I’ve mentioned a few times before that I am an active member of the Midtown Lunch forums. I actually used to be even more active, when I had a job that required I sit in front of a computer for 7 hours a day, but that’s another story. In any case, when this topic popped up – a banh mi blind tasting! – I jumped on the opportunity. An event that someone else organized (and very well, I might add – every last detail was considered!) and all I had to do was pick up a sandwich and attend, then give my opinion? Okay!!!
Christene blind-marked the sandwiches so we didn’t (really) know which sandwiches were which. Banh mi A had pretty good bread, and strongly flavored pork. In fact, it was very meaty, and I liked the balance of everything overall, which is, to me, the essence of banh mi: though at first, a bite should be about the bread’s crisp exterior, yielding gently to the sandwich contents, the final takeaway should be a complete balance of flavors in your mouth: crisp bread, pickled veggies, bright cilantro, and meaty, delicious pork products (and hot peppers, if you’ve opted for those).
Sandwich B looked very lonely and sad, naked in the container we used to house the sandwiches.
A closer up shot showed off its contents. Banh mi B also had really good bread, good flavors with more pronounced veggies this time.
Ban mi C had slightly weak bread, softer, and the pork was of the ground BBQ type that I don’t like since it falls out all over you while you eat. The veggies were also more pronounced than Sandwich A, but a solid showing. Still, bread being the first bit that touches your mouth, I consider it super important.
Banh mi D was soggy, over-sweet and quite honestly, awful. I couldn’t tolerate the goopy sweetness and the sauce oozing out everywhere; this was barely tolerable and hardly recognizable as banh mi. I actually tried two pieces of this (since we accidentally wound up having two of these sandwiches), and both times were disgustingly soaked with sauce along with chewy bread. Total FAIL.
Banh mi E had decent bread, and again a good showing for the veggies, but the pork was a little lacking. I liked the flavor on this one despite the pork lacking a little bit.
Banh mi F was pretty much across the board horrible. The bread was way too soft, the veggies were visible but flavor-wise, invisible, and the pork was muted in taste. I didn’t even understand how this sandwich could claim to be a banh mi. At this point I was glaring at the ‘banh mi’ in my hand, wondering who had pissed off the banh mi gods.
Banh mi G was the same; the bread was horrible, though at least this one, the meat was tasty (though we were informed later that it was actually chicken). Just really not OK for this to be a banh mi… a chicken sandwich, fine, but none of the components that make up a good banh mi were present here.
The ballots and the big reveal! I was pretty surprised by own marks and yet, not. I was not surprised that I’d given Ma Peche’s two entries super low marks (and subsequently 0’s for value, as at $10+ they should be amazing, OR AT LEAST PRETTY GOOD, but they were nearly inedible!) – I felt satisfied, actually, that I’d given a big F-U to David Chang, of whom I am not a fan!
Next worst was definitely Yushi, with its god-awful bread and sogginess – having travelled so little to reach our destination, there was no way to justify that. Excess hoisin sauce, too sweet, and just not a banh mi by any means, but also not something I’d want to eat, even giving it a different name. Blegh.
After that, it almost pains me to say that the Chinatown contenders didn’t make that strong a showing. However, I am inclined to believe that the travel and wait time was to each sandwich’s detriment, and leave it at that. But it remains that Saigon and Paris were close contenders to each other, for my taste buds.
This leaves us down to two Midtown (sort of) contenders, Baoguette and Boi to Go. Baoguette is a bit out of bounds, but is also only $5. Boi to Go, at $8, is quite a bit more expensive. Taking into account just taste, however, I would say that Boi to Go edged out Baoguette by the teensiest bit for me. It was definitely a hard call, but I feel comfortable putting my support behind Boi to Go, especially given the location actually being in Midtown – if I worked in Midtown, that’s where I would get my banh mi.
However, taking into consideration price, Baoguette wins easily, in my opinion. Though at $5, it is more than Chinatown places, it is also closer to Midtown (again, if I worked in Midtown, these are things to consider), and the sandwich made a strong showing f’sure.
Out of 7 people today, one person chose A (Boi to Go), one person chose C (Saigon), and five people chose E (Baoguette). Draw your own conclusions though – and let me know what you decide! – since I’ve had Baoguette from the Financial District location and was not impressed, and did my own banh mi bender write-up last year as well. Some of the sandwiches certainly suffered from travel, though I’ve bought extra banh mi and eaten them with success later or the next day, still finding them delicious.
This was a ton of fun, and big thanks to Christene for organizing, and to the participants – you know who you are!!! 🙂
Yvo says: Most people chose Baoguette, a conclusion I’m hard-pressed to completely dismiss. However, Boi to Go’s version was pretty damn tasty; I just find the $8 price tag a bit tough to swallow. Ma Peche and Yushi were horrible, though, and I have to insist you pass on them, regardless of what anyone else might say. *shudder* Hardly fit to consume, really – they should be ashamed of themselves, especially Ma Peche – capitalizing on its own popularity to rip people off and give them what is tantamount to, as one ML taster said, “dog [food].”