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Recession-proof subs give exotic bang for the buck

The humble sandwich has been experiencing a bit of a multiculturalrenaissance of late. First came Mexican-based Las Tortas, with theirrefried beans and Sloping Hills pork, and La Taqueria, with theirauthentic street tacos and Pemberton beef.

Ba Le Sandwich Shop
701 Kingsway

Signature Drink: Pop
Signature Dish: Sandwiches, silly…

Rating: ****
Lunch & drinks for two: $10

The humble sandwich has been experiencing a bit of a multicultural renaissance of late. First came Mexican-based Las Tortas, with their refried beans and Sloping Hills pork, and La Taqueria, with their authentic street tacos and Pemberton beef. Then more upscale joints like The Pourhouse joined in, offering crusty breads stuffed with ground meats and loads of melted cheese. But where it all started—in Vancouver, at least—was with the humble bánh mì, a Vietnamese baguette made from wheat and rice, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside.

Bánh mì has also come to refer to the sandwich made with this bread. Thanks to the French occupation of Vietnam, this always includes pâté (usually pork) and mayonnaise, as well as pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, chili peppers and radishes. Sounds strange? Just wait until you try it.

The variety comes with the protein used. While roasted pork or Vietnamese sausage (made from boiled pork and potato starch) are more traditional, it’s common to find chicken, beef, ham and tofu varieties as well. And the best part about these sandwiches—apart from the taste, that is? The price. Unlike your typical Subway or Quizno's monstrosity, these hearty, spicy, fresh stacks of starchy goodness rarely push past the $5 mark, making for some serious bang for still-blighted wallets.

For my money, the best examples of bánh mì can be found on Vancouver’s East Side, notably at Ba Le Sandwich Shop. Despite the name (“ba le” translates as “Parisian”) and the “French Sandwiches” byline on the awning, these are wholly Vietnamese, with their contrasting flavours and textures of fresh and fried, spicy and sweet, crunchy and soft. All of the sandwiches are less than $3.50, and some vegetarian versions are $2.

The house special, simply ordered as “sandwich,” is full of Vietnamese sausage, fresh cucumber slices, cilantro and, of course, pâté. A meatball version is a little on the dry side, but the Vietnamese bacon is the queen bee of the lot, with crispy, curly chunks of porker blending beautifully with the pickled vegetables. The four of us were full after a sandwich each, so the caramel custards ($2.25) we shared were just gratuitous excess.

Even without a recession, a lunch bill for four people that stays under $20 is not something to disdain. With food this good, however, it’s just the icing on the big pork cake.

Going Green for the Holidays, Part 2

Bonterra Vineyards’ 2007 Syrah is a prime example of California’s Mendocino wine region. The Mediterranean climate offers an ideally long, slow growing season, despite the occasional extreme swings in temperature. This 97% Syrah—2% Petite Sirah [sic] blend also has a splash of Grenache, which emphasizes the fruit-forward qualities of the palate. Look for notes of black cherry and wild blackberry, with a slightly bitter vanilla finish. BCLS $21.99 ($19.99 from Nov. 29 to Feb. 28, 2010).

Top Shelf

DIY Wine Cellars

On Nov. 25, join Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks at Salt Tasting Room (45 Blood Alley) for an evening with Canadian wine authority and author Tony Aspler, who will discuss how to design, build, stock and manage a wine cellar. Tickets $75. Call 604-688-6755 for more info.

Dining Out

C-elebrate Joie
On Nov. 22 at 6 p.m., C Restaurant (1600 Howe St) will host a special dinner with Joie Farm Wines. Enjoy six courses with wine pairings in a dinner led by winemaker Michael Dinn and Chef Robert Clark. Tickets $110. Call 604-681-1164 for reservations.

Sake at Coast
On Nov. 22 and 29, enjoy a sake tasting dinner at Coast (1054 Alberni St). Restaurant Chef Mike Robbins and Sushi Chef Max Katsuno have created a five-course menu to complement a selection of premium sakes. $95 includes sake pairings. Call 604-685-5010 for reservations.

Food in Brief

Fuel Restaurant (1944 West 4 Ave) will close its doors after Nov. 29, re-opening Dec. 2 as a more casual Pacific Northwest incarnation.

Japa Dog will soon be moving to warmer climes—off the streets, and into the former Café S’il Vous Plait location at 530 Robson Street.

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