I'm one of those few Americans who's not in love with sandwiches. Whatever is layered between two pieces of bread had better be pretty interesting or downright tasty before I would ever give two thumbs up to a sandwich choice. I find most sandwich options boring, tasteless, laden with greasy mayonnaise or stacked high with fatty meats and cheeses. But my skeptical view on sandwiches was turned on its head when I bit into one of several sandwiches over a few days at the new New York City eatery, City Sandwich.
Chef Michael Guerrieri who has an eclectic background -- he was born in Naples, grew up in New York City and lived in and opened up an upmarket restaurant, Mezzaluna, in Lisbon -- presides over this wee Mediterranean shop that easily transports me to Portugal, a country I visit at least once a year.
The idea behind his new venture, which melds the Italian with the Portuguese, is all about simplicity and remaining true to traditional flavors and ingredients. When I spoke with him recently, I felt his passion for Portugal and for the cuisine he serves. "I'm putting my Italian-Portuguese upbringing on bread," he said.
Sardines are imported from Portugal and he's also tapped into New Jersey's Portuguese community. The breads are made in New Jersey by a Portuguese baker -- it arrives at the shop twice a day. They'll also be bringing in Portuguese wines. And don't expect to see any mayonnaise on your bread; instead, it's yogurt or olive oil.
Even the color scheme of the menu, with red representing meat sandwiches, green for veggies/fish and yellow for those that are egg based, are in keeping with the hues of the Portuguese flag. But the restaurant also has a New York sensibility. After all, melted mozzarella is not something you'd expect to find in either Portugal or Italy. (It's a New York City Italian phenomenon.)
My favorite sandwiches included the Auntie that combines pickled sardines with onions and cilantro. Even if you're not a sardine lover give it a try because the cilantro offsets any intense fishy flavor you might expect when sardines are on the plate. The Todd, my other fave, is constructed with smoked Portuguese pancetta and a honey-Dijon sauce. Given that I'm what I call a conditional vegetarian -- I only eat meat if it's a specialty or something that's a notable local delight and then I'll consume only small portions -- it's especially noteworthy that I finished the entire sandwich and found it exceedingly flavorful. (The size of these sandwiches -- hero-quality -- means you are getting very good value for the money, as well.)
Some customers may be hesitant in ordering the codfish; the alheira, a sausage of pork and sausage; and especially the morcella, a Portuguese blood sausage, sandwiches but I say give any of these a try or split them with a friend or colleague. Anything Michael touches turns to gold, cuisine wise. He is extremely skillful with his flavor combinations. I intend to return one evening and sip a fine Portuguese wine while nibbling maybe the Portuguese alheira with collards, not a combination that initially attracts aficionados. But in Michael's hands, I'm confident it'll have a blending of flavors that'll keep me coming back for more.