Raising the Bar: Banh Mi at Terroir?
"Perhaps there's a reason banh mi was spelled wrong."
It seems the Banh Mi craze has finally reached Terroir, the tiny wine bar in the East Village that Ed reviewed early last year. This weekend, I was perusing the menu and saw the Bahn Mi Italiano with Pork Terrine, Mortadella, and Pickled Vegetables ($11). Besides the fact that banh mi was spelled wrong (it's banh, not bahn), I wasn't too annoyed. I've eaten stranger things. So as odd as it sounds, I ordered an Italian banh mi panino.
Terroir's banh mi is served on Sullivan Street Bakery flauto bread, which isn't authentic (this is an Italian banh mi after all), but crusty and chewy, it works great for a panino. The substitution of mortadella for the Vietnamese bologna/pork roll also worked, but their house-made terrine, which is nice on its own, lacked the wonderful funkiness of Vietnamese head cheese and pâté. In addition, the pickled vegetables (peppers, cucumbers, haricot verts) were tasty, but were milder and definitely not as plentiful as the pickled daikon and carrots normally found in a banh mi. Bibb lettuce provided some more vegetal matter, but I found it unnecessary and also a bit sandy. (It may have a been a bad day for prep, my salad of bibb lettuce was also sandy.) I would have liked more pickled vegetables instead.
Sorely missing, however, were two of my favorite ingredients in a Vietnamese sandwich, sweet barbecued pork and spicy fresh peppers. In fact, the heat element was completely nonexistent, and in general, so was the explosion of flavors (sour, sweet, spicy, and savory) I normally associate with a banh mi. That said, the Bahn Mi Italiano is a damn good sandwich, besides the sandy bibb lettuce; it's just not a banh mi. Perhaps there's a reason banh mi was spelled wrong.
Where Terroir shines though is in their impressive list of Rieslings. I ordered a Riesling at the beginning of the meal thinking it would be perfect with a spicy sandwich. Of course the panino didn't end up being spicy, but I requested a dry Riesling anyway. The waiter's suggestion of the Tasmanian Tamar Ridge, 2004 ($6 before 6pm) was just what I wanted, light with a slightly sharp sweetness at the end. No spicy sandwich needed. An Italian panino was enough.