4/13/2009

Baoguette Cafe

What should banh mi be: traditional or new-style? How you answer that question greatly affects which banh mi you'll like of the many new sandwich shops opening now. Just arrived in the old Bamn space on St. Mark's (RIP to that noble effort to revive the automat) is Michael "Bao" Huynh's new Baoguette Cafe, a follow-up to Baoguette, which opened in Murray Hill earlier this year. With its offerings of things like a "sloppy bao" with green mango and curried beef, Baoguette falls squarely in the new-style camp.


It's hard not to be of two minds about the new-old quandary. On one hand, experimentation should be part of any cuisine, but on the other, if you already consider banh mi to be perfection, how could any change be an improvement? As a traditionalist, I decided to go for the most middle-of-the-road banh mi on the menu, the namesake "Baoguette."


There's nothing kooky about the ingredients in this one - you've got the usual suspects of paté, terrine, pork, pickled daikon and pickled carrots. There's a nice burst of cilantro flavor when you first bite in. I asked for it spicy and could have withstood more spice had I added it from bottle of Sriracha hot chili sauce on the table. As it was, the spiciness was more of a slow chili-garlic burn. The paté has an earthy, almost nutty taste that adds another layer of complexity to this sandwich.

One banh mi purist in the NYT article, Andrea Nguyen, contends that the baguette shouldn't be chewy artisanal bread but just the frame for the sandwich. The bread at Baoguette is excellent, and that's the problem. Cheap, hoagie-style bread is easier to bite into and leaves the focus on the sandwich ingredients, while Bao's fancy bread from Tom's Bakery almost steals the show. Eating po' boys or banh mi made with expensive bread feels like ordering crab cakes at the ball game.

If you want to go the traditional route, try the Hanco's Vietnamese Sandwich and Bubble Tea that just opened in Cobble Hill. There the bread is toasty, light, and basically an afterthought. The drawback? The filling isn't quite as good as Baoguette's. If it's gourmet ingredients you're after, Baoguette will not disappoint.

Baoguette Cafe
37 St. Marks Place, at Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
212-380-1487

Baoguette
61 Lexington Avenue, between 25th & 26th Streets
New York, NY 10010
212-518-4089

Sauces and even fresh jalapenos are on hand.

Baoguette's pho is intensely flavorful, better than many other Vietnamese places in the city.

Michael "Bao" Huynh works the phones
Photo murals of Saigon on the walls
The kitchen is in the same spot as Bamn's, but now it's an open kitchen.
Seating is super casual.

Baoguette Cafe menu


2 comments:

Kate said...

Must agree about Baoguette's bread. I love the ingredients--the $5 basic is anything but--but I haven't been excited about going back to my Lexington location because of how sore the roof of my mouth was after the crusty bread scraped against it last time. It's a lot to contend with. To its credit, the bread is so chewy that I get to enjoy a nice long meal!

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