A toasted sandwich, such as the iconic grilled cheese, delights because it is hardly a sandwich at all. A hot metal surface (and sometimes compression with a weight) transforms the bread into something thin, crisp and buttery, a sensual contrast to a soft, melted filling.
At b. on the go, pastry chef Belinda Leong and bread baker Michel Suas, the brilliant minds behind the phenomenal b. patisserie, have come up with a toasted sandwich breakthrough. Their new savory concept, kitty corner from the pastry shop, stars four exceptional grilled sandwiches.
Innovative bread baker Suas, known all over California as a bread trouble-shooter, an importer of baking equipment and a professional baking teacher, came up with the idea of a cylindrical loaf, similar in texture to a pain de mie, that can be sliced into large, thin rounds. The giant circles of bread are covered with filling, grilled on one side and folded over to finish cooking quickly and evenly on the griddle–like a French quesadilla. For some of us, the toasted sandwiches have become as seductive as b. patisserie’s kouign amann. Luckily, or maybe unluckily, the two shops are neighbors, so you can mine the treasures of both on a single visit.
The b. on the go menu initially offered only a sublime grilled cheese sandwich ($9), made on this round bread and filled with swiss and finely chopped, sauteed mushroom duxelles. This winsome creation became so popular, they added a ham and cheese ($9) with tissue thin slices of ham plus mozzarella and swiss; and a tuna melt ($9) in which tuna, super thin slices of tomato, and cheddar all meld into something greater than the sum of their parts. It is the exacting proportions of these sandwiches that make them exceptional. Each bite delivers some of everything.
You do want to consume these toasted sandwiches while they’re warm, whether seated at one of the communal tables in the windowed room, divided equally between an open kitchen and dining area, or walking down the street. Wrapped loosely in parchment paper, they are portable– street food.
A different kind of toasted sandwich, the Cubano ($10.50), is made on a focaccia-like oval roll that becomes delicately crusty after compression on the griddle. It’s filled with paper thin slices of roasted pork, ham and swiss, mustard, mayonnaise and house pickles, all of which meld. The most distinct and unexpected seasoning comes from the pickling spices. Though a little heftier, the Cubano shares the affect of the grilled cheese–a melty sandwich in which every bite is complete. No boring bread to work through.
Two conventional, thicker sandwiches based on delicious rotisserie meats and house baked rolls are promising, but don’t deliver the thrill of the toasted ones. The rolls, though soft, fresh and developed for each sandwich, dominate. Big hunks of moist chicken, pulled off the bone, tossed in herbed yogurt with cucumbers, tomatoes and red onions ($10.50) become a refreshing, tangy, Greek-accented salad in a sandwich. Why not eat it as a salad? A sandwich of roughly sliced Porchetta (11.50), rotisserie pork scented with garlic and rosemary, is dressed with a large spoonful of salsa verde that makes the sandwich too vinegary for me, distracting from the lushness of the meat rather than balancing it.
The crunchy chopped vegetable salad ($7) of romaine, radishes, green beans, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and red onions, all vibrantly fresh, is perfect as a side dish for two. It comes in a plastic box with dressing in a separate container, so you can take the rest home if you’re one.
Though you may not be craving pastry after a sandwich, think again. You’re at a Belinda Leong operation. b.patisserie makes ever so buttery, oversized cookies, intense chocolate brownies and panna cotta only for b. on the go. A plum galette, one day, had the flakiest, most ethereal crust I’ve ever tasted, delicately spread with almond paste and topped with jewel-like crescents of plum. Talk about composition, balance, textural contrast, the very magic of great European pastry! I went back the next day to get another and they had sold out–by noon. This happened twice, so if you see the galette, just get it, even if you’re going to eat it later. But why wait? The galette is so light, elegant and fruity, it only completes a toasted sandwich meal.
2794 California Street, San Francisco 415 589 7112, Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.