Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sandwich and Life New York City Entry #38

Should I ever require a new spouse, the first question I would ask potential suitors is "How far would you travel for a sandwich?" Admittedly this query is asked by one who has driven fifty miles for a taco (strictly speaking a Navajo Taco from the Tuba City Truck Stop Cafe). When in a good mood Wife One (of One) considers this decision "eccentric," but perhaps needs less justification here.

Such interrogation carries risks. I could, I suppose, wind up with Calvin Trillin, Michael Stern, or Jim Leff as life partner. Viewed properly a jaunt to Massachusetts would permit the sated couple a lobster roll at the Clam Box in Ipswich.

To speak of sandwiches is to speak of Bánh Mi, the exemplary Vietnamese contribution to bread. Preserving this culinary heritage seems the only plausible justification for American misadventures in Saigon. I nearly regretted that I was unfit for duty.

Granted travel to Ho Chi Minh City seems excessive, even for a Platonic sandwich, but New Yorkers willing to travel to Brooklyn's Sunset Park have Ba Xuyen (a second location has apparently closed). I have not (yet) conducted a comparative Bánh Mi tasting, but the intrepid "Impetuous Epicure" has (

He concludes (with photos) - and who am I to argue - that Ba Xuyen is the ultimate Bánh Mi spot. I can state with confidence that Ba Xuyen's sandwich skills are exemplary. The restaurant, a short walk from the hilltop Sunset Park with its exquisite views of Lower Manhattan, is a bright, cheery coffee shop with a bright cheery staff and images of the sandwiches on their backlit counter menu. I ordered the #1 Sandwich (Pate, Ham, BBQ Pork Roll) and the #7 (Sardine Roll), both were sublime: the latter trumping Prune's sardines as the ultimate marinated fish experience of my New York year. The former was a more complex construction, perfectly balanced with the tang of radish and vinegar, the textures of the pate, ham (and I think some tendon) was as complex as many Manhattan gourmet constructions. A truly honest sandwich can be both bracing and sophisticated. Bread can contain miracles.

With these sandwiches (one is sufficient for most humans), I ordered Honeydew Milk with Pearl Tapioca. What was distinctive about this thin liquid was its playing with temperature (this might be labeled Molecular Cuisine if we were on Clinton Street and if the price was tripled). The bottom of the glass contained heated liquid, whereas the layer of ice cubes on the top created a serene sweet drink. The tapioca pearls could easily be (and perhaps already are) an essential ingredient at El Bulli.

I concluded my meal with a slice of sweet-sticky yucca cake, excellent in small doses, at least after two sandwiches.

Sunset Park, Brooklyn's Chinatown, is nearly an hour by subway from Manhattan, but for a sandwich it is just down the block.

Ba Xuyen
4222 8th Avenue (at 43rd Street)
Brooklyn (Sunset Park)

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