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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

5 Ninth

When Donald Trump wants a delicious Vietnamese sandwich, where does he go? This was the question I put to a receptionist at The Trump Organization. Five minutes on hold, and her answer was inconclusive. The Donald’s lunch minions rotate, so only he was capable of solving this riddle. And unfortunately, he was in meetings all day.

Meetings all day... suspicious answer. I’ve seen that guy on TV, and all he does is fuss with his hair and eye-hump East European models. But some things aren’t worth arguing, especially with patient secretaries.

Curiosity nonetheless lingered. I couldn't help but think about how exciting the Donald’s lunch deliveries must be: every grape peeled, solid gold flatware and rose petals galore (no doubt). But from whence his Banh Mi? I was stumped.

Until I got on the internet. Yes, savvy reader, last week I downloaded the internet and came across a Slashfood.com article entitled "Superb Banh Mi - The Search is Over." Whoa! Was this the sandwich The Porkchop Express has been searching for lo these many moons, something finally worthy of the Donald? Who makes it, where can I find one, and what's the catch?

Name and place? The restaurant 5 Ninth, conveniently located on 5 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan's chic meatpacking district. The catch? The price. $12.

Yes, confused reader.

A $12 Banh Mi.

I share your shock, and raise you awe.

Now last month I paid $4.25 for a mediocre Banh Mi (33% above the going rate), and was none too happy about it. But $12 took the pricing to a cyber-futuristic next-level; it was just crazy enough to work. I’m a product of my environment, and if someone has the avocados to charge an operatic 4-times the normal price for a glorified Blimpie, well… for you, loyal reader, The Porkchop Express spares no expense.

So what does a $12 Banh Mi taste like?

Before breaking the suspense, I’d like to take a moment to explain the atmosphere at 5 Ninth. It’s a good thing they call it 5 Ninth, because there is no f#$%ing sign on the door that says 5 Ninth. Just a discreet number "5" that the unofficial concierge/homeless guy outside referred me too. This was cool... maybe even too cool for school which, as a flavor educator and strong proponent of flavor education, is something I have mixed feelings about.

Still, hunger was in the air, and The Porkchop Express never rushes to judge. I mention this simply because vibe is a big part of the 5 Ninth experience, and will (depending upon your sensibilities, temperament, attire, etc.) either ingratiate or irritate. After all, this is an establishment whose 12$ cocktails have names, ingredients and histories. I like to read as much as the next guy, but mostly on the john, and almost never while trying to get drunk. Their adult beverage menu was a bit taxing, like perusing a J. Peterman catalog when you just need clean boxer shorts.

But when in Rome. So I ordered a drink named after American cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas: the Tombstone, "Panama Style." It's sweet-and-spicy description sounded like a good Banh Mi match, but it turned out to be a pretty skimpy Tabasco-spiked whisky drink, mixed by a guy in fancy pants.

Its extremely difficult not to call someone "Mr. Fancy Pants" when they are wearing ridiculously fancy pants, but for you, kind reader, and the standards of objective journalism, I played it straight, thanked the man, and waited patiently for what was rumored to be a Banh Mi to end all Banh Mi.

Was it? This wasn't as great as one or two others we've tried, but it did have some tasty things to write home about.

Their brightest idea was probably the Sullivan Street Bakery baguette: it made a whole lot of flavor-sense. Sullivan’s bread is notably crusty and holds its chew under great duress, so it took to the Banh Mi role naturally. No need for toasting or fretting with a loaf like this. The pork was plump and juicy, a little sweet for my tastes but not egregiously so. The pickles were tasty, the coriander nice and fresh. But I wanted to tell whoever added the spicy sriracha sauce to go easy. Making matters worse, Mr. Heavy Hand had an even less subtle way with mayonnaise. To charge these prices and use gobs of Hellman’s (not homemade) struck me as lazy and/or cheap, as did the absence of fresh chilies and cucumber.

Don't get me wrong. This is an all-around sound sandwich on a terrific baguette with no scary "meatzilla" slices. But the price tag seemed a tad arbitrary, far more about style than substance. If I'm going to spend an entire week's Banh Mi budget on one sandwich, I'd better be able to rationalize it. $12 is an admittedly hard sell, but the pitch (including a "rustic" wooden serving platter and a heavy side of sugary shrimp chips) was surprisingly lean.In retrospect, I still preferred this to my $4.25 Banh Mi, if only because it was a far better sandwich and a far more unusual Banh Mi experience. 5 Ninth may not satisfy like Ba Xuyen or Saigon Bakery—both of whom serve superior products at more-than-reasonable prices. But the draw here is different: the scene, the surroundings, the friendly servers and smooth service, the straight-faced preparation of goofy cocktails, the self-conscious cool of a dark-lit, smoke-free bar. And to its credit 5 Ninth doesn't pretend to be anything else... so if this is your bag, go nuts.

Like, dare I guess, the Donald might? After all, if ever there was a billionaire Banh Mi, this is it. Mystery solved, inquisitive reader. Mystery solved.




5 Ninth
5 Ninth Avenue
Meatpacking District, New York, NY (212) 929-9460
Banh Mi: $12.00

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having frequented 5ninth myself on occasion, I’d say you hit the nail on the head. From its indoor outdoor garden to its chic hoagie, it’s a place full of irony. I especially enjoy your description of the homeless/concierge guy standing out front. I would recommend you look into Fig & Olive located on 420 west 13th street, all of their dishes are prepared with olive oil, even their fig pastry dessert! And on the completely opposite end of the spectrum there is the Spice Market, located 403 west 13th street. To give you just a little hint the menu is compromised of Asian street food. They may not be porky enough for the porkchop, but it maybe something to look into for the food connoisseur!

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i went there for lunch today. the bahn mi isn't on the menu anymore, but the chef says it may return.

we were very disappointed, but they offered to prepare a sandwich similar to a bahn mi, but with a potato bun. i liked it!

2:06 PM  

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