Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bahn Mi - a first foray

I know, me miss "eats everything everywhere as much as possible" found herself at a loss when a budding restaurateur approached me a few weeks ago asking for some consulting on an asian style cafe menu.  After a little coaxing, I got some information of what type of menu she was looking for, as "asian" could mean anything from chinese stirfry to korean style kimchi.  My specialty is Japanese, and as much as I hate the idea of, and even the word, "fusion,"  it is pretty much here to stay.  Even my own Tatsu menu has some gringo-esque undertones...
So when said cafe owner mentioned vietnamese sandwiches, I suddenly felt at a loss.  I mean, I've heard of these wonders: layered meats with pate and some sort of greenery on a traditional sandwich roll, and read some great reviews of some places off of Clement in the City, but felt sort of  ashamed that I hadn't yet partaken of one,  being the self proclaimed eater that i am.    However,   since moving (way up) to Petaluma almost 2 years ago, my culinary experiences have taken a bit of a nose dive, often even giving way to late night snacks at Applebees.  Yes, Applebees (and only because the sidewalks roll up around her at 9pm).
Wanting to try a Bahn Mi from the City instead of busting my cherry on a potential lesser version from the only Vietnamese restaurant in town, I popped down there a few weeks ago to get a firsthand taste of this eponymous sando.
A chef friend suggested I try Saigon Sandwich on Larkin Street near Turk.  As I was en route to a catering gig and didn't want to risk the line, I called ahead.  That proved sort of ridiculous.  They asked me what kind and I said, "the most popular."  She gave me the Vietamese version of "do not understand" - and so because I had no idea what was on their menu, and was scrolling through yelp reviews while driving on Lombard to try to make a quick decision, I settled on the pork.  I wanted to make sure it had the pate, cuz' please understand, I have never ordered one of these buggahs and wanted to be sure to get the whole shebang.  Unfortunately though, my non-english speaking phone companion "computed"  my request as "no pate?" Then I said "yes, pate" and then another "discourse" ensued on mayonnaise vs. no mayonnaise.  I said "yes, mayonnaise" and she responded "no mayo?"...  By the time I got off the phone, I had no idea what the hell I would be getting but was okay with that.
I zipped up and around the block (because Larkin is one-way for most of Russian Hill) and as luck would have it, found rock star parking right out front.  Luck would also have it, because it was a little too late for lunch and a little too early for dinner, that there was no line.  In fact, upon entering the little shoe boxed sized place, I was quick to discover they hadn't even yet made my sandwich!  So much for planning ahead!(my friends would laugh at that one, as one of my nicknames is "planny janny").  And it didn't really matter, because the "fanci pork pate" sandwich took all of 30 seconds to toss together:  sweet braised pork slices au jus from a crock pot, a squirt bottle with pate and some mystery ingredient in it (because in my world, pate has never been liquid enough to come out of a squirt bottle) and then of course, the required mayonnaise.  Topped with some cilantro, some slightly spicy pickled carrots, slices of jalapeno and stuffed into a french style sandwich roll, my sando was done!  And at $3.50, apparently that stop at Wells Fargo off Union wasn't at all needed!
Wrapped up in a tight paper wrapper with a red rubber band to hold it all together, I was out of there and on my way for a quick last minute Christmas shopping jaunt in Japantown.
Eager to try this while it was still hot, that wrapping proved to be a pain in the ass to unwrap while driving (yes, I am one of those people) - but there were enough traffic signals to allow me to catch a few bites before I found parking in Japantown.  A word to the wise, not the best way to eat this, as the pate squishes out of the crunchy yet still soft roll.  It wasn't cut in half, so picking up the whole thing while shifting on hills in SF, without spilling the contents into my lap or crashing into the car in front of me was a bit of a challenge.  The pork was sweet and soft, the carrots sweet, spicy and vinegary.  The jalapeno just hot enough to offset the sweetness and the cilantro added the extra dimension that only cilantro has the knack of doing.  I would have hoped the pate was a bit more prevalent, and somehow I imagined a slaw instead of just carrots and a few pieces of pickled cabbage, more meat etc, but that is probably the American in me.  The photo makes it look a bit more opulent than it was.  All in all however,  a sandwich I would try again.  Stay tuned, as I will be trying my local Petaluma version this week.