Thibble Thursday: Occupy Mount Sinai (Leviticus 25:1–26:2)

This chapter is full of interesting developments, with some very peculiar civil-justice and civil practice codes which actually some people have (if at least metaphorically) tried to make relevant today. All this is in פָּרָשַׁת בהר (“At Mount” portion). I continue to use the Fox translation and the WRJ commentary, although the first draft of this is being done based on online translations, since I was on the road, which is also what delayed this week’s wibble a bit.

The quick snarky summary: Every seven years, nobody’s supposed to do any farming. But they won’t starve anyways. In the fiftieth year you get a double-whammy with a second fallow year and a complete reset on the economy. Presumably, neither of these practices were actually observed the way they were supposed to be.

Proclaim liberty throughout the land

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Bánh mì in Louisville (part 11 of an onging series): Bánh Mì Hero

So the big news I mentioned back in the Annie’s Cafe review, about how Annie’s son was working on opening his own bánh mì joint out near Douglass Loop? Well, it happened, a few weeks ago, and I was there for the opening, but I only now got around to writing about it.

[Photo of a sandwich from Bánh Mì Hero]Bánh Mì Hero (2245 Bardstown Road) is, as mentioned above, an extremely new Vietnamese sit-down sandwich shop right near the Douglass Loop area (in the former Oishii Sushi space). The dining area is spacious with minimalist but effective decor; the whole place, including the prep area, is partitioned with about 5-foot-high walls, so the overall feeling is of openness and visibility (even if you can’t quite see into the prep area). The menu has a nice diversity of sandwiches at the $7 and $8 price point, which is a bit outside of the Iroquois range of $3-5, but it’s worth noting that both the locale and the size justify it. As to locale, it’s out vaguely eastish in a more upscale end of the city, and the sandwiches at the somewhat close-by Cafe Mimosa and Namnam cafe are very nearly the same price, and the sandwich at Heart and Soy not much cheaper. And as for size, well, these are straight-up bigger sandwiches that you see in Iroquois; I think it might be roughly the same size as Mimosa’s, but it’s well larger than most, and certainly from a size point of view you’re getting your money’s worth. For a lighter and cheaper snack, BMH also has rice cups and Vietnamese-styled tacos, which I haven’t tried. The baseline sandwich here sems to be the Saigon Hero, a pork-intensive concoction. Several of the others look like very interesting and tasty takes on the traditional sandwich: Lee’s and the Good Morning Vietnam look like wonderful concoctions, and the Hanoi Hero like a good one for in the summer when seasonal fresh tomatoes return.

Service was prompt, although the prep itself might’ve taken a little while. I honestly wasn’t keeping track, because I was fortuitously seated next to a couple who shared my enthusiasm, and sussed out that I was that lunatic who’s always writing about bánh mì (I perhaps paraphrase the revelation). It turns out that I sort-of-kind-of knew of them too, as they are in fact the in-laws of Lan, the Angry Asian Creator herself! Small world. (Lan found me through my sandwich reviews, setting me straight on a few things, and I’ve since come to follow her recipes and food descriptions. Lots of tasty stuff over there.)

So, enough irrelevancies. How was the sandwich itself? Well, there’s a lot to like about them, and one serious flaw. These are, as mentioned above, big sandwiches, and there’s a lot of room on them for serious artistry, with generous portions of all the elements and a nice diversity of meats. The daikon, carrots, and cilantro were excellent, although those are frankly hard to screw up. There’s a nice blend of sauces on there as well, giving hints of sweetness, a light salty tang, and some heat but not overwhelming heat. The fresh onions are a nice touch and a well-conceived one. I might object very slightly to the shaping choice on the cucumber, which was an angle-cut round rather than a spear (I feel that long and narrow is really the way to go). And, ah, the meats. The pork belly was tender and rich, and the pâté flavorful and ever-so-slightly gritty. The sausage honestly got lost in the shuffle as far as I can tell, but the whole was tasty indeed. So Bánh Mì Hero is putting high-quality elements into their sandwiches. Wherefore, then, do I have such reservations?

It’s the bread, of course. In previous reviews I’ve often viewed bread as a make-or-break element, but, at least as evidenced on the first visit, the bread here is straight-up not up to the task. It’s a squishy and doughy roll, suppressing rather than accentuating the flavors and lacking that frangible lightness so critical to textural fitness. I find myself hoping this is a temporary misstep born of inadequate supply rather than a long-term state of affairs. Conversations with Lee (the proprietor) back at Annie’s revealed that she had access to a rather limited supply of really excellent bread. Together with the fact that BMH is using longer rolls, they may have trouble sourcing really good substrates for their product, but given how excellent they are otherwise, I would really like to see them overcome this problem. It seems pretty likely: Lee’s a pretty responsive guy, friendly to his customers and attentive to their concerns (I didn’t really get a chance to give my feedback, because opening day he was having to be everywhere at once), and on this one everyone from Robin Garr to his forum foodies have isolated the bread as the most problematic element of the sandwiches here.

Expect a revisit and update — under the circumstances I have a great deal of confidence that this will get sorted out, and I dearly wish to try a Lee’s or a GMV anyways, so there’s all the reason in the world to go back.

Thibble Thursday: Holiday Cheer (Leviticus 21:1–24:23)

Fell a little bit behind yesterday. We continue with, lamentably, some more tedious rules which really only apply to priests, but then we move into the observances of festivals, here in פָּרָשַׁת אמר (“Speak” portion). Oh, and this week I’m using the ultraliteral Fox translation and the WRJ commentary, which promises to be an interesting departure.

The quick snarky summary: priests are supposed to be pure and above things of the world, so they can’t mourn and have to marry particularly “pure” women. Sacrifices have to be perfect too. Really, God can’t stand having anything except absolute purity in his house. Also, just in case non-priests had stopped reading and thought this section didn’t apply to them, wake up, because there are a bunch of agricultural festivals everyone has to observe.

In which our hero learns the true meaning of Shavuot

Bánh mì in Louisville (part 10 of an onging series): Tom+Chee

This maybe needs a bit of explanation. My girlfriend is the manager of a Louisville local quick-service eatery, and at one point, when I was talking about running out of bánh mì places to visit, she idly said “we’ve got a bánh mì on the specials list.” I was agog, for reasons which will become clear in the review proper. Apparently actually rotating this special into production was going to have to wait until they got a recipe for one of the elements, but I begged her to give me a heads-up when they finally featured it. And then the magical day rolled around, and I had to go see.

(Disclaimer: as suggested above, I have a personal connection here. I don’t think that should affect my ability to judge fairly, but readers have a right to know)

[Photo of a sandwich from Tom+Chee]Tom+Chee on UrbanspoonTom+Chee (1704 Bardstown Road, 319 West Cardinal Boulevard, and several out-of-town locations) is a small chain out of Cincinnati specializing in their namesake foods, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Their grilled cheese is in the recent vein of gourmet grilled cheese, and they have sandwiches with a good variety of cheeses, as well as meats and vegetables and the slightly gimmicky addition of potato chips. Their rotating list of specials includes a “mushroom bahn [sic] mi” for $4.50, a spelling which at least puts them in goodinfamous company with Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar.

Knowing what I did about Tom+Chee’s signature foodstuff, I went in fully expecting a crime against authenticity. My connoisseurship of Vietnamese sandwiches is somewhat incomplete, but three significant facts about them would be: (1) the sandwiches themselves are not typically grilled, (2) they, like most southeast Asian food, do not contain cheese, and (3) they are made on a long roll of the baguette/bâtard variety and not on square American sandwich bread. That obvious objection having been anticipated and dispensed of, the only questions that remain are: is this sandwich decent in its own rights, and, up to the obvious departures, does it actually capture some of the appropriate essence of a bánh mì?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes, on both counts. As to the first, Tom+Chee generally does pretty respectable, tasty sandwiches. They’re by no means transcendent, but they’re good, hearty sandwiches made with mostly well-chosen ingredients. But in the context being discussed here, the question of whether they exemplify a bánh mì’s qualities is more relevant.

To me, a bánh mì is defined chiefly by contrasts in texture and a somewhat cohesive flavor profile. The texture is of a number of individual, easily teased-apart elements: the snap of the crust around the softer interior of the roll, the vegetative crunch of cucumber, carrot, and daikon, the mouth-teasing insubstantiality of cilantro, and the firmness of the protein. The flavor is overall a lightly summery one, with the herbal freshness of cilantro and cucumber blending with the tanginess of the fish sauce and pickles. The jalapenos and the mayo are somewhat contrasting elements, but for the most part the flavors of a bánh mì are parts of a well-integrated whole.

So, how does Tom+Chee meet these expectations? Surprisingly well from a textural standpoint. The toast is of course not quite like a baguette at all, but it has the same sort of surface frangibility that a goot robust loaf should have in contrast to the softer interior. Shredded carrots and cucumber rounds provide the right elements of crunch, although a cucumber spear is slightly more satisfactory, and the mushrooms have something of the firm chewiness that the meat element should have. Notably, the textural element I feared, the stringiness of the cheese, seemed pretty minimal in this particular concoction: either the grillmaster had a light hand or the other elements kept it largely subdued. On the subject of flavor similarity, however, Tom+Chee is on much shakier ground. Unpickled carrots aren’t really a proper stand-in, flavor-profile-wise, for the carrot-and-daikon mix in a usual sandwich, and the lack of cilantro definitely reduces the overall fresh summertime herbal profile even further. Mushrooms are a kind of dubious choice as a protein stand-in, too: they have an aggressive and not-quite-right flavor.

However, under the circumstances, I’m willing to praise Tom+Chee for what they did get right. Ultimately, as I knew going in, a grilled-cheese bánh mì could not possibly be anything but a gimmick, and, for what it’s worth, within the parameters of the gimmick, it’s actually a pretty good piece of work. If they had other uses for cilantro, I would totally suggest adding some, but since they don’t use it elsewhere, it’s difficult for me to suggest a modification that would actually be plausibly realizable from their inventory and product line.

Anyways, the gauntlet has been thrown on quirky, intrinsically inauthentic takes on the bánh mì. Who’s next? My money’s on Tony Boombozz (and if they’re reading: make something you call a “bánh mì pizza”, and you will have at least one customer!).

Bánh mì in Louisville (part 9 of an onging series): Annie’s Cafe with the folks

I’ve gotten a bit behind schedule here: this actuall happened months ago, when my parents were visiting town. It was a dreary cold weekend, and one day they suggested we go ount for bánh mì and coffee. We could get both done excellently within two doors of each other on Woodlawn, so down to Iroquois we went.

[Photo of a sandwich from Annie's Cafe]Annie Cafe on UrbanspoonI’ve written on previous occasions (here and here) about Annie’s Cafe (308 West Woodlawn Avenue). Annie’s remains much as it ever was, although I’ve gotten to chatting a bit more with the staff, who seem to number exactly three (at least in the front of the house). Our server was Annie’s son, and we talked with him a lot about bánh mìs, and he said something which, a few months ago, was actually a sneak peek at the future: he was apparently fixing in the not-too-distant future to open a bánh mì specialty shop in the Highlands (non-chronological spoiler: yes, it’s opened, and yes, I’ve been there).

I’ve said so much about Annie’s sandwiches before that there’s little enough left to be said now, although it’s worth noting that the two previous visits had moderately different sandwiches, not least due to the quantity (or indeed, presence) of lettuce. I think perhaps the sandwiches at Annie’s are perhaps affected by the availability and quality of produce, because the lettuce is back (or maybe lettuce was always a part of the sandwich, and it just got omitted on my second visit for some reason). Each member of my family got a different sandwich, with me going for my all-time favorite, the stringy, nutty bì. Their bí is good—I’ve had it on rice platters— and the composition was excellent as always. I think they might have gone a little more cilantro-heavy than usual here, but well within the limits of good sandwich balance. So on my thind visit, I continue to unreservedly recommend Annie’s. I’ve gotten a bit of a line on why the bánh mì isn’t actually on the menu, though: apparently it’s highly dependent on a third-party source of bread, and when the rolls run out, so do the sandwiches. So if you go too late in the day, they might not be able to satisfy.

Sibble Saturday: Wholly Holy (Leviticus 19:1–20:27)

A little off schedule this week, courtesy of grading and suchlike, but now we’re into פָּרָשַׁת קדשים (“Holy” portion).

The quick snarky summary: Be nice to the disadvantaged. Wait, that part’s hard to snark about. God hates it when you mix different things together, so take your whiskey neat, not in a cocktail. Also, he totally meant it when he told you not to screw your relatives or non-human-type animals. The dolphins may act like they want it, but, seriously, it’s an abomination and will only result in a public stoning and dolphin steaks for the community.

Holiness is also hairiness

Wibble Wednesday: Fred Phelps’s Favorite Verses (Leviticus 16:1–18:30)

Trying to keep with this. I should be grading exams, but, hey, priorities. Now we get a kind of mixed bag of several different bits of accepted Israelite practices, both for priest and people, in פָּרָשַׁת אחרי מות (“After death” portion).

The quick snarky summary: Seriously, you’re not allowed into the holiest part of the tabernacle except under very extraordinary circumstances. One of those circumstances is Yom Kippur, which has, like every other ritual practice, a staggeringly exact set of steps to follow. Also, now that you’ve got a central place of worship, stop sacrificing whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. We’ve got a process, people—stick to it! Also, watch who you fuck, because God certainly is, and if they’re the wrong people, you’re a total perv and God knows it.

If fundamentalists like Leviticus so much, shouldn’t they order their steak well done?