Catfish Banh Mi @ Baoguette
When David’s cousin, Alvin, told me he never had a banh mi before, I knew this problem had to be immediately rectified. The big question though was whether to take him to cheap but reliable Banh Mi Saigon or to fancy pants Baoguette. I’d been meaning to try Baoguette ever since TimeOut New York declared Baoguette’s classic banh mi to be the Best New Banh Mi of 2009. I’m not exactly sure why I trusted TimeOut, considering I’ve had quite a few unpleasant experiences with their past recommendations, but sometimes it’s hard not to fall for the hype. For example, Da Vinci Code, WTF?!
At the end, I chose to take Alvin to the new Baoguette on St. Marks since it was 1) closer to the train, 2) I never tried it before, and 3) I was trying to be a kind hostess by not dragging David’s cousin to a possibly scary hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop. We ordered two banh mis to share: the Catfish ($7) and the classic pork Baoguette ($5). Alvin laughed at me when he saw the prices. He hadn’t expected “the expensive Vietnamese sandwiches” to cost seven and under. OK, I know, $5 or $7 dollars is not a lot for a hero, but in Chinatown, a banh mi is only $3.50! Call me cheap, but those are the facts. Double the price = Expen$ive.
The Catfish Banh Mi, the more expensive of the two, was filled with chunks of catfish, cucumber relish, pickled red onion, and honey mustard sauce. I wasn’t a fan of this sandwich. I’d expected it to be like a Vietnamese po’boy, but the catfish at Baoguette is oven roasted not fried. The only crunch was from excessively dense Tom Kat bread that overwhelmed the soft fish innards. Also, the sweet honey mustard sauce, reminiscent of the cloying quasi-Asian sauces added to dishes at places like T.G.I. Friday’s and Applebee’s, was very odd to me. So to all those who are in love with this sandwich, I just don’t get it.
The store’s namesake, the Baoguette, however, was much better. Filled with house-made pork terrine (Vietnamese bologna), pâté, BBQ pork, thinly sliced pork belly, raw cucumber slices, crunchy pickled carrots, daikon, and fresh cilantro, it was a satisfying sandwich. I wouldn’t kick this sandwich out of bed in the middle of the night. Of course a little more pork belly would be nice, and if you like the spicy version at the Chinatown banh mi shops, ask for it spicy. I asked for the sandwich medium spicy, and it was very mild, sans fresh jalapeno slices. I also wish the the banh mis at Baoguette weren’t served on Tom Kat bread. As in the case of the catfish banh mi, the Baoguette, even filled with three kinds of pork, just couldn’t stand up to the hard compact baguette. In my opinion, banh mis should be made with crispy baguettes light as air.
I’m not sure if I would ever go back to Baoguette. The two sandwiches I tried weren’t horrible, but they also weren’t better than the banh mis a few more blocks downtown for a fraction of the price. So future out-of-town guests, I’m warning you now, be prepared to be scared. I’m done playing the gracious hostess. Next stop, Chinatown.
37 Saint Mark’s Place (betw 2nd & 3rd Ave)
New York, NY 10003