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...

au marché: richard lenoir market, paris

It is difficult to pick a favorite market in Paris - some have the best prices, others have higher quality or more unusual products and a few have simply incredible ambiance.  But if I had to pick one market in Paris to be the "best" market for first-time visitors to the city, I would pick the Marché Richard Lenoir.

This renown market is impressive in both its size and the diversity of its products.  Stretching north of Place de la Bastille (under the watch of the famous monument's gleaming angel), this twice weekly market fills a fountain-lined promenade with a motley crew of both vendors and shoppers.  As you enter on the Bastille end, you will walk past cheap clothing and hygiene/beauty products, followed by kitchenware merchants.  You will then see stands of prepared/hot foods, fruits and vegetables, and eventually dairy, meat and seafood.  Once deeply entrenched in the market, specialty vendors of Italian goods, honey, spices or wine will also dot your path.  (Word to the wise: it is worth walking the entire loop of the market before deciding on any purchases.  And a line typically means that a vendor has good value and/or high quality products).

There are two elusive and addictive foodstuffs sold at this market that I have never found of equal quality elsewhere in the city.  The first of these is fougasse, a doughy webbed bread, that I prefer stuffed with black olives.  This particular Parisian delight is an obsession of my bread-loving sister (who, ironically, doesn't like olives, but apparently loves olives encased in perfectly fluffy, soft bread).  The second time I lived in Paris, my apartment was steps from the Richard Lenoir market - and I can actually recall waking up at the crack of dawn, rolling my suitcase to the bread stand (before they were even officially set up),  and purchasing still-warm fougasse, just to hail a taxi and hop on a plane back to the 'States - just so she can have it (relatively) fresh. (Yes, it's really that good).

The second of these products is less portable, unfortunately.  Pain au thym  is a lebanese flat bread spread with olive oil and za'atar - a middle eastern spice blend of thyme, marjoram, oregano, sesame and salt.  Heated over a cast-iron dome, the circular flatbread is then folded into parchment paper, piping hot and ready to eat.

After thirty seconds of impatience (which are necessary, I have in overeager moments burned my tongue), the fragrant bread is ready to bite - inundating your taste buds with an herbaceous, salty and slightly acidic punch.  An empty stomach is an undisputed prerequisite for such a market trip, but filling that stomach immediately with pain au thym more than gratifies the short-term sacrifice (and may help inspire moderation during the rest of your shopping experience).

Last but not least, this is a market well-worn by savvy tourists, and thus easier to navigate for English speakers than others (for example, the nearby Place d'Aligre market, which is very popular and often preferred for daily shopping by full-time residents of the quartier).

If you have the chance, check out the Richard Lenoir market early on a Thursday.  It is far less packed than it will be on Sunday, and thus easier to grab the elusive fougasse (which tends to sell out in the first couple hours).

For more coverage of the Marché Richard Lenoir, check out expat foodie David Lebovitz's perspective.  And don't forget to visit Catherine, his favorite chicken lady.

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...