Is there anything you love so much that, whenever you experience it, you can’t help but wonder why you don’t indulge your appreciation for it more often? Baguette Deli is like that for me. Every time I go there, I end up asking myself why I don’t go all the time. The service is great, the food excellent, and the prices are extremely reasonable. In fact, about half of their menu of 12′ sandwiches are $3.25 or less (take that, evil empire!). I realize that I haven’t done a lot of write-ups for places where you actually sit down indoors and eat at the same place you buy the food. And even at the places where I’ve had the option, I still usually get my food to go. If that wasn’t bad enough, I realized I’ve never actually eaten at Baguette Deli at all, so I was pretty excited by the prospect (not to mention the idea of finally getting my girlfriend, a confirmed cilantro addict, to try the place.)
As a fairly frequent customer at Orient Market (it’s no Uwajimaya, but it’s the best we’ve got here), I had the chance to see the development of Baguette Deli pretty much from the start. The first thing I remember is hearing from a cashier that they were going to start selling bubble tea soon. On another visit shortly after, the same cashier told me that they would also be selling sandwiches at a counter near the back of the store. A few weeks after that the news was that they were trying to perfect the bread, and that sample loaves would be available in the store the following weekend. I went and, for free, got to try one of the best baguettes I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Don’t believe me? They make them in-house. Go to Orient Market on Emerald and Orchard in Boise and try them yourself, they’re only $1 after all. Anyway, I never had the opportunity to try the sandwiches when they were being made at that little counter at the back of the market, though I did try the bubble tea and wasn’t a huge fan (when you’re already that close to Yokozuna, you might as well go and get theirs, 38 flavors at last count). The counter was always so crowded and usually I had just eaten or was on my way to somewhere else and couldn’t wait. It was only a few weeks after this that Baguette Deli opened in the Fred Meyer plaza at the corner of Franklin and Orchard in Boise. For some reason, it was a couple of months before I ended up making my way over there, but I absolutely adored it, and with the exception of one sandwich (which tasted just fine but was a little too rich for me) I’ve loved every single thing I’ve gotten from them.
|The counter and menu at Baguette Deli|
|Vietnamese shrimp and grilled pork spring rolls|
Most people I know are more familiar with the Chinese version of the spring roll, which usually consists of either vegetables, shrimp, pork, or some combination (usually heavy on the veggies) in a thin wrapper deep fried. The result is usually smaller and the skin crispier than the thicker version used in egg rolls. The Vietnamese spring roll usually involves rice noodles, veggies, fresh cilantro and some kind of meat wrapped up in translucent, chewy wrappers made from rice flour. These are served cold with a dipping sauce and on a hot day are wonderfully light and refreshing. This particular variety had shrimp and very thinly sliced grilled pork. Oh, and they’re big. They could be the cornerstone of a meal in their own right. I was able to get my gal to try a bite after removing the shrimp (I didn’t know about the pork at the time, but she likes neither pork nor shellfish), and I think she dug the concept as long as we can bring the protein within her comfort zone. The dipping sauce I’m not certain about, there was definitely peanuts in it, and something resembling hoisin. Very tasty regardless. I’m not sure of the order here because I was in a state of transcendental bliss and focusing on my spring rolls, but for the sake of argument let’s say the egg roll and the beignets arrived next.
|Beignets and egg roll|
This is the way I personally remember it, though it seems odd that the food would have come in that order since beignets are a dessert item. Still, I had tried them before and liked them but wasn’t overly impressed. They were cut up into four pieces and could have done with a little less oil weighing down the pastry, but the flavor was good. Either that wasn’t a good day for beignets or they’ve improved, because this single, rectangular pastry was exquisite, light and airy and dusted with just enough powdered sugar. And that’s based on the one bite I had. The pastry was for the lady, after all, so I turned my attention to the egg roll, which in all actuality is more like what most people think of as a spring roll. I’d had these before too, and they were very good if you could get around the fact that they’re basically being served room temperature. This time they were being held under a warming lamp, and either this made all the difference or they’ve changed their recipe, because this one was amazing. I couldn’t identify half the things that were packed so tightly in it, but for a fleeting second I wished I had skipped the sandwich and spring rolls and just gotten a bunch of the egg rolls. At eighty-five cents a piece, I could easily have done that. I’ve been craving the damned things ever since too, and am actually craving one right now regardless of the fact that it’s 8:20 AM. Still, the place is called Baguette Deli for a reason…
Most of the sandwiches (the ones on the Vietnamese side of the menu anyway) are basically the same. They consist of baguette bread (did I mention that the bread is spectacular?), pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro, and jalapeño. This is a deceptively simple combination. The available proteins range from assorted pork cold cuts to grilled beef to vegetarian ham and beyond. Most of the cold cut sandwiches have mayo on them, though it’s so light you’ll barely notice it’s there.
|BBQ Pork (Thit nuong)|
I love Chinese-style barbecue pork, sliced up with hot mustard and sesame seeds, cut into matchsticks and used to garnish Asian soups, diced and mixed with vegetables and chow mein noodles, and now thanks to Baguette Deli I know I also love it on sandwiches. I removed the jalapeños and passed them across the table, the little bit of residual heat they left behind being enough for me. The pork was marinated to the point where it was more of a deep crimson than the angry red you’ll find at most Chinese restaurants, and the flavor was outstanding. The pickled vegetables, mostly carrot and cucumber here from what I’ve noticed, are of the quick and slightly sweet variety, and combined with the fresh cilantro and the other components result in a harmony of subtle yet distinct flavors, with nothing overwhelming anything else. I have to admit we were both surprised by the rotisserie chicken though. When I think of rotisserie chicken I think big chunks of super juicy meat. What was on this sandwich may have indeed started out that way, but since then it was seasoned, shredded so finely it was like it had been put through a very fine cheese grater and then dried or fried, the results definitely tasty but the texture unlike anything we were expecting. The girlfriend proclaimed it good though, especially the fresh jalapeños, and that’s all that matters.
|Rotisserie Chicken (Thit ga)|
Yes, I ask myself why I don’t go to Baguette Deli all the time. I have yet to meet a person (or take one there myself) who doesn’t end up loving it. There’s a sandwich that I’m dying to try that has meatballs based on the filling for my beloved shumai dumplings and tomato sauce, and I’ve heard good things about the Cajun shrimp as well. My sister is very happy with the Pesto Turkey, and my gal and I both want to try it. She’s also curious about the Scrambled Egg (Trung ga). There’s a rice noodle dish on the menu that I’ve never tried either (one of the available toppings being those addictive egg rolls), and I have to admit I’m curious how their teriyaki sauce stands up. Maybe I’ll just start going once a week and work my way through the menu, since I think I’ve already tried the strangest thing on it (House Special or “Dac biet”, not sure head cheese is my bag). After all, as I’ve said so many times, it’s one of my favorite restaurants.