Drumroll... I lied! This isn't the sandwich you'll find in the Paseo that exists today, but rather a sandwich from Un Bien. Everything will make sense soon.
In the Seattle mythos, there used to be a Caribbean/Cuban sandwich joint by the name of Paseo, which received no shortage of fanatical reviews from locals and tourists alike. Lines would form around the block in anticipation of a nigh-cathartic pork shoulder sandwich. Until--
In September 2014, a lawsuit was filed in which former employees held grievance against the owners for things like UNLAWFUL WITHHOLDING OF WAGES and WRONGFUL TERMINATION because of race. One month later, Paseo filed for bankruptcy and the Ballard neighborhood flooded with the tears of thousands of foodies.
One of my biggest regrets was not having visited the original while it was still open. When I heard it was reopening, I got excited, but it turns out the new management had changed the recipe. People still think it's pretty good, but one thing's certain - it's not the original which so magnetized the public.
Fortunately, about nine months later, the sons of the original owner decided to open up shop in the form of Un Bien, staying true to the original recipes. Some even say it's better than the original, owing to things like the sandwich being cut in half now, the existence of seating (table benches), and Square where only cash was accepted before.
Context is boring.
Yup, I get it. You just want to read about the food.
I'll be reviewing what the menu lists as "Carribean Roast," which is essentially Un Bien's take on the classic Cubano. This is what everyone raves about.
And credit where credit is due: it's actually quite brilliant.
Foodwise, making a sandwich has to be one of the easiest things to do. All you have to do is slap a bunch of ingredients between two slices of bread and you have yourself a sandwich. They had 7 Cubanos on a long grill, pork shoulder being applied generously to each one, right to left, then onions, lettuce, cilantro, aioli... methodological, which is standard for any good kitchen, and quite clean, which is always a good sign. These guys definitely look like they know what they're doing.
- Baguette sliced in half
By itself, a baguette is usually delicious, but it can be annoying to tear off a piece because the crust is hard. By grilling it, Un Bien is able to emphasize its crunch while reducing its tear force (because heat loosens molecular bonds).
- Romaine lettuce
This was somehow cooked so that you could cut through the crispy foliage with a single bite, two at most, with a burst of moisture (water from the leaf) mixed with some marinade
- Caramelized onions
I really liked these. Un Bien uses a paler white variety, which allows them to emphasize the caramelization, manifested as a deep brown seeping in from the edges of the rectangular slices. Very delightful crunch to them and definitely more sweet than bitter.
Usually not a fan of egg emulsion sauces, especially not mayonnaise, I'm also impartial to aioli. However, I do appreciate its usage here, lending a creamy-but-light texture to give the sandwich more nuance and garlic notes which accentuate the meat. Applied in a middling amount, a smart decision as it's very easy for aioli to overpower other ingredients.
- Soy marinade
Pretty standard for the course as far as taste is concerned. Blends well with everything else because it adds a sweet and slightly acidic note to the mix. However, it also softens the crumb (interior white part) of the baguette, which makes the sandwich easier to eat.
- Shredded pork shoulder
Although I tend to avoid pork, I'd already decided to eat the sandwich anyway out of pure gastronomic curiosity. Three spheres of the shoulder rested on top of the bottom baguette, adjacently placed before the other ingredients went on top. It's done in this order because otherwise everything would fall apart upon biting in. Very tender, although not so much that it falls apart; still chewy enough to feel hefty (as it should, being the centerpiece of the sandwich). By itself, this pork shoulder tasted very similar to unseasoned brisket. A small amount of jus complements exceptionally well with the marinade and aioli.
An instant burst of flavor to any dish - a highly concentrated citrus bordering on bitterness, instantly released on bite. Works well when applied in small quantities and in conjunction with other flavors, both of which it is in this Carribean Roast.
The soft peppers spread throughout add the perfect level of heat, enough to enhance the other flavors without slowing down your pace of eating due to it being too spicy. Tastes like they were pickled sans the vinegar.
On the downside, the actual eating process was messy as hell. I'd give it probably a 7/10 on the messy scale; not so haphazard as to fall apart upon biting, but you will need to readjust the bread to maintain leverage and your hands will be super greasy afterwards. However, some will say that certain food - like barbecue - is just better when you make a huge mess because it feels authentic, carnal. This particular sandwich could not have been executed otherwise.
Let me rephrase a bit. Making a capital S Sandwich is not easy. It's kind of like alchemy - combining different reagents in different quantities in hopes of transforming your raw material into gold. There must have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of iterations on this one, and the results speak for themselves - stellar reviews, long lines, and my deciding to write.
I visited for the second time today and tried two new things.
Let's begin with #10, the seared scallop sandwich. This used the same ingredients as the Carribean Roast, minus the marinade (and pork). It was bad. I'm disappointed in myself because I knew that in principle this sandwich is a terrible idea, but had faith in Un Bien to prove me wrong. They didn't.
- Scallops don't work well in sandwiches - especially not with a hard bread such as the baguette. The scallops Un Bien uses are small and slippery, and most of them fell out upon attempting to pick up the sandwich. Even if they didn't, the soft and delicate texture of their flesh is not a good contrast with the harder onions, lettuce, and the much harder baguette. The scallops turned to mush in a few bites, overpowered in both texture and flavor by the other ingredients which required much further chewing.
- Without the marinade, the aioli dominated the palate after every bite, introducing a highly unpleasant creaminess, more egg than garlic, reminding me of why I so dislike its cousin mayonnaise.
- This sandwich was just an absolute mess to eat, even compared to the one I described above. Everything was falling out and would continue to fall out even after my attempts at rearranging them.
You can tell by my sentence structure that I wasn't very happy with this.
The second item I got was the fire-roasted corn. Others rave about this, but I'm quite nonplussed. The description from the menu is mostly accurate:
Fresh corn on the cob grilled over an open flame, coated with aioli, parmesan, cilantro, salt, paprika, and fresh lime juice.
Mostly accurate. The corn wasn't fresh, as it had little intrinsic flavor, and for that matter, neither did anything else. In fact, the accoutrements existed mostly to disguise the blandness of the corn... But perhaps its gravest sin was being served lukewarm, which leads me to believe mine had been sitting for a while before they wrapped it up.
Alchemy is hard. My advice: sell the gold, ditch the failed experiments.