When it comes to the culinary cutting edge, sandwiches are often overlooked. But as big-deal chefs slice up sassy new fillings for hot new breads, this is starting to change. Trendy restaurants are serving all sorts of sandwiches--from delicate lobster salad on toasted chive egg bread at the Cafe in the new Four Seasons Hotel to meat loaf on Wonder Bread at Kate Mantilini.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the price spectrum, even more unusual sandwiches await the curious palate. Herewith a guide to some of the city's most exotic sandwiches.
Any number of Middle Eastern delis make sandwiches with bastourma , the thinly sliced, cured and air-dried beef reminiscent of Italian bresaola . But at Sweis International Market, they actually cure their own meat. And that is only one secret of their sandwiches' success.
The Armenian-style torpedo-shaped bun is firm and hearty (some places use flabby French-style buns) and the sandwich is packed with creamy slices of kashkaval cheese, ripe tomato and lettuce. Sweis also manufactures their own soujouk , the well-seasoned Armenian sausage, which they heat and serve in pita bread with melted cheese. The market has no seating.
Sweis International Market, 6809 Hazeltine Ave., Van Nuys, (818) 785-8193. Open daily.
Barbecued boudin blanc is surely one of the Cajuns' greatest gifts to gastronomy. At Warren's Barbeque and Chili Parlor, there's a haute version of this earthy link. Warren grinds pure white chicken meat, blends in spicy Cajun rice, then stuffs it into a casing that crackles. Tell Warren how hot you like your links and he'll customize his "Boss Sauce" to suit you.
"Tender as a mother's love" is the way Warren describes the hickory- and mesquite-smoked barbecued pork shoulder that goes into another house specialty--the Cleveland-style sandwich.
Warren's Barbeque and Chili Parlor, 4916 1/2 W. Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 294-2272. Open daily.
When you want to pamper yourself but can't take the time for the gracious service at Le Bel Age or Nipper's, pick up a portable caviar hit at International Food Center. Here, in fine Russian tradition, they'll make up a red caviar sandwich for only $6. They cut thick slabs of sweet farm-style butter to put on a roll and then spread on the caviar.
More than likely, you'll return to try something from the astoundingly varied deli cases. One case alone holds at least half a dozen types of sweet butter. In another are eight kinds of hams, a host of international salamis, roast pork, sausages and jellied tongue. In the salad section, you can choose from five styles of eggplant salads or spreads. And take along at least one of the home-made Russian desserts.
International Food Center, 7754 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 656-1868. Open daily. EGGPLANT
At Bezjian's, a spread of smoky roasted eggplant on a huge circle of pita is studded with home-cured olives, garnished with pickled baby cucumbers, then rolled like a burrito to make a baba ghannoug sandwich. For another wonderful vegetarian sandwich, try Labna --yogurt cheese--in a sandwich with mint, chili powder and olive oil. To accompany it, select from among the 17 kinds of cured olives.
In the past, Bezjian's has been revered for sandwiches on its own brick-oven baked breads. "We put the finished breads on racks, never in plastic or even paper bags," says Jack Bezjian, the owner. "Any bag changes the bread's texture." But until Bezjian's gets its oven repaired (in a few months, they say), they're making do with acceptable commercial substitutes.
Bezjian's Deli and Grocery, 4725 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 663-1503. Open daily. FALAFEL
Falafel Arax has the best shawarma and falafel , say Lebanese friends. But the bright, white fast-food shop also serves fine Lebanese-style sliced tongue or brain sandwiches.
There's nothing complicated about them. The chef moistens the cooked meats ("These must be very fresh," he insists) with fresh lemon juice and a little oil, layers them into a French roll with a shower of spices, then arranges the sandwiches on a double grill--the kind used for grilled-cheese sandwiches--until they're hot, crispy and slightly flattened. A pink pickled turnip called torshi-left and hot peppers come on the side. Order the tangy tahn , a liquid yogurt drink, for a perfect combination.
Falafel Arax Sandwich House, 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 663-9687. Open daily. SAUSAGES
The hautest dogs are found at Jody Maroni's Italian Sausage Kingdom, a mere stand on the Venice Boardwalk. Jody's spicy verbiage accompanies his nitrate-free links as he cajoles prospective customers to try before they buy. But this butcher's son is serving up serious stuff.