eater's digest: sandwiches of nyc

It might sound sacrilegious, but I'm not the type of girl who gets excited about a sandwich. In fact, before I lived in Paris, I wasn't really "into bread." Since then, I've learned to love a good loaf, but the crusty heritage grain or sourdough boules I crave are more suited to sopping up sauces than stacking up cold cuts.

The average ol' American sandwich doesn't celebrate bread; it renders it a mere vehicle for debatably exciting fillers. And those who do try to use exquisite loaves often botch the crust-to-inside balance of the ideal bite. (*For the record, I exclude open-faced tartines. They are an entirely different animal from the sandwich, given their sit-down/fork & knife style.)

Yet everyone once in a while, I fall upon an inventive sub or panini that revives my faith in the the future of portable lunch. After two years in New York - and countless meals on-the-go - there are three sandwiches I still swoon over, even if I've the time for a proper seated siesta.

1) Num Pang - Pulled Pork or Catfish w/ Pickled Carrots, Cilantro & Cucumber

When the bahn mi craze hit, I wasn't the biggest fan. After living in Paris, stateside baguettes tend to leave me less-than-impressed. In the case of most BM shops, their stale impressions of this seminal French bread remain impossibly dry, no matter the highly-curated contents. So when my sister and mother started raving about a "Cambodian sandwich shop", I anticipated an equally desiccated sub. To my surprise, the semolina num pang rolls are a softer, subtler sibling to the bahn mi baguette. Here, filling is king, and boy is it delicious. Savory, spicy, acidic and crunchy - it is sustenance and refreshment in one. To boot, NP's grilled chili-coconut corn is beyond addictive.

2) No. 7 Sub - Broccoli, Riccota Salata, Lychee Pickles & Toasted Pine Nuts

I'm all for wacky, rare ingredients, so I was pretty intrigued when I got wind of the latest Flatiron food addiction. I've tried a few different sandwiches at No. 7, but the broccoli is by far my favorite. I usually hate syrupy-sweet lychees, but pickled, they are genius. Riccota salata and toasted pine nuts are enough to win over any good Italian girl, and I pity people who hate broccoli. Depending on who makes your sub, the bread here can tend a little towards the aforementioned Bahn Mi dryness, but on a good day it's just so damn delicious.

3) Porchetta - Namesake Sandwich

The first NYC sandwich to ever win my heart, the Porchetta classic will go down in East Village history. Can you ever have enough cracklin'? I think not. In fact, I've asked for extra and the pig-loving meat carvers are sometimes lovely enough to indulge me. The pork itself is slow-cooked and stuffed with rosemary, sage, garlic, salt and - the hot spice of 2011 - wild fennel pollen. By the way, the similarly seasoned potatoes with cracklin' are also sinfully good...

catch of the day: bread & chocolate

Working with, around, or in a field generally related to food usually comes with perks.  And sometimes, the perks are mouth-dropping, drool-inspiring, and downright genius. Today, I received an email to the tune of "come pick up a free loaf of Bread & Chocolate".

I'm  not the first to discover this dense, chocolate-filled, sourdough-tangy, perfectly-salty boule.  It has already appeared on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and in Bon Appétit's list of America’s 10 Best Bread Bakeries.

The breakdown: -This isn't your grandmère's flaky pain au chocolat.  This is the sumo wrestler of chocolate bread, with 1/3 its weight coming from Callebaut Belgian dark chocolate.  So unless you're a real masochist, there's not much of a risk of eating the full loaf in one sitting. -The sourdough boule is a unique, tangy spin on the traditional combo.  In high school, my French teacher used to feed us Hershey bars on butter-slathered baguettes, which she claimed her children ate daily for snack. This is a sophisticated one-up on that classic.  You've got the salt, the dark chocolate, the oil/butter - but now with an acidic, tangy aftertaste.  In other words, this bread won't evaporate into your stomach without notice.  It commands (and deserves) that you slow down and recognize its full flavor profile.

Oh - and did I mention that this bakery is dangerously close to a holistic/Ayurvedic retreat center?  I guess we don't have to think twice about where those lost little campers ran off to...