A Tale of Two Cubanos (The Dish and Bleubird)

Let me say a couple of words to you:  Cuban Sandwich.  Or Cubano, if you prefer.  Picture it in your mind.  What do you see?  Myself, I see ham, roasted pork, mustard, pickles, and Swiss cheese, layered on bread pressed so thoroughly that the outside almost takes on the consistency of a cracker.  It's one of those things I'm kind of anal about, like what constitutes a martini (you probably don't want me to get started on that topic, and since I'm feeling generous I won't).  I mean have you seen the movie Chef yet?  Because if you haven't, you really should.  It's a little hammy...I mean cheesy...hmm, how appropriate.  Well, you get the idea.  But it's also heartwarming, clever, and full of talented actors and food porn.  Seriously, it's on Netflix streaming, so you have no excuse.  I digress.  Anyway, look at the sandwiches that guy makes!  How the hell do you improve on that?  It's classic!

Of course, that doesn't stop some people from trying to improve on it...or at least put their own spin on it.  And a few months back (yeah, all my write-ups seem to be taking a few months to squeeze out lately...speak to the complaint department) the roommate and I both had some weekdays off, and one of the things we decided to do was hit up some eateries in downtown Boise, an area we both agree neither of us spends enough time in.  We're both big fans of the sandwich arts, so we decided to try a couple of spots for lunch; one because we've both been wanting to try it forever, the other because I was curious about it.  The connection?  Both places serve Cubanos...after a fashion.  You see, you can't really get a traditional Cuban Sandwich downtown, at least so far as I know.  Casa Blanca at Overland and Curtis is your best bet, though theirs can come out a bit dry at times.  The Cheesecake Factory has long had Cuban Sandwiches on their menu, but the presentation is wildly inconsistent, especially in the bread department (check out Google Images for evidence).  Plus, they put mayo on them.  But downtown?  Nope.

Let's jump right in by talking about the place that no longer serves lunch because it's taken me so long to write this review.  They're supposed to be starting up again in the next few months, though.  Don't worry, they still serve the Cubano at dinner, if you want it.

So, The Dish.  Interesting menu, well-reviewed on the aggregates, and the only place in town that serves foie, to the best of my knowledge.  As much as I wanted to come for dinner and try their Blue Corn Crepe Crab Enchiladas, this was a lunch visit so I was all about the Cubano.

Kind of a deco atmosphere, with maybe a little sprinkling of hipster.  Incongruous oldies music.  I might as well get out of the way that I didn't really care for the waiter.  If it was me, I would have just volunteered to run down the beverage options after three requests for things that weren't carried.  Overpriced restaurant soda aside, the roommate settled on the Chicken pressed sandwich, and you know what I ordered.

Chicken pressed sandwich

The Chicken sandwich at The Dish was comprised of shredded chicken, avocado, maple bacon, balsamic onion marmalade, and rosemary mayo, served on Gaston’s panini bread, and came with a cookie, zucchini pickles, and the roommate chose the macaroni salad as her side.  It was a nice, well-rounded meal, but she wasn't crazy about it.  The sides were okay, but she didn't care for the sandwich when all was said and done, describing it as "greasy" more than once.

Cubano pressed sandwich

My Cubano (pork belly, prosciutto, candied jalapeno, zucchini pickle, Gruyere cheese, whole grain mustard, and aioli, on a Gaston’s hoagie roll) came with identical accouterments, and was, if anything, even oilier.  I just flat-out didn't understand why a sandwich would be made with an outside that purposefully greasy.  And why were the jalapenos on top?  On rare occasions I've had sandwiches come with a component or two on the side to give you some control of portion and distribution, but this was new to me.  I was able to get the peppers stuffed inside fairly easily though, because the bread wasn't really pressed all that hard.

See what I mean?

One of the purposes of pressing the bread on a Cubano is to melt the cheese, something that was obviously lacking here.  On the plus side, I really dug the zucchini pickles and the candied peppers, and prosciutto is always welcome.  On the other hand, we have the still mostly solid cheese, and pork that crossed the fine line between juicy and just plain wet.  I was pretty ambivalent about the mustard, and couldn't quite make up my mind how I felt about the aioli's contribution to the proceedings.  All said and done, it was a mostly decent sandwich, but nothing I would ever order again, and definitely nothing that will pop into my mind when I'm having a Cuban Sandwich craving.  Moving on...

Bleubird is a spot that several people have been urging me to try for some time.  It took me a while to get there, not for lack of desire, but because they're annoyingly only open for weekday lunches. I liked it the second I walked in.  The murals, the high windows letting natural light absolutely pour in, the friendly staff, the blanket of tantalizing aromas that wraps itself around you...anyway, sandwiches.  My mother actually works in the area and joined the roommate and I for lunch.  Both she and the roommate picked the Roast Beef Sandwich (potato salad for the former, soup and side salad for the latter), while my glutinous self obviously opted for the Smoked Pork Cubano, with potato salad and soup on the side.

Roast Beef sandwich, soup and salad

Bleubird's modus operandi is decadence, even more so in the quality of their ingredients than in their portion sizes.  Their Roast Beef sandwich comes with Danish bleu cheese, basil, balsamic red onions, and rosemary horseradish cream.

The quality is impeccable and the flavors amazing, but the biggest surprise was how generous they are with the bleu cheese.  At one point, my roommate actually pulled out what can only be described as a slab of it.  If you like that combination, you owe it to yourself to try this.

Creamy Tomato Basil Soup, Bacon and Bleu Cheese Potato Salad

I didn't try my roommate's salad (greens, Marcona almonds, fleur de sel, Parmesan, extra-virgin olive oil).  With all this in front of me I didn't have the internal real estate, or really even the interest.  The Creamy Tomato Basil Soup, covered with a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese, is amazing.  Bold, rich, and with enough basil to actually make a significant impact, this is one of the better versions of this ubiquitous sandwich side I've had.  The Bacon and Bleu Potato Salad...I'll just say you'd have to be an idiot to screw a dish like that up, and Bleubird is not run by idiots.

Smoked Pork Cubano Sandwich

On to the main event.  Bleubird's Smoked Pork Cubano is possibly the best example of their culinary philosophy.  All the standard components are there, but represented by higher-end versions.  Rather than just being roasted, the pork is smoked (natch).  They used to get it from MFT, which is now BBQ4LIFE, I suspect this is still the case.  The ham component is represented by speck, the Swiss cheese by Gruyere (as at The Dish), the pickles by cornichons, the mustard by a stone-ground mustard aioli.  Bleubird's version also incorporates chimichurri, which I love, and just look at that bread!  That's how you do it, folks.  Buttery, crispy, perfect.  The pork is just the way I like it, so smoky that it floods your tastebuds at first, the cheese perfectly melted, the taste of the mustard and cornichons too powerful to just be lost in the mix.  Long story short, this isn't exactly a traditional Cubano either, but it's one of the best spins I've ever had on the theme.  Hell, it's one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, period.  It's so good that, non-stereotypical as it may be, this sandwich DOES pop into my head when I'm craving a Cubano.

I haven't written off The Dish, there are too many intriguing menu options for me to do that, but I'm definitely done with their pressed sandwiches.  Bleubird bests them easily in this category, and is firmly cemented in my list of top Boise eateries.  I just wish their hours weren't so damned restrictive.

The Dish on UrbanspoonBleubird on Urbanspoon

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