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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Paris Sandwich

The New Year brought a new treat: Paris Sandwich, Chinatown's latest Banh Mi hotspot. They actually opened the day after Christmas way back in 2006, but we wanted to give them time to settle in before scrutinizing their every banh mi move.

PS had nearly as much buzz as A Chau, yet our first impression... well, truth be told, this banh mi-aria looks different. For starters, it's not in the back of a bodega; their sign (they have one) is big and bright; they distribute glossy, colorful menus, and have tables where people sit and eat... with friends. Confusing! And possibly alarming.

On our quest for the best banh mi in New York City, The Porkchop Express has gravitated towards the nooks and crannies, coy storefronts that barely hint at what they sell. Such sandwiches play hard to get, and it adds to the excitement. On the flip side, Paris Sandwich seems a bit upfront and earnest, maybe even a tad generic. Yet thankfully, their appearance doesn't tell the whole tale. This is actually an endearing place with eclectic character: a neighborhood joint with franchise ambitions, a hands-on, family-run, large-scale operation. Confused? Let me explain.
A Family Affair: (l-r) Dinh Ho and Kim, Jimmy & Cuong Lee

PS is run by JL - Jimmy Ly to you, kid. He (and his friends) grew up loving his (Vietnamese) mom's food. About 3 years back, he used this memory as impetus. The plan? Bring Ms. (Kim) Ly's recipes to the people, and provide tasty Vietnamese treats in an easy-to-replicate restaurant. So Jimmy and fam started scouting locations, developing a menu, gathering ingredients, and ironing out the details.
A man and his oven: Dinh lamps near the mighty Revent

Tops on the Ly list? Recruiting Jimmy's cousin Dinh Ho. Dinh, a restaurateur and baker from Cognac, France brought his baguette savvy (and a giant Revent convection oven) across the Atlantic. If all good banh mi start with fine bread, PS was determined to offer the freshest loaves in town. This attention to detail inflected other decisions as well: coffee beans imported from Viet Nam (the result of numerous taste tastes); a seasonal selection of deserts and pastries; various breads-to-go-go; and a whopping 12 varieties of banh mi.
BBQ Pork Baguette

We started with a no-brainer: the #4 BBQ Pork ($3.25), a hot, crusty half-loaf cradling chiar siu style meat and a slice of pork roll. It's a well-constructed sandwich, a bit low on the meat but chock full o' fresh jalepenos, cilantro, and crisp pickled veggies. These folks aren't shy with the aioli – their own house-made garlic mayo – but we liked the flavor, and those chewy baguettes hold up just fine. The real charmer, however, was the delightful #5 Grilled Pork ($3.25), which used tender, tasty sliced meat to full flavor-advantage.
Ballin': #6 Meat Ball Baguette

PS's grilled chicken is also good (if you swing that way). But since you're a person of distinguished tastes, good reader, you'd probably prefer the #6 Vietnamese Meat Ball Baguette. I was a bit nervous, as it looked light in the loafers coming out of the bag. But don't fret: the meat is in there, and it tastes great. At the risk of sounding less than “family friendly,” these balls were oh so tender, crumbly and juicy with refreshingly bold, savory spicing. And because the size is, shall we say, slender, the #6 is actually a pretty light meal to boot... somewhere between 2 “sassy sliders” and a “Spanish supermodel.” Which works to your favor; you should save room for desert. After all, an unobtrusive fridge houses some of Kim's finest creations. Tops on our list was her terrific Vietnamese banana cake, a creamy, condensed, slightly tart pudding-like concoction. I'm not sure how to describe it, so I wont bother. Just try some, cheapo; it's only 2 bucks!
The world famous...
...green tea waffle

If you've only got a dollar, try one of the green tea waffles instead. They come off a bit strong and sugary at first, like an incense-flavored marshmallow, or that neighbor you don't really like running into. But we love waffles and green tea, and the combo actually grew on us. My only regret is that they don't fry chicken as well. Instead, consider the “European” option and pair one with a cup of nice strong coffee as you watch the world go by.From the random feedback I've received, folks seem to have mixed feelings about this place: space too bright, sandwiches too small, bum knee sore, the good old days, etc. So let me officially urge you to shelve your doubts, and judge them solely on the merits of flavor and freshness. On that score, Paris Sandwich's grilled pork and meatballs stack up.

And regardless of what you and I think, good reader, brisk crowds and steady business suggest the Ly family is on to something. Their operation is clearly poised for banh mi expansion, if not (dare I say?) a national banh mi explosion?! Subway: you've been warned.





Paris Sandwich Corp.
113 Mott Street, Chinatown, NY
(212) 226-7221/7223

Banh Mi: $3.25 - $3.50
Ice Coffee & Deserts: $2.00
Green Tea Waffles: $1.00

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dawg Day Afternoon

Do you know that line about truth being stranger than fiction? And have you seen Best in Show? I ask only because Ms. Slab took me to the 131st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden yesterday.

A few observations:

1) There may be something compensatory about doggie Eugenics. Why, you wonder? Pound for pound, this was the oddest looking group of people I've ever seen assembled in one room. I tried to keep my eyes on the canines but it didn't always work. To wit, that Great Pyrenees” I caught on camera turned out to be a middle-aged woman with a perm... on all fours... in a giant white fur coat.

Now I'm no “Oscar De La Renta,” but with all those stylists, combs, sprays, etc in the area, you'd think more people would try primping themselves. As for the sassy lady who announced it was “time for the bling” then slipped on a sequined vest circa-The Big Apple Circus, 1984? Only those “old lady rapping” commercials make more deeply discomforting use of irony as entertainment.

2) I hope some of these people don't have kids. Like the frisky handler who, after not winning in her canine's category, elbowed me in the ribs and yelled “don't PUSH ME”!!! OK!!!!!! The kicker? An approving nod from an onlooker who answered my question (“is she insane”?) with a defense (“she does have a dog”). Alas, I did not have a billy club. And not to go all Ann Landers on you, good reader, but aren't dogs typically less couth than their owners? As one astute 7-year old put it, “these people aren't very nice.”

3) Dogs are super cute and hi-larious. For all the nonsense, stress, anxiety, ego, neurosis, etc gumming up the air, most of the animals could have cared less. What's more, some of the owners and chaperons actually seemed like decent folk having fun with their animals. So in that spirit, we present a special Dawg Day Edition of The Porkchop Express, highlighting a few of our Westminster favorites...We used to have a Cane Corse so I have a real soft spot for their cousin the Neapolitan Mastiff. What goofy bastards. I dunno what this guy eats, or what his name was. But he looks like the lovechild of a hippo, a pork chop, and a waddle.Angel, a 3-year old Mastiff from Colorado, likes salmon, short walks to her pillow, long naps, and occasionally flaunting her moneymaker.
French Bulldogs crack me up, and this grouchy gus was no exception. I love that “what the hell is your problem” look. Maybe it's the cheese?Joe - an apricot brindled Mastiff from Milford, New Jersey - was a real crowd pleaser. He was also a dog of fine taste. His favorite foods? Pizza, swiss cheese, Budweiser, and... kielbasa. Homeboy is always welcome at our house.How classic is this shot? These two were great, above and beyond the fact that Shar-Pei = pure hilarity.

And that, my friend, concludes our fine interlude. Back next week on the search for delicious!

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Królewskie Jadło

The other day I was kicking it with King Arthur, Sir Lancelot, and that guy from Highlander, and we were trying to figure out where to eat. No one had any bright ideas, so we headed to Krolewskie Jadlo.In English the name means “King's Feast.” Towards this end they keep two knights posted at the door, actual suits-of-armor leaning on long swords. But don't be alarmed; I didn't see any dragons, and once you step inside the interior is quite peaceful. Think “low-key country inn” spruced up by paintings of men with mustaches. FYI, Magnum, P.I. was nowhere to be found. Which makes sense; it's a Polish restaurant, not one of the greatest TV shows ever.I know what you're thinking friend: what about the restaurant? It's a relative newcomer (almost 3 years old), and offers dishes you don't normally see on Polish menus in these parts. If you don't believe me, just check out their website. That's where I discovered that owner-chef Krzysztof Drzewiecki used to cook at Nobu. He also makes a point of distancing himself from the standard “meat, potatoes and cabbage” formula embraced by many of his Greenpoint peers. I personally like meat, potatoes and cabbage; but his stance (let's break some rules!), and the menu's originality, had me intrigued.As for the food itself? Uneven execution, friend, uneven execution. Take the “Polish Platter” (meat, potatoes, cabbage). Nice presentation, generous assortment. But the freshness was suspect. Methinks the stuffed cabbage had been loafing around in the kitchen, maybe grinding “cheetohs” with Britney Spears. And the potato pancakes – while tasty – were a bit bottom-heavy from, I'd guess, too much time spent sitting on the assembly line. On the other hand, the kielbasa was “hot and juicy” (boiiing!), the pirogies crisp and piping. It was a classic case of hot or not.
'tis Trout, no doubt

Same with the trout. A few weeks back we savored the trout at neighborhood oddball Damis, and had equally high hopes for Drzewiecki's whole fish. It is served with an extremely tasty and casually applied (maybe with that sword from out front?) yogurt-herb sauce. But the fish was cooked a few seconds past perfect: not quite medieval, but definitely not au point.
Beef Stroganoff, in edible bowl

How about the beef stroganoff? Krolweskie Jadlo takes pride in their rendition, served in a bread-bowl. When I was younger, I used to think things like “astronaut ice cream” and “remote control VHS cassette recorders” were the real bees-knees. But now gimmicks leave me a bit cold, and (in this case) confused. I was half expecting to be served chowder, like they do at Pier Whatever in San Francisco. (Yawn.) But no, this was definitely all-beef. The last time I ordered this dish in a restaurant was at the old Russian Tea Room, and, well, I remember it tasting a whole lot better. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad... just a bit tangy, like someone mixed in too much tomato paste.
p-doubles, royal style

Not that everything disappointed. Our hand-picked panel of flavorologists enjoyed the bite-sized “King's Potato Pancakes” topped with herbed cream (the trout sauce?) and smoked salmon. I never found out which King eats his pancakes like this, but no matter... he had good taste. This was a classy and, dare I say, sassy combo. And the bite-sized presentation only left me hankering for more.
Duck amuck

Tops on our list? That probably goes to the Roasted Duck, tender slow-cooked legs served with roast apples and potatoes. It was well-conceived and well-executed: simple, elegant, delicious.
Sides with pride: great kraut, beets
yo gee, Pirogies

Which leads me to my gripe. Krolewskie Jadlo's menu is creative and enticing, the atmosphere relaxed and inviting, the service friendly and efficient, the prices more-than-reasonable. But again, the execution is spotty. They certainly do brisk business as is, but I hope they step up their quality control. With greater attention to detail, they'll be ready to get seriously medieval on datazz.


Krolewskie Jadlo
(King's Feast)
694 Manhattan Ave
Greenpoint, Brooklyn 11211

Our favorites: Roast duck legs, cold sauerkraut, the salmon potato things, mustaches

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