-made biscuit. I’ve had fried chicken sandwiches that are probably better, notably the Southern Fry at Plan Check, but I don’t know that I’ve seen one that does more with less. This is your standard chicken biscuit, raised well up with a spicy, crisp slaw that’s a good bit tastier than a few bread & butter pickles. There’s nothing wrong with the old standard, but Fundamental LA excels in demonstrating what’s possible beyond that.

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.

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.

Hudson’s Deluxe French Onion — Clementine, Ensley Ave, Los Angeles

clementine-frenchonionA great many sandwiches start as other meals, but very few of them start as soup. It takes a special sort of thinker to turn soup into something hand-held, and it takes an especially talented sort to do it well. Thankfully, Clementine possesses just that sort of person. Gruyere and caramelized onions join braised beef brisket on wheat levain, pressed to warm melted delight and served with a cup of jus. It’s richness upon richness, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do successfully. Contrary to what you might expect, this isn’t essentially without harmony. Everything works in the same direction, and so it isn’t that one side can drown out the other as they both combine for a loud, deliberate note. That’s what you find here, just umami on top of savory, deeply rich and just outstanding. Maybe one of the 10 best sandwiches I’ve ever had, and if you’re anywhere near Los Angeles I cannot recommend it enough.

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.

Slow Cooked Turkey Breast – Fundamental LA, Westwood Ave, Los Angeles

turkey-fundamentalLAHaving 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.