And Skip the Silly MustachePosted on June 18, 2009 – 8:17 PM | by beckler
The New York Times recently had a story about the burgeoning banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) scene in Brooklyn which contained an apt quote, “They are so rich in history, complex in flavor and full of contradictions that they make other sandwiches look dumb.” We are lucky enough to have an already established tradition of this intellectual sandwich here in Sacramento, although unlike silly Brooklyn, no mustachioed trust fund kid is making a Polish sausage banh mi.
If I want a banh mi, I usually head for Huong Lan, which reigns supreme. I had a brief flirtation with Lee’s Sandwich, but it has the generic feel of the McDonalds of banh mi (motto: “bringing banh mi to the masses”) so I had to break up with it. That leaves Long Sandwich.
Long Sandwich has a lot going on. Oddly, there’s a Java City sign outside, and also a pink neon sign that says “bun bo hue” (I gotta get one of those for my rec room). It’s a banh mi shop, but it also has a full Vietnamese menu AND it’s a bakery. From the looks of the puffy, softball-sized bagels it’s probably best to avoid them.
The banh mi at Long Sandwich stands out in one way: they have a really good vegetarian sandwich. It has caramelized onion and soy “meat” with a slightly sweet brown sauce. The rest of the toppings are the standard banh mi fare- daikon, carrot, jalapeno, mayo. It’s a rare bright spot for vegetarians in Vietnamese cuisine.
The bread on the day I was there was soft with no crisp crunch. A crispy exterior is key to banh mi bread, which is bland and is just there for texture. The grilled pork banh mi was a bit dessicated and not as good as Huong Lan’s.
The neon sign commanded me to order the bun bo hue (a beef noodle soup), which I was happy to do. It had a dynamite spicy broth and the beef was, well, beefy. The soup had some very tasty tendon, but unlike other bun boe hue I’ve had, it had no knuckles or blood cubes. I missed the knuckles (they have a fun texture), but the blood cubes I can do without. The rice noodles in bun bo hue are round and thicker than pho noodles, and I find their shape somehow less satisfying, but that’s the same for all bun bo hue I’ve sampled, not just at Long Sandwich.
The grilled pork bun (vermicelli noodle dish with fish sauce) was about average quality. The sweet caramelized pork shreds were tasty and the hot, fried spring roll stuffed with pork, jelly noodles and a healthy dose of black pepper was superior to most.
The pho at Long Sandwich is below average. The broth is extra fatty and the herbs and spices are faint. The tendon, again, was great, but the brisket was inedibly tough and the flank steak was tasteless.
I would recommend that you accompany your vegetarian friend to Long Sandwich, introduce them to the vegetarian banh mi, and then when they’re in the bathroom, stick some slivers of pork into their sandwich. Do this for weeks, each time increasing the ratio of pork (like when you’re introducing a new food to your cat) and after a month let your friend in on your little joke! He or she will probably thank you for it.
Pho Hien Vuong is yet another restaurant in Pacific Rim Plaza, a strip mall/culinary wonderland which I have written extensively about. It has a few Cambodian/Vietnamese fusion dishes on the menu, which is unusual. I sampled the Hu Tieu Nam Vang (Nam Vang is the Vietnamese word for Phnom Phenh)- described on the menu as a rice noodle soup with shrimp, squid, quail egg, pork, pork’s heart, and liver. This soup has a chicken-based broth and is bland compared to most Vietnamese soups, with no herbal character at all. The pig liver was bitter and had a chemical tang, but the rest of the meat was better. The noodles were ramen style kinky noodles. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t order it again.
I had to order the bun rieu oc (crab meat noodle soup) because my palate was piqued by the fact that it contains snails. The snails were chewy (natch) and had a pleasant, grassy flavor. The savory chunks of mixed crab, shrimp and pork were caught up in the rice noodles as I ate, creating bite after delicious bite. I even nibbled a corner of the blood cake. If you’ve never tried bun rieu at a Vietnamese restaurant, you are missing out and should sample the one here or at Pho King #3.
The rather pricy ($9.99) lotus root salad was my favorite dish. The lotus roots are crisp and fresh and those and the bits of pork and shrimp are all dressed with refreshing mixture of lime and fish sauce. It’s a good salad to split as an appetizer.
Pho Hien Vuong has 108 items on the menu (not including drinks), and the few items that I’ve sampled were well executed and had some off-beat touches. Long Sandwich is worth a trip, if only for you to judge for yourself how their banh mi stacks up. Sacramento is a long way from having banh mi that is made with organic micro-greens and artisanal salumi, but our Vietnamese restaurants still put Brooklyn’s to shame.
6434 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, (916) 393-9988
Pho Hien Vuong
6835 Stockton, Ste 400, Sacramento, (916) 391-8538