Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mr. Baguette - Rosemead



Thanks to the likes of Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano, and the countless food sages of Chowhound.com, most people are now well acquainted with the banh mi -- the Vietnamese sandwich made with a crusty French roll and filled with meats from all manner of creatures which swim, graze and cluck.

The undisputed mecca of all things banh mi in America is in Orange County's Little Saigon, which I am blessed to live near. There, amidst the chaos of Bolsa Avenue, one can't drive two feet without spotting a banh mi shop. The sandwiches at these places can vary from mediocre to great, with the best coming from the shops that bake their bread in-house.

And what bakers they are. The baguettes churned out by some of these Little Saigon mom-and-pops, I dare say, can rival any produced by the best boulangeries of Paris.

But LA County's San Gabriel Valley is hot on its heels in becoming a banh mi destination of its own. One bright and shining example is Mr. Baguette in Rosemead, an eatery that's already been lauded by both Mr. Gold, the LA Times and Mr. California's Gold himself, Huell Howser since its opening four years ago. And yes, the baguettes come out hot and fresh from their own ovens.

These long and golden loaves exhibit a crackly, crumbly crust and a soft pillowy interior. It's baked in perfect form and lovely when eaten with just a slathering of butter. But don't stop there. The folks at Mr. Baguette pride themselves in offering a dizzying variety of fillings (over 58 permutations) to transform their baguette into a banh mi -- a sandwich that best demonstrates what good things can happen when Asian flavors meets European.

As I placed my order, I took in the surroundings -- the store gleamed with glass and neon, and was as sleek as a new car showroom. This was definitely a far cry from the worn-out grime of some joints in Westminster.

Mr. Baguette, it seems, is the rare example of a mom-and-pop which operates with the efficiency, organization, and cleanliness of a corporate franchise, without losing the soul of being a family-run establishment.

In the back, a busy staff of uniformed women in white hats assembles the banh mi, which comes in two primary styles; traditional (with cilantro sprigs and daikon/carrot pickles) or Western (with lettuce and sliced tomato). For this visit I decided to try the latter.



The Grilled Chicken Sesame Sandwich ($3.95) was the first one I sunk my teeth into. For this, a baguette was stuffed full of chunked dark meat chicken morsels the size of quarters. Full of peppery flavor, the chicken was as tender as the bread was crisp. A few slices of American cheese added some tang and body. The sesame seeds, which decorated the baguette crust like jewels, provided a nutty contrast to the sandwich -- something that a McDonald's sesame seed bun could never do to its burgers.



The Smoked Bacon Sandwich ($3.75) put a new spin on the classic BLT. Yes, there's lettuce and tomato, but instead of the usual long strips of pork belly, the cooked bacon was cut into a julienne as thin as match sticks. The sandwich was practically bursting with this bacon confetti, which had a smoky, briny flavor and a hearty chew like a good bacon should. But the result was more bacon per square inch than your average Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast. Better consult your cardiologist before you decide to feast on this fatty and porky indulgence.

Me? I was in still in denial about the cholesterol count as my fingers greedily searched and picked up any stray pieces left behind after I polished off my sandwich.



Next was the Pork of the House ($3.75), usually called Thit Nuong. This is one sandwich that I usually avoid, even in my favorite dives in Westminster. The reason being was that more often than not, the pork is overcooked to the point of jerky. Gnawing on such a sandwich filling can be a good workout for the jaws but was not necessarily appetizing.

I'm pleased to report that Mr. Baguette's pork was worlds away from those dry, mummified pieces of meat that I've encountered in the past. The pork here was marinated with a touch of lemongrass and sugar, and grilled to a mouth-meltingly tender and moist consistency similar to a fine filet mignon. A generous heap of it comes in each sandwich -- more than enough to satiate a hungry carnivore like myself.



If Mr. Baguette's banh mis didn't already impress me, I still had to try the pastries. And again I was pleased. Each delectable creation utilized a butter-based pastry crust that flakes and crumbles into paper thin sheets. My favorite were the Mini-Pies filled with Custard ($0.75). Just like donut holes, I ended up eating far more of these than I should have. My beer gut would have been better off if I had only eaten just one of the bigger Raisin Rolls ($1.39) or even the Strawberry Danish ($1.39).



But alas, I wasn't finished getting myself fat. To wash it all down, I tried the Avocado Smoothie ($3.25), which was a beautiful and milky green concoction of ripe, smooth avocado blended with ice cream. As it turned out, this unctuous fruit was perfect fodder for the blender, pleasing my palate with a fresh, grassy, velvety, and creamy sweetness with each sip. It's surprisingly addictive and light.

If more people gave this dessert drink a chance, they will find a new appreciation of the fruit that most only enjoy in guacamole. For me, it was avocado, rediscovered.



Mr. Baguette
(626) 288-9166
8702 Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770

20 Comments:

At 11:55 PM, Blogger A flow cloud said...

Nice to meet you.
If your Brog is seen, it becomes hungry.

It was made to link because it had been interested.

 
At 6:23 AM, Blogger Seth Chadwick said...

Elmo,

You and I are on the same wavelength. The bahn mi is a rare thing in Phoenix metro and I just recently reviewed Lee's Sandwiches, a chain from your next of the woods, that just opened a spot in suburban Phoenix.

You are correct in your assessment that the difference between and good bahn mi and a great one is if the bread is made in-house.

I am very envious that you have a lot of selections for bahn mi in SoCal. The selections you made looked absolutely delicious. And the bacon sandwich... good lord! I'll take two along with my heart pills.

As usual, your blog is a treat to read.

Best wishes!

 
At 8:25 AM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Hi Elmo - Wow, I've actually been here - though I don't remember much about the place other then the price.....

 
At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Foodie Universe said...

This place sounds fantastic! I can't wait to try it. I've never had bahn mi before so I'm glad to have a recommendation. And thanks for the lowdown on the avocado smoothie--I've been curious, but haven't tried it yet.

 
At 4:15 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

a flow cloud,

はじめまして - Hajimemashite!

Seth,

Thanks for dropping by! A good banh mi is just about the cheapest indulgence around these parts. So I'm glad that Lee's opened in your neck of the woods.

Kirk,

True, the prices are a little more expensive than most places in O.C., but then I guess L.A. is L.A.

Foodie Universe,

You will love the avocado shake (I can almost guarantee it). Next time I'm up there, I'm going for the durian.

 
At 4:34 PM, Blogger Steph said...

Good Lord, did you eat all that in one sitting? If so, I bow down to you, gustatory master! Just how big are you, anyway? And why isn't there a Mr. Baguette in OC?

 
At 12:07 AM, Blogger rick james said...

hey elmo, thanks for the Jerry's Dog post, gonna try it even though I'm a PCH Loyalist... is it just me or does Head Cheese Sandwich scare the hell outta you?

 
At 12:13 AM, Blogger rick james said...

oh elmo, this same problem occurs everytime i'm hanging with friends in the OC...

can't find a decent (non-chain) place to eat/hang after 10PM... have any recs??

Me-N-Eds Pizza we usually go for thin crust, closes like at 9pm.. ;p

we ended up at El Matador the other night, they have pretty decent mex and margaritas...

 
At 7:49 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Steph,

LOL! Good of you to ask! My stomach would have exploded in a colorful blast of bacon and avocado goo if I finished all that you saw in one sitting. Actually there was two of us and even after being satiated beyond belief, we had over half of the food leftover for breakfast and lunch the next day!

But in answer to your other question -- We are fortunate to have Banh Mi Che Cali and Top Baguette and countless others in OC. Banh Mi Che Cali in Westminster (corner of McFadden and Brookhurst) continues to be my favorite place for banh mi. Great bread, great fillings, small price.

dietchilifries,

Isn't the phrase "Head Cheese" just about the scariest euphemism ever coined? The word conjures up terrifying images more disturbing than what's used in the actual product!

As for late night places, OC hasn't got much going. Although Kappo Honda (Fountain Valley) and Honda Ya (Tustin) are open until 2 am, and serves alcohol and awesome food to boot!

 
At 10:20 AM, Anonymous miam miam said...

Hi, Elmo:

Thanks for another great food review. Hubby would LOVE to try the durian shake! :)

There's a Mr. Baguette in the Park Place shopping center in Irvine (Jamboree and Michelson). Do you know if this store is part of the same chain?

 
At 10:34 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Miam Miam,

Glad to be of service! Actually the Park Place store you are thinking of is Baguette Time. It's a sandwich shop indeed, but an American one. They have some tasty stuff, but in my opinion quite expensive at $7 for a large sandwich.

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I am so in love with your writing style Elmo. Like I said before in your previous Cafe Hiro post, I generally have to read a Monster Munching post several times to get the full sensory effect. You are so descriptive and detailed, I often miss things on my first voracious read-through. You are no doubt the best food writer I have ever seen. (Or read!)

 
At 2:10 PM, Anonymous c.g. said...

i agree with you, passionate eater, like now i'm actually still wiping off my saliva...

seriously, elmo monster, you're an inspiration.

your loyal reader and another passionate eater, c.g. in north OC

 
At 9:38 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

PE and c.g.,

Thanks for the vote of confidence! I'm really flattered!

 
At 7:16 PM, Blogger eatdrinknbmerry said...

Elmo, again you're in LA! This is a good pick, as I've eaten here a few times. But i have to say, that of the three that i've been to, all on valley blvd., my favorite is Baguette Express which is down the street. Both Lee's and Mr. Baguette bake hard bread in my opinion. I ALWAYS cut the roof of my mouth after eating only one banh mi. Baguette Express, on the other hand, bakes really soft bread. Price and variety-wise, Lee's reigns. Great posting.

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Dylan,

Yeah, I like me some crunchy crust when I get a hankering for it. And my mouth does suffer for my preference. Although I have noticed that both Mr. Baguette and Mr. Lee's breads do tend to get harder the longer you wait to eat them.

But once they reach this maximum dryness, they make excellent homemade croutons!

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous melonbar said...

Banh Mi Che Cali is also my favorite place. It's close to home, the sandwiches are delicious and cheap, and you don't have to deal with the massive crush of people at the other location on Bolsa. I always pick up a couple baguettes as well. I just toast them in a 400 degree oven and they're crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. I only need butter or some Brie and I have myself a great snack.

I really enjoy reading your blog, I have to try all of those Japanese restaurants in Costa Mesa. Have you ever seen the Japanese show on Channel 18 called Dotch Cooking Show? Pure torture.

 
At 5:46 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

melonbar,

Hot baguettes and brie! Now that's a great paring!

I think I have seen that Japanese TV show...it's the one where they cook variations of a dish and the loser of the show gets to go home hungry...GENIUS!

 
At 2:40 PM, Blogger faery said...

Those pictures don't look good at all! :P I do like this place, and I always get the "bacon" one. Haven't tried any others. I'm chicken butt.

 
At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did the avocado milkshake taste like it had real avocado in it? Just wondering, because the one I ordered at Pho Super Bowl (Diamond Bar) didn't taste like it ... Also, the color didn't look as "natural" as the one you got at Mr. Baguette. Would you recommend any other ones, like Lee's version, for instance?

 

Post a Comment

<< Home