Posts Tagged ‘Spice Kit’
Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen
3425 S State St
Salt Lake City, UT 84115
My bias from the outset: I love bánh mì, and love that I have a variety of places to choose from to get them in SLC. The only downside of the status quo is that they all reside on a ten block stretch of each other on Redwood Road, a substantial drive from my place. So when I saw the sign for Oh Mai go up on State Street a month ago, was I rooting for them to be great? You bet I was.
My dreams have come true. This place stands to save me many trips to the west side.
The bánh mì that I had, the S1 Cold Cuts, was as close to my gold standard, Spice Kit in San Francisco, as I’ve found in the area. On the protein side of the lineup, pork roll, jambon ham, pork head cheese, and a pork pate. The vegetation side: pickled daikon and carrot, jalapeno, cilantro, and cucumber. Surround that with a piece of bread that, while not the traditional so-crispy-that-it-shatters-on- the-first-bite baguette, was nonetheless of the french variety, thoroughly toasted, and nicely dressed with garlic butter and mayo. It hits all of the usual bánh mì notes of unctuous, sweet from the vegetables, and substantial from the meat. At only $3.88, it is ridiculously inexpensive. Something about the more substantial bread and the generous toppings also makes this a much more filling sandwich than any of its brethren further west.
Despite being stuffed, I also had some pho, which was highly tasty. I loved the broth in particular. But, for me, this place was about the sandwich. In talking with the staff, they said that they plan to start offering the more traditional chicken liver pate with the sandwich, as well as green papaya salad in the future.
The hours on the door are 9:30a to 8:30p, 7 days a week. I think that may, coincidentally, describe my return schedule for the place, too.
I completed my quest for local bánh mì on Friday at Indochine Vietnamese Bistro across the street from the U campus. I arrived just about 3pm, which is when they stop serving the sandwich, but had called ahead to let them know that I’d be coming in and to place my order. Although as I began asking around in local Vietnamese restaurants for recommendations and had heard Indochine mentioned several times as an option, when I first checked the menu, there was no mention of bánh mì. The express lunch menu does mention a baguette sandwich, however. Maybe the fact that they didn’t use that name for it was an augur of things to come.
When I placed the order, I was offered options of beef or pork. Since all the sandwiches I’d had so far had been pork, I figured that was the way to go. Here’s the short version of the review: I wasn’t pleased.
The bread used for the sandwich differs greatly from any that I’d seen so far. In fact, I’m fairly sure I recognized them as coming from a local Costco bakery. They are very dense, artisan loaves which have a very uneven texture and are extremely chewy. They are perfect for soaking with garlic oil and broiling to go with a nice Italian meal. I’m actually a real fan of these little loaves for other applications, and have tried using them in a variety of meals over the years. They are a bit of a nightmare for a sandwich, though, and for this sandwich in particular. The bread is so dense that it overwhelms the taste of all of the other sandwich fillings.
The pork used for Indochine’s sandwich is extremely sweet. It had been described to me as “roast pork,” but after looking at it closely, I had other suspicions. It was extremely fatty in an unpleasing way. I suspect it might be poorly cooked pork belly, but I’m not sure. If you told me that it was a lightly smoked, thick-cut bacon marinated in Yoshida’s sauce, that would just about make sense. At any rate, I could have used a lot less fat and gristle and much more lean meat. The flavor of the meat was good, however. There was no sign of any other protein on the sandwich, an automatic ding against it for a pate lover such as I.
The vegetation was spare. On its own it had that distinctive pickled taste, but between the heavy bread and the fat-saddled pork, it got completely lost. Indochine’s sandwich did add in some thinly sliced scallion on top, but there wasn’t so much as a leaf of cilantro to be seen. There were several slices of fresh jalapeno. However, they were so thickly cut that the three bites that contained them were completely dominated with heat, while the rest of the sandwich had none.
And that is it. No mayonnaise, no pate, nothing. It is served with some nicely seasoned matchstick fried potatoes which were, I suspect, supposed to be crispy. Mine appeared to have been sitting long enough that half were soggy, sorry messes and the others were still crisp. However, at over $6, this sandwich is by far the most expensive one I’ve encountered since San Francisco. And, since it is only a couple of dollars cheaper than the gourmet-inspired one at Spice Kit, the Indochine sandwich suffers badly in comparison to it. Had it come close in quality to the ones on the west side, I could see a case to be made for paying a bit extra for those who live close to the U campus. It doesn’t, so if you’re wanting a good bánh mì, you’ll need to drag yourself to Redwood Road.
Which leaves only one question: Cafe Thao Mi or Hong Phat? Since there were several weeks between my sampling both of them, I think I’ll put off that call until I can get the two of them next to each other and conduct a real bun-to-bun comparison.
Spice Kit could have easily ruined me.
The pedigree of the bánh mì sandwich is more Banksy than Botticelli. A strange mash-up that reflects the history of Vietnam, it features an away team of French elements like crusty bread, mayonnaise, and liver pate coupled with roast pork, pickled vegetables, and greens from the Vietnamese home team. The combination of fatty umami from the pate and pork and acid from the pickled daikons and carrots makes for a nice balance in good hands. It’s also easy to see how this became popular street food, as it is a sandwich containing an ingredient list that can be prepared ahead of time and assembled into the final sandwich to order.
Unfortunately for me, my first bánh mì experience came by way of Thomas Keller and Ron Siegel. Two of their proteges, Will Pacio and Fred Tang, are behind Spice Kit. And while it might make some sense having two French-trained chefs making a sandwich that has some Gallic roots, the bánh mì at Spice Kit bears all the delicious indicia of its fine dining origins.
That being said, it did set me on the path to find a local version of the sandwich. After a bit of calling around, the universally praised option came first.
3086 S Redwood Rd
West Valley City, UT 84119
This tiny market on the west side of Salt Lake City appears to be a converted convenience store. There was a distinctively fishy smell that hit me as I entered, the source of which was presently clear: there’s a large fish counter in the back, as well at least two live crustacean selections housed in boxes on the ground. I hung a right at the counter and was at their hot food area.
I was surprised at the large selection available here. Next time I stop by, I’ll need to avail myself of some of the tasty looking spring rolls. This trip is all about the sandwich, though. I noted that there are several versions, so I may have to branch out and give others a try in the future, but I figured it made sense to start with the house special.
The house special version is their number four. I ordered one and when she looked confused and asked a question that I didn’t understand, I clarified by holding up four fingers. The prep area for the food is miniscule. It’s actually difficult to fathom how all of the food under the heat lamps could possibly have been made in the tiny kitchen. After a few minutes, she handed me a rather large bag and, on peering inside, I saw that there are many more than one sandwich. Thinking she may have mixed my order up, I clarified that I only ordered one. She separated one from the pack, puts it into a bag, and I was off to pay up front.
It was only when I was driving and about five blocks away that I realized what had happened: when I held up four fingers to her question that I didn’t catch, she took that to mean that I wanted four sandwiches. Since they were a steal at $3 each, I feel horrible at the mix up and wish I’d paid for them all.
And then I took the first bite and felt bad that I hadn’t paid for all of them for a whole different reason. That is one seriously tasty sandwich. It comes wrapped in a small piece of parchment to hold the fixings inside, secured around the sandwich with the rubber band. The bread roll is huge. Once I started eating, though, it’s clear that it is mostly air and probably even less bread substance than in your average deli sandwich.
The fillings are deliciously balanced. I love the pate they are using but didn’t get a chance to ask if they made in house. The pickled veggies are crisp if a bit sparse and are dominated by daikon and cucumber. In fact, I could have used more fillings in general to compliment the massive roll. Then again, my standard of comparison cost over $8 at Spice Kit, so for the price, this is plenty of food for the cost. I would probably have ordered two and ordered extra peppers had I not been on my way to a second purveyor.
Tay Do Supermarket
3825 S Redwood Rd
Salt Lake City, UT 84119
My experience at Tay Do Supermarket was less enjoyable. Although the rather large structure houses a much more spacious and organized market that has about 75% less stank on it, the product just didn’t measure up. I wandered through the store to the service counter in the back. The lone woman working a rather well-appointed deli area asked me to wait while she finished up making a bubble tea for the lone other customer.
Ten minutes later she was ready to take my order. Yes, ten minutes. One would think she was out back splitting durian by hand or something, but as far as I could tell, she was simply applying whipped cream to the concoction. When she finally took my order, I asked for their house special with extra pate. She looked rather annoyed, and wandered into the back area. Another five minutes later, she walked to the front counter where, if I’m not mistaken, she grabbed a sandwich from off the counter that appeared to have already been prepared and wrapped in plastic wrap. I guess somebody must have employed remote viewing skills to presage my interest in extra pate when making the sandwich before I arrived.
The sandwich cost $.50 less than at Hong Phat. It was about half as enjoyable. The pork loaf substance that was used instead of roasted pork was fairly terrible even by packaged lunch meat standards. The vegetation was sparse and barely pickled at all. There was a rather lush application of cilantro, but it was enough that it nearly overpowered the taste of meat. Tay Do uses a rather more spongy bread than Hong Phat, or perhaps it just seemed that way after having sat in the plastic wrap for a mysterious period of time. I’ll not be back to investigate.
I still have a couple of locations to visit before I call my search for perfection complete: I’m told that Cafe Thao Mi in Carriage Square and Indochine Vietnamese Bistro up by the U of U campus both make bánh mì, so I’ll plan to update when I visit both places. But at this point, if Hong Phat ends up being the best I find locally, I’ll be a pretty happy camper.
April 3, 2011
Slept in a bit and, as if the impending end of the vacation wasn’t enough inspiration for melancholy, did the final Dynamo run of the trip.
I decided I needed a bit more seafood, so we head to the wharf where we visit
Nick’s Lighthouse – Clam Chowder, Crab Cakes, and Crab Sandwich
We’d had good luck at Tarantino’s before, but I wanted to stop somewhere in that main glut of stands on Fisherman’s Wharf, figuring that the competition would mean better food and lots of turnout. And, while Nick’s was doing brisk business, it wasn’t a great meal by any stretch of the imagination.
The chowder was, unfortunately, fairly tasteless and watery. The crab cakes were far from fresh and were like a mouthful of sand in consistency. The crab sandwich was passable, if a bit heavy on the mayo, and suffered from the same bread overload that most sandwiches on the wharf do. We stumbled back to the trolley stop, defeated.
It was only an hour or so before we were looking for a late lunch/early dinner. We took a leisurely stroll up Mission to
Yank Sing – Deem Sum
I’d grabbed a large takeout order from the Rincon Center incarnation of Yank Sing during our last trip and noticed the carts laden with bamboo trays wandering the dining area. We’d vowed to do that version of the dim sum experience on this trip. And it is quite the experience.
We arrived about an hour before closing, so there crowd was spare. Our table was literally descended upon by cart after cart filled with dumplings, fried items, and other food. Our only request during the meal, baked BBQ pork buns, had sold out earlier in the day, unfortunately. But there was plenty of other choices.
The meal was fast. It probably took us longer to walk to the restaurant than it did to eat. It’s easy to see how this kind of dining would be popular for a busy lunch crowd. It’s also easy to see how it could quickly become expensive for people interested in trying one of everything: our meal was no cheaper here than at Wayfare or any of the other higher end establishments we visited, and I certainly didn’t get the feeling like I’d been any more copiously fed than I had elsewhere.
And I have to admit that, having done both now, ordering off the menu is probably my preference. I felt like I got more of what I wanted that way, and didn’t feel as likely to make a $10 mistake like the shrimp balls we ended up with. It’s my fault, really, since I was blithely pointing at things that looked good without looking at a price list or asking. But having a menu in front of me to order from would have definitely avoided the issue.
My favorite dish was the Shanghai Dumpling which featured minced Kurobuta pork and a small splash of broth encased in a dumpling. The waitress was kind enough to walk us through the traditional way to eat it, and it was outstanding. Probably should have stuck with a plate full of those.
April 4, 2011
Our flight left late in the afternoon, so I called the night before and asked for a late checkout, planning to sleep in.
My back had other plans. I was up at six and, after all attempts to calm it down failed once again, I was off to Dottie’s to see what baked goods they were offering. I remember buying several, but only the much beloved whiskey blueberry crumb cake stands out. It was every bit as good as I remembered.
As our thoughts turned to lunch, we agreed that it needed to be a return to Spice Kit. While Loria fed and clothed the baby, I nearly sprinted up the street to grab a couple of sandwiches to go. Thanks for the introduction to the bánh mì. We’ll be back.
It was a great trip for food. I’m quite appreciative of the many compliments we got about Ainsley, but I’m most proud of her restaurant manners. She was almost uniformly angelic, and it was a great first family vacation.
March 29, 2011
WonderCon and a host of new food experiences have beckoned us back to San Francisco. Among the experiences: we’re new parents, our daughter Ainsley having joined the family in October. So we not only attend a bit of the convention, but had our first family vacation.
Ainsley was her usual sweet self on the plane trip, so much so that I launched into the ambitious version of the first day’s eating: we checked into the hotel, dropped the bags, and hit BART to visit
Mr. Pollo – $15 Chef’s Tasting Menu
We left the hotel around 2pm, and I was worried that we may not arrive in time. Not only did we make it, but we’re rather lucky to have gotten there so late after lunch. Two of the four tables were already taken; a couple on what appears to be a first date had to slide over to another table to accommodate us. This place is tiny. The draw of a four-course tasting menu for $15 seemed worth a try, though. And chef Manny Torres Gimenez didn’t disappoint. Even considering how veggie-heavy the menu ended up being, it was high entertainment watching him through the lexan screen as he prepared labor-intensive food for six people simultaneously. All of the dishes were very much hands on. The couple next to us were also eating the chef’s menu, and they didn’t appear to get the same dishes, so I’m under the impression that Manny might just have been making this all up as he went.
Every dish was absolutely delicious. And, while there is only a touch of animal protein here and there, it’s clear that ingredients are important to the chef. I think in the dish descriptions we hear the phrase “farmers market” paired with “this morning” at least five times. We were served an empanada to start, followed by a soup, fish, and main course.
I officially declare this the closest I’m likely to come to enjoying vegetarian food.
Great start to the trip, and Ainsley had managed to charm both of the couples in the small dining area as well as the chef. We paid, left, and decided that we were still pretty hungry. I pulled up my SF Food map on the Droid X and we started a very long walk to a very tasty street that contains both ice cream and a bakery.
Tartine Bakery & Cafe – various baked goods
We stopped in here to quickly grab some cookies and other treats for dessert later that night. The place was absolutely packed to the rafters, with every table being taken and a long line going from the register along the display case and almost to the door. It was so long that rather than try to angle the stroller in, Loria sent me in on a solo mission and hung back by the door to entertain the baby. Having arrived in the later afternoon, I tried to peek through the line to see what is left. The cases were full of cookies, tarts, and breads, and each looked very inviting. For some reason I was feeling rushed, so I started pointing at random cookies without really getting a good sense of what looked best. I decided to skip the $6.50 miniature banana cream tart and ended up with a variety of cookies. As the line moved along the case, I inevitably saw this chocolate chip doodad or that walnut butter whatever, eventually requiring the patient woman helping me to bag my selections three separate times.
Later that night, we dug in and are fairly disappointed. Nothing tasted bad, per se, but it all felt like pretty standard bakery fare. It all looked much better than it tasted, unfortunately, and a few of the cookies went unfinished. It’s only later that I remembered that the place is renowned for its double pain au chocolat, but given how the rest of the cookies ended up, I didn’t feel terrible that we missed out.
Just up the street from Tartine was our real destination.
Bi-Rite Creamery – Roasted Banana, Orange Cardamom, Salted Caramel, and Brown Butter Pecan Ice Cream
This was high on my list of places we missed last year, so I was rather excited on arriving here. It’s doubly exciting because this was to be Ainsley’s first taste of ice cream.
I started with Roasted Banana. Intense banana flavor, dark brown flavor, and it is just beautiful. It’s one note played perfectly. Next was Brown Butter Pecan. I love butter pecan ice cream in general. I’ve been anticipating what nice dark notes browning the butter might accomplish. I was slightly disappointed on that front: if the butter was browned much before this batch was made, it doesn’t appear to change the taste of the ice cream much from what I expected. Still, it’s a really good incarnation of butter pecan.
Next up, Orange Cardamom. There are floral notes to the orange flavor that pair very nicely with the cardamom, which is fairly understated by comparison. I would absolutely order this again, though, as it’s a lovely counterpoint to the fourth flavor, Salted Caramel. The first bite of this flavor had me hooked. It is intensely burned sugar with some surprising and welcome bitter notes. In fact, this is probably the most intense caramel flavor I’ve had, bar none. Some of that is likely due to the salt, but it’s seems mostly intended. That they get a flavor that strong to show up in a frozen dessert is impressive enough, but it showing up in a dairy dessert, which has a tendency to dampen the intensity of most flavors, is absolutely noteworthy. And, although Ainsley clearly enjoyed the banana and orange cardamom flavors, she really seemed to enjoy the caramel. Mom and I agreed.
After a return to the hotel for some rest, we take a trolley up Market to First Street and then walk the rest of the way to
Spice Kit – Bánh mì Sandwich
With names like Thomas Keller and Ron Siegel on their resumes, Will Pacio and Fred Tang present well-cooked and easily understood Asian fast food at Spice Kit. I’m glad we hit this place our first night, as it would become a go-to choice from the rest of the trip. The concept is simple: choose a sandwich, wrap, or salad as the platform and then choose a protein. We had two bánh mì sandwiches, one with roasted pork and one with beef shortribs. This was my first foray into bánh mì territory. It’s a Vietnamese sandwich traditionally garnished with liver pate, mayonnaise, a slaw of pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, and cilantro. The shortribs weren’t bad, but the roasted pork was perfect. The acid in the slaw cuts through the fat of the pate and pork and adds a nice, bright note. I have had dreams about that pork bánh mì since then, and have already located a recipe for pate that I want to try making soon. If Out the Door didn’t have proximity going for it, I suspect Spice Kit would have become our default choice for a quick meal.
We also ordered some steamed pork buns. My experience with the dish in the past has been a soft, pillowy dough which completely surrounded a chopped pork filling similar to what you might find in an egg roll, only a bit sweeter. The Spice Kit take on them is a grilled slab of pork belly basted with hoisin and some veggies. They were delicious, but I’ll admit that I was far too enamored with the bánh mì to get terribly excited about them. For those keeping score at home, roasted pork + pate > pork belly alone.
We also got an order of the ginger peanut slaw to share. It was fine, though barely registered compared to pork buns and other porky goodness.
Next up: a walk through Thomas’ garden.