Following my stay in Connecticut, I took a trip to the Big Apple, mostly to visit my little brother, a freshman at NYU, and my best friend Alex. Also important was seeing Will, a good friend from college and a New Yorker through and through. Therefore, I knew Will would be imperative to finding a great sandwich in New York.
He took me to Num Pang, a hole in the wall off Union Square, that serves Cambodian-style sandwiches. The pork sandwich is their best seller, and consistently sells out early in the day, which was the case on my visit. Will suggested the catfish sandwich, and if the pork really is better, it must be one hell of a sandwich. Ordering takes place on the sidewalk through a small window in the restaurant, and just behind the guy taking your order, you can see the entire kitchen.
The sandwich itself was complex in all the right ways. The catfish was cooked perfectly, flaky and spicy. For those of you who have been following along, you know that the presence of cucumbers on the sandwich always scores major points with me. The chili mayo accentuated the peppercorn aspect of the catfish, while the sweet soy sauce complemented the kick provided by the other ingredients. I’ve never seen cilantro used the way it is in this sandwich: a handful of it takes up the role usually held by lettuce. One of the best parts of this sandwich for me however, is the tagline on the menu:
Our sandwiches were created to enjoy as they are so PLEASE, NO MODIFICATIONS.
These are the kind of sandwich purists I like.
The Broken Yolk in New London, Connecticut is everything that a local diner should be. My four years of college in New London gave me ample opportunity to visit The Broken Yolk many a time, and let me tell you, this place gets better with every meal. Run by the amazing and effervescent Doreen, who literally controls the entire diner while cooking every dish and chatting up each customer, The Broken Yolk is one of those places that most people think only exist on television.
Breakfast at The Broken Yolk is always entertaining, but during my recent visit to Connecticut for alumni weekend I had an especially wonderful experience. My friend Wells had decided to shoot his short film at the diner, and my friend Owen, the star of the short, and I accompanied him for breakfast before the work began. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: the company you keep at mealtime can have just as much effect on the experience as the food itself. At The Broken Yolk, the company is always good, and I had been looking forward to a delicious meal there from the moment I booked my flights.
Though I have many favorites on the menu, I wanted to give The Broken Yolk a chance to shine on AOAS, and so I ordered the stuffed croissant…a toasted croissant literally STUFFED with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, scallions, cream cheese, and smoked salmon, served with a side of home fries. First of all, I LOVE breakfast sandwiches. I had, for whatever reason, never really been exposed to breakfast sandwiches before I moved to the East Coast, and so I associate them with college and New England. Thus, a breakfast sandwich was all I wanted, and the stuffed croissant more than fit the bill. Scrambled eggs and cream cheese is another weakness of mine (especially when tabasco is added to the mix), and if you throw in smoked salmon, I am immediately sold. Therefore, I knew exactly what I was ordering the moment Owen told me that we were going to The Broken Yolk for breakfast.
I hadn’t had the stuffed croissant in a couple of years, but it most definitely lived up to my memories. The croissant is perfectly buttery and flaky, made even more so by the slight toasting. The eggs are scrambled exactly the way I like them: not underdone and runny, and not dry and overcooked. All in all, this sandwich is delicious. The only thing that would make it better would be avocado, but this is Connecticut folks, not Southern California (which I would constantly remind myself during my four years of college).
But in all seriousness, if you happen to find yourself in New London, CT, you really have to check this place out. Anything you eat will be delicious (may I recommend the huevos rancheros or the eggs in a window?) and Doreen will always show you a good time. The woman is truly one of a kind.
For my birthday, my parents took me to STREET, a restaurant in Hollywood that serves street food from all over the world tapas-style. This was a perfect choice for my birthday dinner, as I consider a great meal to be one in which I get to enjoy many different foods, and not just one big entree. Furthermore, I love trying new things, especially great local foods, which are most often embodied in the form of street food.
STREET is the creation of Susan Feniger, most well known for Border Grill in Santa Monica, and keeps much of the same feel of great food in a casual California setting. Most of the seating is outside, keeping to the street concept, and there is enough variety that everyone will be happy (even the pickiest of eaters like my father). My mom had been to the restaurant before, and was adamant that the kaya toast be a part of our meal.
It was one of the first items that we were served (I think we ended up ordering most of the menu), and wasn’t what I was expecting at all. From the description (toast, coconut jam, egg, dark soy, white pepper), I was expecting more of a breakfast sandwich, but this was better than it ever could have been in breakfast form. The coconut jam, though definitely sweet, was never overpowering, and well balanced by the distinctive flavors of the soy and white pepper. The toast itself was buttery and perfectly golden, the best kind of toast, in my opinion, to dip in egg. The egg was great, and all together, this dish was totally unexpectedly delicious.
Kaya toast, which takes its name after the jam used in the dish, is very popular in its native countries of Malaysia and Singapore. Taken at face value, it may not seem like the kind of food you would find in these places, but kaya toast is actually the product of British influence. Kaya, or coconut egg jam, is a traditional food, while the toast can be attributed to the British diet that infiltrated the culture through colonialism. As the two cultures mingled, the jams and preserves that the British ate on their toast were replaced by the local kaya. Soon, kaya toast became a staple food. Today, there is even a franchise of restaurants that has become famous for its kaya toast. In fact, Ya Kun Kaya Toast‘s slogan is “The toast that binds…Kinship, Friendship, Partnership.” Not only is this reminiscent of the combination of the two distinct cultures that created kaya toast, but also highlights that food plays an important role in all cultures.
I must say that I was skeptical of the kaya toast at first, but I ate the last bite while regretfully wishing there was more on the plate and that I hadn’t had to share it in the first place. Next time I eat at STREET, and there will definitely be a next time, I will be just as adamant as my mom in my recommendation.
The food truck phenomenon that has swept Los Angeles, and for that matter, the country, has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Thus far, however, I have only had good experiences.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that a food truck called No Reservations was on a street by our house and that I should go check it out. For those of you who don’t know me, I am an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, who has a fantastic television show by the name of No Reservations. I therefore decided to go see if this truck had anything to do with Tony or his show (knowing that it most likely didn’t) and hoped that regardless, I would get some good food out of the whole adventure.
It turned out that the truck had absolutely no connection to Bourdain, but my disappointment was quickly countered by the menu, which boasts simply:
HOT WRAPS: $8.00
Needless to say, I was stoked. Not only that, but each wrap is comprised of interesting ingredients with a movie title for a name. In addition, I was lucky enough to stop at the truck as a new employee was trying out each wrap. As I waited for my wrap, the Good Fellas, I hovered over the array of deliciousness being lined up in front of me. The girl eventually noticed me, and the guy showing her the wraps (manager? owner?) offered me half of the Silence of the Lambs (marinated roasted leg of lamb, middle eastern rice, spaghetti squash, red pepper hummus, and pomegranate red wine sauce). I couldn’t stop myself from digging in before taking a picture (photo #3). The wrap was unbelievable…the lamb was a little well done for my tastes, but the flavor was great and complemented perfectly by the spices in the rice and the surprising texture of the spaghetti squash. Most amazing was the tanginess that the pomegranate delivered, creating an unusual flavor profile.
I finally got my wrap and headed home, where I encountered a similar experience: though every component of the wrap made sense as a complete whole, there were tastes that were surprising and different. This wrap consisted of grilled New York steak, roasted garlic potatoes, gorgonzola cheese with cracked peppercorns and red beet horseradish creme fraiche, comprising a sandwich that has not one ingredient that I wouldn’t eat in a heartbeat. In the Good Fellas, I found that the gorgonzola provided a great bridge between the classic meat and potatoes and the modern red beet horseradish creme fraiche. The creamy texture of the cheese, combined with the strength of its flavor, matched the power of the creme fraiche while evening it out to balance the heaviness of the rest of the ingredients.
All in all, I was very sad that I didn’t get to meet Anthony Bourdain, but this exciting and surprising food experience was definitely worth the disappointment.
One of my friends from school is from Redondo Beach, and we decided to get together for a sandwich date before she headed back to Connecticut. She had strongly suggested that we go to Sloopy’s in Manhattan Beach, a cafe known for its beachy patio setting and great food. The decor is great…all eclectic patio furniture that almost feels like you’re sitting in your own backyard. You order from a counter, not waiters, making it feel less restaurant-y and more like you’ve found a great local secret. But on to the sandwich…
The Masterpiece appealed to me because I discovered the classic Italian sandwich when I lived on the East Coast. This type of sandwich is not at all limited to this region, but did, in fact originate there. On a personal note, I had never eaten pig products before college when I lived in California, and I definitely associate this classic with my time on the East Coast. I’ve found so far that a lot of great sandwich shops in Southern California have an Italian-esque sandwich that is more customized, resulting in a lot of great variety. The Masterpiece continued this trend of personalizing this sandwich, while upholding the staples of the classic: prosciutto, ham, salami, cappicola, provolone, arugula, banana peppers, balsamic with cracked pepper mayo on ciabatta. The best part about the Masterpiece for me was not the meat combination, which is the standard, but rather the balsamic and cracked pepper mayo combined with the banana peppers. Though the mayo was interesting in and of itself, the tanginess of the banana peppers complimented it perfectly. For me, composition is a HUGE part of the success of a sandwich, and that includes the order of ingredients: different tastes and textures will be brought out by the way you put your sandwich together. Putting the banana peppers and mayo together really made the sandwich in my opinion, instead of having the mayo on the meat. In addition, I always like the combination of mayo and lettuce, which this sandwich also had. Really, the only problem I had with this sandwich was the ciabatta: though the taste and texture was great, I filled up on the bread quickly and didn’t get very far into the second half of the sandwich.
The Italian sub, which can be found under many names, such as a hoagie, hero, grinder, or torpedo depending on where you are in America, is most definitely a staple of our sandwich culture. Regardless of what it’s called, this sandwich originated in Italian-American communities throughout the Northeast, and is more or less the same sandwich from place to place, albeit small differences. One of the great things about the Italian sub, though, is that it creates a framework that can be tweaked and customized, creating great sandwiches all over the country.
The Farms is a Mom and Pop grocery store in Santa Monica that my family has been going to since we moved here 18 years ago. It’s one of those places where everyone recognizes you and where all the regulars have house accounts. My brother even worked as a bag boy there for a summer.
This sandwich doesn’t have any crazy ingredients, nor is it an innovation in the world of sandwiches. For me, this sandwich is a throw back to childhood: I probably ate it once a week in elementary school. I have a vague memory of my mom giving me the sandwich for the first time, and thinking that the combination of turkey, cheddar, lettuce, pickles, and mayo was not what I generally wanted out of a sandwich. I also have a fuzzy recollection of loving the sandwich from the first bite.
That nostalgia can play a role in food likes and choices is unsurprising. Many anthropologists choose memory as their topic of study, as it plays a huge role in the nature vs nurture debate. To use this sandwich as an example: my current food likes generally fall into the more unusual realms: I like foods that are different or unknown. I like to be adventurous in my eating, even though my father is a rather picky eater, and my mother has food restrictions of her own. By nature, I should not be quite as bold in my food choices, but I was nurtured into having a love for food, and I believe that my life experiences thus far have created this side in my eating habits.
This sandwich continues to be a meal I choose despite it’s simplicity. Though it is partially because the sandwich is delicious by being straightforward with no frills, a huge part of my enjoyment is due to the subconscious memory of enjoying it time and time again as a child. Though this connection between memory and food choice has been illustrated through this sandwich, it is by no means limited to sandwiches. Any food can induce this experience, which is one of the amazing things about people and their relationship to food.
The French Dip sandwich. This delicious iconic American sandwich is usually served on a French roll with a side of au jus for dipping, but Philippe’s, one of two restaurants that claim to have originated the French Dip, dips the entire sandwich just prior to serving. This unique style comes from the story of the sandwich’s creation: one day in 1918, ten years after the restaurant opened, Philippe himself was making a sandwich when he accidentally dropped the roll into a roasting pan filled with still-hot juices from the oven. The customer took the sandwich anyway, and the next day, brought back friends who all requested the “dipped sandwich.”
Philippe’s serves its dip sandwich with either beef, pork, ham, lamb, or turkey, and you can get it single-dipped, double-dipped, or wet. I got a single dipped, beef with American cheese, and was blown away. The whole thing just melted in your mouth: between the super tender beef, the melty cheese, and the firm but juice-soaked bread, the Philippe’s French Dip started a party in my mouth.
The other restaurant that lays claim to the invention of the French Dip is Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet…which will have to be checked out on another sandwich adventure…
Another interesting thing about In N Out is their secret menu, or as they call it, their “not so secret menu”. This figures in to the idea I brought up in my last post about food defining social groups. As you can see, my double double has no bun. Instead it is “protein style”: wrapped in lettuce with no bread. In N Out also offers to make the items on the menu “animal style,” or with extra spread, pickles, and grilled onions. Furthermore, if the two patties and two cheese of the double double isn’t enough for you, In N Out offers a 3×3 or a 4×4. In fact, when I was in high school, I witnessed a friend take down a 20×20. That’s right, 20 meat and 20 cheese, and they had to serve it lying down in two to-go boxes.
What is interesting, however, is what In N Out has to say about their secret menu:
In N Out acknowledges the fact that the concept of a secret menu leads to exclusion, and chooses to negate the whole idea. Thus, there becomes a contradiction between what the customer wants, being a part of an exclusive group that knows the secret, and what In N Out wants, for everyone to feel like they are a part of the exclusive group, making it the exact opposite of exclusive. This contradiction, however, does not alienate customers; instead, it makes In N Out accessible to more people, while still making the individual feel special.