Baoguette Finally Brings a Good Banh Mi to FiDi
After seemingly interminable construction, the downtown branch of Baoguette has finally opened on Maiden Lane between Broadway and Nassau. And boy am I glad to have them. I had actually never tried Baoguette before last week, and I have to say I’m impressed. Their sandwiches are big, affordable, and delicious. The Baoguette on Lex btw. 25+26th is already Zach-tested, Zach-approved, and though I will miss the Klatch coffee shop that it replaced, this branch is a very welcome addition to our lunchtime area.
Baoguette lacks the charm of the banh mi cart, but also the excruciating wait. The space is brown and unremarkable aside from the strangely alluring array of coffee and sriracha behind the counter and this totally inexplicable chandelier:
The coffee, by the way, is fantastic. It’s Vietnamese style, blacker than night and cut with condensed milk. Seriously high-octane stuff. I’m hoping they come out with a breakfast banh-mi to go along with it. You hear me Michael Huynh? Get on that.
And speaking of Michael Huynh (the Baoguette Baron), he was there keeping an eye on things when my partner in crime Chris stopped by last week, but absent both times I’ve been. In his stead on my last visit was a guy wearing a heavy coat and fingerless mittens with a messenger bag over one shoulder, who was simultaneously operating the cash register, shouting out order numbers, waving a sandwich in the air, and arguing with someone on the phone about whether he would be able to reimburse him for some expense, the nature of which I was unable to determine. I don’t mind this sort of mania if it seems to come out of trying to get people their correct order as fast as possible, and that seemed to be the case here, even if I suspect he was failing. The messenger bag remains a mystery.
But now the food! As I said, the sandwiches are great. The eponymous Baoguette ($6) contains the banh mi trifecta of pork, pork terrine, and pate along with a slaw of pickled carrot and daikon, sliced cucumber, and a sprig of cilantro. The meat products are all delicious and also free of the gristle you sometimes get on a Chinatown banh mi. There’s just the right amount of pate so that you can taste it but it doesn’t overwhelm. The bread’s crust had a nice bite, and the vegetables are crisp and help offset all the fat. Technically, the sandwich is perfect.
And yet, it’s still not quite like a Chinatown banh mi. Not in any way I can identify or describe, but it’s just not quite the same animal. I think it’s like ordering pulled pork in a fancy restaurant: the setting itself just makes it taste not quite as good, and I really mean not quite, because this is a very good banh mi.
But on the flip side you can get some things you can’t find in Chinatown, like the unpronounceable Veguette ($7). It’s got “Vegetarian Kung Pao Soy Protein” instead of the three kinds of pork, and although I can just taste the incredulity already, it’s really, really good. I don’t think Kung Pao is a very good descriptor of the flavor of the main ingredient here. It’s sort of like a meaty hoisin flavor and the texture is like seitan. In fact, it may be seitan. Whatever it is, it’s good. Take a leap of faith.
I ordered both versions spicy, which appears to entail a spray of sriracha and a smattering of jalapenos. I’d recommend you do the same unless, you know, you’re a wuss.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- A top-notch banh mi that uses high quality ingredients throughout.
- Good options aside from the traditional, including a shockingly good vegetarian sandwich.
- An average price for a larger-than-average and better-than average sandwich.
THE — (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Banh mi are street food: They come from carts or dirty holes in the wall, not spiffy chains.
- Um. Chinatown? Heard of it? It’s ten minutes away.
- Given that it’s a chain, you think there might be some interesting sides to be had with your sandwich. There aren’t.
- That chandelier freaks me out.
Baoguette, 9 Maiden Lane (btw. Broadway and Nassau St.)</e