Certe’s Bayou Sandwich is All About No Expectations
You could probably say this about anything (movies, music, art), but I think half of whether or not you love or hate food comes from expectations. Nostalgia can cause you to enjoy a meal more than a person who is trying it for the first time (or have the opposite effect, if it isn’t as good as you remember); an incredibly positive review can cause you to judge a restaurant more harshly than if you had stumbled upon the place accidentally; and, finally, “authenticity” can be the killer of an otherwise enjoyable meal- if it doesn’t conform to exactly what you thought you were getting when you ordered it. A perfect example of that is Baoguette (which was the catalyst for Ed Levine’s review of Ba Xueyen on Serious Eats: NY this morning.) As mere sandwiches, you could argue that Baoguette is making some of the best food in New York City. As “banh mi” you could complain about ingredients, lack of ingredients, bread, authenticity, whether or not a banh mi should have catfish, and of course price (“banh mi should always be under $4!”)
The same kind of thing could be said of Certe’s new entry into the Midtown Lunch Sandwich Challenge. Called “The Bayou”, this sandwich evokes many expectations (New Orleans, Po-Boys, what blackened catfish should or shouldn’t taste like), and if you fall prey to these thoughts, you may be disappointed. Go in looking for nothing more than a satisfying fish sandwich, and you will be rewarded.
It doesn’t help that this is Certe’s second entry into the sandwich challenge, and their first entry was pretty awesome (The Thanksgiving Dip). So my expectations were already pretty high… it also sounds awesome: blackened catfish, corn salad, bib lettuce, and jambalaya aioli, on a soft Portuguese roll. Some expressed hope that this would be a po’boy, but I knew better (po’boy should have fried shellfish, or roast beef… not blackened catfish).
So here it is… I can’t say the catfish had a very “blackened” flavor to it. And I don’t know if the corn salad added anything discernible. Plus, by itself, the sandwich is kind of on the dry and borderline flavorless side. Luckily I heeded the advice of ML’s early adopters, who suggested asking for extra sauce on the side. Once you pour on the hot sauce, and extra “jambalaya” sauce, the whole thing comes together to make a really tasty sandwich. They also give you a good amount of fish for the $9 price tag (even though catfish is admittedly not very expensive, relative to other fish). On the negative side, it appears as if they toast the buns and cook the fish in advance of the lunchtime rush, so depending on your timing your sandwich may or may not be super hot… but even with lukewarm fish and cold bread, I rather enjoyed the thing.
Will it transport you to “the bayou”? No. Is it a good Midtown sandwich, that I would get again? Most definitely.
Certe, 20 W 55th St. (btw. 5+6th), New York, NY 10019, 212-397-2020