Wednesday, November 18, 2009

nomnoming my way through sandwiches and cocktails

Banh mi is a classic Vietnamese sandwich. So I have something to confess: I've never had a banh mi before. Yes I know it's unheard of in the ethnic melting pot that is Los Angeles, but there apparently isn't any authentic Vietnamese joints in the area and it's hard for me to justify driving to Westminster for the real thing. You may be able to get it at some LA restaurants but they usually come without the traditional fixings, pate or is served on stale bread. When I read about nomnom truck, amidst the influx of mobile food trucks that were emerging across town, this truck stood out of the rest. In fact, I was waiting patiently over a month for its launch date. Finally I could try a banh mi without driving an hour away.

Nomnom was founded by UCLA graduates (gotta support fellow bruins!) and the word reflects the chomping sound made by a satisfied eater. After experiencing the massive lines at Kogi and Marked 5 at Abbot Kinney's First Fridays, I was reluctant to go in search of another truck. Should I just wait till the hype dies down? I finally decided to take a chance and went with my friend Amy, who is a nomnom regular and has sampled most of their menu.

They were in West LA by the Sawtelle Yougurtland on Tuesday from 6.-9.30pm. We got there at 8.15pm and was surprised to find no line. I had anticipated that the young coeds would be out in droves. Did I miss the crowd? If I did, good job on my part for not getting there at 6 on the dot.

The menu is simple: a couple banh mi (grilled pork, BBQ pork, tofu, lemongrass chicken) and taco options. You can order 6 or 12 inch sandwich combos with sides and a drink. They ran out of the ever popular BBQ pork banh mi. Apparently it had just sold out about 10 minutes prior. We opted for the next best thing: the lemongrass chicken.

Lemongrass chicken sandwich for $5
The sandwich comes in a 12 inch sub which you can eat all on your own if you are starving. We decided to split the sandwich and ate this in my car, ghetto style.

The sandwich came with pickled carrots and radish, cucumbers, jalapeno pepper, sans mayo for us, fresh cilantro and option for pate. Pate? Heck yeah! Alongside the truck was various Asian condiments. I topped mine off with a bit of Sriracha and some Maggi Seasoning.

Absolutely delicious. The meat was tender and flavorful. The lemongrass was fragrant and lovely. Everything in the sandwich was crucial for the perfect bite. The creamy rich pate, the sour and crunchy vegetables, the fresh baguette, the saltiness of the Maggi Seasoning and the hot kick from the jalapeno pepper. The sandwich really left you wanting more. After I was done with mine, I regretted sharing one. I would definitely be back. Next time, I'd like to try the BBQ pork and while we're at it, throw in some tacos as well.

After devouring our banh mi in about two minutes, we made our way to Copa D'oro in Santa Monica for cocktails. The bar prides itself on making a variety of interesting cocktails with fresh ingredients.

The space is dark, classy and relatively empty on a Tuesday night. It gets pretty packed over the weekends.

They have a huge list of cocktails but if you sit at the bar, the mixologists can custom-make you a drink upon request, and it's fun to just sit and watch them in action. Unfortunately the bar seats were taken so we had to settle for table seating.

Oriental Breeze: Vodka with lychee juice, mangosteem and orange bitter. Wow, I haven't had mangosteem since I was a kid in Asia. They ran out of lychee juice so the mixologist substituted for guava juice. Absolutely delish and my favorite of the night. It was refreshing but not overly sweet. I loved the guava juice which is something you don't find often in a cocktail

Smooth Operator: Honey vodka, barenjagar liquor and fresh lemon juice, served in a martini glass. Right from the first sip, you can taste the honey from the vodka but it was also not overly sweet.

For my next drink, I asked the waitress for something with vodka and grapes. She brought over the Emerald which is normally served with gin. Yes it had grapes, but as a garnish! It was more of a vodka and lemon based drink. Should have sat at the bar and asked the mixologist to create a vodka and crushed grapes drink for me. The drink was my least favorite because it had an overpowering lemon flavor and just tasted like a margarita. Nothing wrong with margaritas, but it wasn't anything special or different, and wasn't what I was looking for.

Amy wanted something with fresh herbs so she ordered the Romantic Affair with vodka, strawberry, basil and fresh lemon juice. Wow, they really do have lemon juice in every drink. I liked this drink as well.

They have a limited food menu which includes a cheese plate, charcuterie and a couple sandwiches. I like their PP&J and Nutella sandwiches. In keeping with our sandwich night, we decided to share one.

Prosciutto Panini: Prosciutto, shaved Parmesan, arugula tossed with Italian olive oil on a fresh baguette. A very traditional Italian sandwich. I thought that it was a bit too greasy for me but that is just a personal preference. I can't eat uncooked olive oil- it makes me want to gag, unless it's really good olive oil. This version induce the gag reflex so I'm thinking that their olive oil wasn't a good one. But also, I think the poor panini was set for failure after we had experienced the delicious and flavorful banh mi. Anything else would be unjustly compared to the nomnom sandwich.

It was the perfect Tuesday night out. nomnom really delivered on the sandwich side and I am glad I tried it. Yes, I don't have a basis for comparison given that I had never had a banh mi before, but that was one tasty sandwich and I'd definitely be back for more. It's great that the nomnom truck has introduced this cuisine to Westsiders. And a perfect end to the night at one of my favorite go-to bars. It's low key on weeknights, their drinks are good and the mixologists are able to make them strong yet very drinkable. DANGER! You can tell that the mixers are fresh and not fruit concentrates, hence the drinks are not painfully sweet.

Hits: lemongrass chicken banh mi, no lines, Oriental breeze cocktail
Misses: panini paled in comparison to the banh mi
Rating: **** (nomnom), *** (Copa)

nomnom truck

Copa D'oro
217 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 576-3030

1 comment:

betty said...

Let me know next time you're in the mood for nom nom. Lemongrass is one of my favorites, and that sandwich sounded delicious!