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Style / Restaurants : A Movable Feast

August 06, 1995|S. Irene Virbila

The sandwich is the most portable of feasts--think picnics. Yet "too few people understand a really good sandwich," wrote James Beard. And it's true. The bread, first of all, has to be more than a vehicle to transport the filling. And whatever goes between the bread should be something that you'd willingly eat on its own. Its dimensions shouldn't require the jaws of a killer whale. You should be able to nibble on it strolling down the street or up a mountain, sitting under a tree or stretched out on the beach.

When I did my picnic tryouts this year, I concentrated on sandwiches and found a few people who do understand the art of the sandwich. Pack up some fresh lemonade or a good bottle of wine, a few cookies, too, and voila : The foolproof picnic. No muss. No fuss.

Every time I stop in at Say Cheese in Silver Lake, I always want to pick up this gem of a deli/cafe and move it to my neighborhood. Of the more than 30 sandwiches, my hands-down favorite is the Tuscany: supple rosy slices of prosciutto di Parma ribboned with snowy fat on La Brea rosemary bread spread with good sweet butter.

A fine country pa^te is sandwiched between country bread and smeared with a punchy Dijon. If you want a sub, theirs, while not gargantuan, stacks up nicely: with spicy salami, mild mortadella and ham, provolone and red onions on a pale French roll slathered with sharp Boar's Head mustard. Salads, like red potatoes with masses of fresh dill or green peas tossed with chunks of Emmanthaler and roasted peppers, are terrific, too.

While you wait, pick out a bottle of wine for your picnic and nab some homemade cookies: thick disks of chocolate chip laced with coconut or fat oatmeal raisin cookies dusted with cinnamon-sugar.

Walk into EuroPane, a tiny bakery in Pasadena, and owner/baker Sumi Chang will greet you with a sweet smile. She might split a round tomato focaccia in two and add some feathery mizuna greens. Or take one of her high-domed rosemary buns, smear it with pesto and fill it with grilled eggplant, roasted peppers and juicy tomato.

Chang's sandwiches are so light, you can splurge on desserts such as her deep, dark Valhrona chocolate brownies or puff pastries filled with peaches and marzipan. Look for her ravishing cherry tart splashed with balsamic vinegar.

Porta Via, a minuscule Italian take-out shop in Beverly Hills, is close in spirit to the small, family-run gastronomias of Italy. Chef Sandy Gendel bakes his own dimpled focaccia and fills it with tomatoes, tender mozzarella and lots of peppery arugula and sweet basil. He also makes an excellent chicken sandwich, with with grilled zucchini and eggplant, roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions. And there's a superlative sandwich of mozzarella and fine transparent slices of prosciutto di Parma on a crusty ciabatta loaf spread with tapenade . Go ahead, grab a bag of the fabulous hazelnut biscotti .

At La Brea Bakery, the sandwiches on fresh-baked bread or rolls are already made, wrapped and ready-to-go, meaning you can be in and out in seconds. Nancy Silverton and her team consistently turn out sensible and delicious sandwiches. I particularly like the tender, ropy mozzarella--so fresh, it practically squirts milk--paired with wilted bitter greens--mustard, spinach, radicchio, the narrow ficelle moistened with a little vinaigrette. Sometimes there's a spicy salami or an excellent roast beef with salsa verde .

And of course, you can pick up smashing desserts, too, especially the Valhrona chocolate chunk cookies that are, bar none, the best I've ever had.

Rockenwagner in Santa Monica has always baked its own German-style

breads, and at lunch, the takeout counter features half a dozen sandwiches. Roasted lamb on homemade flat bread laced with cumin seeds makes an appealing combination with smoky chipotle mayonnaise, grilled onions, roasted peppers and arugula. An ahi tuna sandwich on olive bread is pepped up with lemon-caper mayonnaise. And for a snack, I'll carry off one of the Italian salami sandwiches with arugula, tomatoes and Dijon on a pretzel cheese baguette.

The new Jacksons Farm has several pre-made sandwiches every day, all on their own house-baked breads. I like the smoked turkey piled tall on a chewy roll with a smear of ripe Camembert, and the French white ham paired with a nutty, aged Gruyere on the same thick-crusted bread.

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