Banh Mi Dish Duel: Bun Mee vs. Cafe Bunn Mi
|Cafe Bunn Mi's sole sandwich: Not the same as Bun Mee's.|
Did Cafe Bunn Mi, which opened last week in the Richmond, pull a similar stunt with Bun Mee, Denise Tran's 4-month-old Pacific Heights sandwich shop? Both sell upscale ($5-8), Westerner-friendly banh mi, along with salads and a few more substantial dishes. More importantly, whose phonetically spelled sandwiches are better?
With Cafe Bunn Mi's pork belly sandwich, where slabs of too-fatty pork, braised with soy and star anise, are layered with soy-marinated eggs and shredded vegetables, the lack of acidity is a huge problem (also a problem: dense, not-hot-enough French rolls). The fish sandwich, though, centers on deep-fried sole so tender, coated in batter so light and crisp that the sweet mayo and cilantro, shot through with the occasional buzzy bit of green chile, make enough of a frame to turn it into a good sandwich.
|Bun Mee's crispy catfish sandwich, $7.95.|
For one, the cooks have gotten the bread right: So warm, so light, the roll starts sloughing off brittle crumbs the moment it comes out of the wrapper. The bread is a texture, not a flavor to distract from the fillings.
And the cooks stuff the sandwich with the right proportion of cilantro, long strands of pickled vegetables, and a few green chiles hot enough to leave me feeling like my lips had welts on them. (This is not a criticism, mind you.) Tran's turmeric-scented fried catfish recalls both cha ca and Louisiana, where she grew up. It doesn't have the presence of the more thickly battered sole from Cafe Bunn Mi's sandwich, but its flavor is haunting. Like my favorite ($4) Vietnamese sandwiches, the catfish banh mi inspires its eater to finish the thing before its contents soften and deflate.
Advantage: Bun Mee.
Bun Mee: 2015 Fillmore (at Pine), 800-7696.
Cafe Bunn Mi: 417 Clement (at Fifth Ave.), 668-8908.