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Banh Mi or not Banh Mi? That is the question.

Along with a lot of other CHers, I've been kvetching about the dearth of Vietnamese cuisine in lower Westchester, especially banh mi. Some of the best I've had were found on Avenue U in Brooklyn, where you can get a freshly-baked baguette the length of your forearm (fingers distended), stuffed with all the traditional goodies for about $3.50. Unbelievable. Any that we bought for the ride back up here never made it past Queens.

On Sunday, husband had an errand to run in White Plains and decided to pick up some Cheesecake Factory sliders for our tweenager (maybe 300% more expensive than the White Castles he'd rather have, but more convenient for us). I figured I'd check the CF menu since we hadn't been there in a while. Lo and behold, under "New Items," I found the "Saigon Sandwich." Okay, it's pork-free, but it had a lot of the usual suspects: Freshly-baked baguette (chewy but good), lightly pickled carrots, onions, and cucumbers (alas, no radishes), chili, fresh cilantro, a flavored mayo that had already soaked into the bread by the time I got it, and some "lemongrass-grilled chicken." The chicken was actually rather tasty and reasonably juicy for grilled chicken breast. It was served with a satay sauce that I chose to ignore. It was indeed a tasty sandwich and definitely helped satisfy my banh mi craving, though I did miss the sweet, earthy sensuousness of the pate and "variety meat" pork products found on the traditional sandwich.

So what's the answer to the question? "It wasn't Banh Mi, but it wasn't bad, either."

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  1. Thanks for the report, and I feel your pain re Vietnamese restaurants. The Saigon sandwich sounds interesting, but I'm not sure I could bring myself to go to the Cheesecake Factory!

    5 Replies
    1. re: roxlet

      I hear you, but without trying everything, too much goes undiscovered. I was a terrible food snob for many years until I married into a midwestern family. I have come to appreciate things I'd never thought I'd try and have opened his eyes to stuff he'd never heard of but has come to love (like xiaolongbao and kasha varnishkas).

      1. re: foodiemom10583

        You're right, but the report I read on the number of calories and the amount of fat in some of their dishes scares me!

        1. re: roxlet

          I totally agree, especially the cheesecake, a slice of which can serve two people easily. I learned a long time ago to bring along a hungry friend with a high metabolism. I'm lucky that I married one and he's happy to Hoover up anything I cant conscientiously finish.

        2. re: foodiemom10583

          Funny. I was exactly like this about these places until I got married. I first went to the CCF with my wife and she teases me nonstop even though we've mostly stopped going for cost reasons that I liked it and it was a chain.

          I used to be over the top about that. Now, i go wherever something good can be found.

          1. re: AnotherNYCkid

            Exactly. I expect some grief about it from CH because of it being a chain and "inauthentic" and calorie-laden, but if they have something good, that's enough for me. It's kind of interesting to see a real "fusion" food like banh mi interpreted for the masses, too (hence the absence of the gallery of pork in the CF sandwich).

      2. Do you have a name or address for what you considered the best on Avenue U?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Scott_R

          They both had "Pho" in the name: One was between Homecrest and E. 13th Street on the north side at Avenue U (they seemed quite busy and had photos on the wall behind the counter for those who had no clue what to order). The other was off of E. 19th Street (between E. 19th and Ocean Ave.) on the south side of Avenue U. I preferred the one on E. 13th just slightly because they loaded on the cilantro and veg, but both were really yummy. Dang, we miss Brooklyn food. Now I'm jonesing for pelmeni from Brighton Beach (Cafe Glechick) and eggplant parm from Bassetts.

        2. I kinda have words for that when it comes to NOT really Paella or Jambalaya. I call it "Pae-lika" and "Jumba-lika" (the latter I admit I heard on a Rachel Rae show and it stuck...oh the horror). It is not the real thing, but is "like" it and still tastes good. So I guess the sandwich you had is a "Banh Mi Lika". I agree about not wanting to set foot inside the Cheesecake Factory because everyone says it is way too much food. I also agree that Westchester really needs a Vietnamese place. I nominate Yonkers or New Rochelle as the likely location because the rent might be cheap enough....and of course it will be close to me.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jcmods

            I thought of "Banh Meh," but it seemed too negative. It really wasn't bad, despite all of the negative CF posts on this thread. Yonkers may be able to sustain it as long as the word gets out. If it ends up anywhere near Iona, it will end up serving wings.

          2. The common consensus seems to be, stay away from the Cheesecake Factory. I tend to agree. Why anyone goes there is beyond me. The lack of Banh mis and Vietnamese food is lamentable but I would rather avoid CF than to give in.

            3 Replies
            1. re: randomdude

              Well, I understand why people would stay away and found it so ironic that the Whole Foods went in right next door to them. On the other hand, I'd rather say "Yeah, I tried it" and move on than to wonder what it was like. For the record, I didn't set foot in there, it was strictly take-out. We try pretty much everything everywhere without prejudice and have found some wonderful things, some horror shows, and some serviceable things that we may or may not have again.

              1. re: foodiemom10583

                I have not tried this, but I thought I'd mention that another Bahn Mai type sandwich has surfaced in Westchester at Good-Life Gourmet in Scarsdale and Irvington: Bahn Mai Shrimp Wrap – Asian grilled shrimp, sweet pickled carrots and onions with miso sauce.

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                Good-Life Gourmet
                13 Spencer Place, Scarsdale, NY

                1. re: Maryld

                  I can't wait to try it. I was in that area today and ended up somewhere else with a crappy, bland chopped salad with burnt grilled chicken.