What: The combo banh mi (dac biet)
Where: La Baguette, 34580 Monterey Ave, No. 106
How much: $8.50
Contact: 760-620-5308; labaguettepd.wixsite.com/store
Why: The fresh, crunchy pickled vegetables.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching food-competition shows, it’s that a little acid can almost always improve a dish. Therefore, it makes sense that acid, semi-indirectly, is the element that makes a properly made banh mi sandwich so darned delicious.
Here are the ingredients in the combo banh mi at Palm Desert’s La Baguette, as listed on the website: “pork roll (cha), cured pork (thit nguoi), pate, house pickles (daikon and carrot), cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, soy sauce and house mayonnaise.”
There are a lot of strong flavors in there, including three different pork preparations, prominent vegetables and assertive sauces. Yet it’s the humble carrot and daikon, helped along by vinegar and whatever pickling spices the folks at La Baguette use, that make this sandwich sing.
That’s not to say the other ingredients don’t have key roles. The meats offer salt and savory notes, while the cucumber provides some extra crunch, and the jalapeno and cilantro contribute freshness and pep. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fresh-baked French roll, which is both tasty and strong enough to hold the banh mi together. (The French introduced baguettes and pate to Vietnam in the mid-1800s when European imperialists took control of the area.)
If you’re not a fan of pork, La Baguette also offers beef, chicken, mushroom and tofu banh mi versions (plus, why not, a Spam and egg version), as well as vermicelli bowls and spring rolls, in the restaurant’s small-ish and somewhat antiseptic strip-mall space. The menu and the décor are limited, but the flavor is not.
It’s also worth pointing out that this fantastic sandwich is a mere $8.50. Where else can you find so much flavor in the Coachella Valley for less than $9?