In the nearly three years I've worked way downtown pho has been high on my list of edibles missing in the neighborhood. I think I would be more jazzed if we hadn't been barraged with so much Vietnamese food this year. It is still a novelty in the Financial District, though. My only other venture to a Baoguette, the one on St. Mark’s, involved the beef soup not banh mi and it wasn’t half bad. Now that it’s brutally cold, soup seems smarter than sandwiches. But it wasn’t to be. Even though pho is on the menu, it isn’t being served yet. They did have some prepared summer rolls in the refrigerated case, but it’s hard to get excited over the chilled cylinders as long as it's wintry.
The brown awning with an air conditioner punched through bore the Baoguette name held in place by blue tape. The long-necked lighting wasn’t having a good time either. Inside, the dry erase board on the wall was still shiny and unsullied. Same with the chalkboards above the counter. Rows of goldenrod Café du Monde coffee cans and full bottles of green-tipped Sriracha were the only design elements.
My old hard rule about $5 lunches shifted to $6 somewhere in the recent past and even that gets broken at least weekly for a Pret a Manger salad. Even those pick-a-mix salads where short little guys toss it in a plastic container for you come in around $7. It doesn’t mean I make a habit out of it, though. But hey, I had a little Christmas gift cash burning a hole in my pocket. I could spring for the $7 for a catfish sandwich...just this once.
The flavors were an untraditional mishmash (honey mustard and sweet pickles?) not dissimilar to certain swampy Thai curries. I only saw a few jalapeño slices and no obvious red pools of Sriracha, but mouthfuls were hot, a dirty spicy that was compounded by the catfish’s natural earthy taste and tempered slightly by the strands of pickled red onions and sweet cucumber relish. I liked it more than I thought I would.
The catfish sandwich is akin to Num Pang's (which I never blogged about, oddly) and in some ways is preferable to me because I like a drier sandwich and this one uses honey mustard while the Cambodian one bulges with mayonnaise. It’s hard to disassociate honey mustard from chicken fingers, but the condiment wasn’t that jarring, just tangy. I only recommend not trying on candy apple red lip glosses at Sephora on the corner right before biting into one of these sandwiches.
Baoguette does serve better food than the than closer-to-my-office banh mi cart and both charge $6 for the traditional Saigon sub (though I notice it’s only $5 at the Christopher St. Baoguette/Pho Sure while the catfish is $7 at both). I’ll likely return to check in on the pho at some point but as long as it’s in the 20s outside I’ll probably just walk the one block to the cart instead of the seemingly long (lots of tourist-dodging--I’ve given up on politeness and now barge through everyone’s posing in front of the Stock Exchange photos) five blocks to Maiden Lane.
Baoguette * Maiden Lane, New York, NY