after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Sampan: The Old, the New, and the Inexpensive

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t says: Our recent poll ended in a tie, so we were left to choose where to go for g’s birthday on our own. After much thought, we decided to save a few bucks (we’ve been eating out a lot lately) and ventured through the rain to 13th and Sansom to Sampan – the pork banh mi was calling our names (as we’d had it once before – review here). Speaking of which – we don’t actually know if it’s pronounced “pork bahn mee” or “pork bahn my”… if someone knows their Vietnamese foods, please let us know!

3/2010, Wednesday Dinner, Party of 2. Because it was raining, we couldn’t get a cab. Because we couldn’t get a cab, we going to be late. Because we were going to be late, we had the irrational fear that the kitchen would close or something like that. Fortunately, problem-solvers that we are, we called to notify the restaurant that we were going to miss out 8:30pm reservation by about a half-hour and the hostess said that it wouldn’t be a problem. When we arrived, we were promptly seated at the bar overlooking the kitchen. Some people might not like sitting in barstools side-by-side – and normally I agree – but this time we were 4 feet away from one of the cooks and definitely within reaching distance of the food . We could watch as the dishes were prepared and feel the heat from the kitchen on our faces! It was like dinner and a show!

We ordered a pork banh mi, crispy brussels sprouts, and the Korean rice cake dish. The pork banh mi came out first. No longer clad in plain kraft paper, rather, a stylish paper with “Sampan” printed all over it, it still bore the blue painters’ tape. That made us smile. But the sandwich was a little different this time …

g says: For some reason i remember it being larger last time – perhaps it was because then it was cut in quarters after being wrapped, hiding the sandwich’s true size. Or maybe it was all mental, as I knew that Michael Schulson was at the restaurant during our first visit and I hoped he had prepared it himself (he was at some kind of speaking engagement this past night, I believe). It had a little less of that interesting mystery sauce and the bread wasn’t as fluffy, but it was still yummy, and just enough for me. Birthday girl was happy, what more do you want, t?

t says: I agree with her assessment – it was still a very delicious sandwich, and it coupled extremely well with the crispy brussels sprouts, which were still awesome. These two are still on our list of things to try if you go. They cut the sandwich into four pieces when they serve it, so it’s totally share-able.

The new dish for us was the Korean rice cakes. I must confess that I was hesitant when considering this dish as I feared that it would not meet my expectations. For instance, when we ordered pad thai last time, it was a little different than just pad thai; their rendition was lighter and more lively, but lost some of the classic pad thai appeal that I wanted. So this time, I had to ask myself – did I want Korean rice cakes done the traditional way, or did I want them the Sampan way? I eventually realized that all I really wanted was the actual rice cakes (I really like rice cakes as a starch in a meal), so I ordered it. Good decision. I think this is a great example of Sampan’s interpretation of a dish working out splendidly. Now don’t get me wrong – I did like the pad thai, but I didn’t love it. This dish, I loved. The rice cakes are kind of like a gnocchi in texture, but sliced into oblong coins. They were in a spicy sauce with some kimchi, sausage, and what I assume were chiles and scallions – there were some other ingredients that I didn’t easily recognize. In sum, the dish still resembled the hot-and-spicy rice cakes from my younger years, but the other flavors were like swapping out some Gregorian-chanting monks for a rockin’ gospel choir. For me, this dish was equivalent to the pork banh mi the first time we had it, and actually surpassed the banh mi we had this time. That said, not everyone will appreciate the Korean rice cakes – for instance, I think that g’s not too crazy about the taste/texture of the cakes, themselves. They’re almost like a pasta, but not really. They’re probably closest to rice noodles (e.g. drunken noodles at Thai places), but they’re thicker, so they’re a little gummier in the mouth and you actually taste more of the noodle, itself. On top of that, if you’re not comfortable with spice, then this is not the dish for you. It’s not SUPER-spicy (we have some friends/family that would laugh in the face of this level of spice, and we have yet to have something at Sampan that’s too spicy), but if you consider yourself a spice-wuss, then avoid this dish.

For dessert, we went for this interesting pineapple-coconut themed concoction. There were three tea cakes (which contained toasted coconut), topped with a pineapple compote, topped with a scoop of coconut ice cream, topped with a slice of ?dried? pineapple (looked like a mohawk). It tasted very good – but we wished that the cake:ice cream ration was a little lower, as the cake was a little dry. Sadly, the chocolate bomb was no longer offered.

Service was good throughout the meal. Random staff who weren’t our waiters stopped to ask how our meal was going – we felt well taken care of (although we did have to wait a while between the pork banh mi and the rice cakes).

Our meal was $40 before g’s glass of Australian bubbly (she really likes the bubbles), thus the final bill was cheaper than two tickets to the flower show! Defray the cost with our $20 opentable.com dining check (kaching!) and we just went to dinner for less than 1 person during restaurant week (kaching-kaching!). BUT … were we full? Indeed. We were stuffed. In fact, we were so stuffed that g started sneezing. For those who didn’t read the “why sneeze” page, g sneezes when she’s full (hence, the name of this blog). She’s not a huge fan of sneezing in general and especially dislikes sneezing in public, feeling that it draws attention to herself. Well, tonight she had the usual satiety-induced multi-sneeze bout (they don’t come rapid fire – there’s 20 seconds or so between each). She was totally embarassed, but even moreso than normal given our proximity to all of the food! Don’t worry … g does a good job covering her mouth.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

4 March 2010 at 8:48am

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