Bánh mì in Louisville (part 6 of an onging series): Namnam Cafe

The weekend before last Shannon and I intended to go to Simply Thai, but it was mobbed, so we walked across the street to Namnam Cafe instead. I took copious notes, but took my time in writing up the actual review, I’m afraid. Also, in other news, the French Indo-Canada Food Truck kickstarter was successfully funded! Someone or a small number of someones poured a lot of money into it on tax weekend, so I hope sometime in the next few months to review it too!

[Photo of a sandwich from Namnam Cafe]NamNam Cafe on UrbanspoonNamnam Cafe (318 Wallace Avenue) is a fairly hip Vietnamese casual place which opened last year on the St. Matthews-Clifton border. It falls on to what is to my mind the wrong side of the divide (I’m still somewhat bitter about the time the St. Matthews police hassled me), but has much to recommend it: a bright, cheery ambiance, an apparently authentic menu, and a pleasingly diverse list of local beers. Generally speaking, I don’t go too much out of the urban core of the city, and I’m generally a bit dubious of Viet cuisine outside of the South End, so even though this was on my list, it was easy to overlook and I put off actually coming here for a long time. Their menu has a good range of standby casual-Vietnamese foods, including noodle soups, noodle salads, rice dishes, and the like: it also has four varieties of bánh mì: pork (analogous to a thịt nướng), chicken (gà), tofu (chay), and cold cuts (thịt nguội), all for $6 except for the thịt nguội, which is $6.50. We waited for some time, but it’s a sit-down place, and relaxation is the rule.

As the image above might make you suspect, the first thing that leapt out at me was that the baguette, well, wasn’t. Shapewise, it was more akin to a bâtard; texturally, it was overcrisped and internally a bit insubstantial. Since I’m a bread purist, this was a major immediate strike against it. On the brighter side, several of the vegetables were just right: the carrots were well-pickled with the right sharpness and crunch, and the cucumber was a solid, substantial spear. There was no daikon among the pickles, alas, and the pork, although moist and flavorful, seemed to be a slightly gristly cut. The mayonnaise was extremely abundant, which together with the airy roll led to a fair amount of leakthrough, and it was a surprisingly sharp and spicy mayo, when compared to the often sweet sauce used elsewhere. The cilantro was present but only really as an afterthought, and I didn’t detect any of the telltale tang of fish sauce, either.

It’s definitely a different take on the Viet sandwich than I think of as authentic. At places like Zanzabar and Ramsi’s I can kinda give that a pass as a creative interpretation, but here at a place with an ostensibly straightforward take on Viet cuisine I’m honestly at a loss as to whether to ascribe the rather major deviations from the form as creative license or as inauthenticity. Certainly nothing about the fillings was outside the boundaries of what I would label as a “good sandwich”, although the bread I’d consider markedly unmatched to it, but it’s by no means something I could in good conscience call a “good bánh mì” because it was lacking in so many of the flavor elements, and textural elements, which make a bánh mì.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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