Sandwich of the Week

Busy weekend; no time for nonsense.

The sandwich: Romeo from Alidoro, 105 Sullivan St. in Manhattan.

The construction: A loaf of unseeded Italian bread, scooped out, with sliced smoked chicken breast, Bel Paese cheese, arugula, hot pepper spread and oil and balsamic vinegar.

Important background information: I have been recommended Alidoro many times over by sandwich enthusiasts I trust, and I chose the Romeo because it is the Alidoro sandwich included in the Grub Street Top 101 list. Now for an important revelation: When magazines review and photograph sandwiches, they b.s. you a little. That stunningly beautiful picture of the Romeo you see on the Grub Street sandwich list? Yeah, that’s just not really what this sandwich looks like.

I guess that should come as no surprise. No one goes to McDonald’s and expects the burgers there to look like they do in the commercials either. And it’s not like the real-life Romeo came out looking terribly unappetizing or anything.

I just thought this was a good time to mention that here at TedQuarters, the sandwiches are photographed and reviewed as they’re served. I don’t tell anyone I’m planning on blogging about the sandwiches. It’s sort of like the Phantom Gourmet, except if by some chance someone recognized me I’d think it was totally sweet and probably give them a totally biased review.

Also, for what it’s worth: There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance at Alidoro for a tiny sandwich shop. The guy at the counter was nice to me, but there were all sorts of signs everywhere about how you should and shouldn’t order and stuff like that. A little too Philadelphian for my tastes. And I’ve stood behind the counter and I recognize that it can get frustrating, but I do think there’s something to be said for treating the customer like a customer, plus I’m pretty confident in my ability to clearly communicate what I want on my sandwich.

What it actually looks like:

How it tastes: Like three things: Excellent Italian bread, balsamic vinegar, and hot pepper spread.

Make no mistake: All those things are delicious. But there are other delicious ingredients on this sandwich that I was hoping would assert themselves a little more. I could taste the smoked, thin-sliced chicken only when I pulled individual pieces of it off the back of the sandwich. When I did, it was good — reasonably moist for sliced chicken with only a subtle smoky flavor. But on the sandwich, it was lost. All it did was thicken it up and add meatiness.

Same goes for the Bel Paese cheese. It was tough for me to order a sandwich at an Italian place that didn’t come with fresh or smoked mozzarella, but I thought Bel Paese was an innovative choice for a sandwich cheese so I stuck with it. If I scooped a little out of the sandwich with my finger to sample, I enjoyed a creamy, buttery cheese — almost like Italian cream cheese, I guess. And though perhaps with great focus its texture could be imagined on the sandwich, its flavor disappeared into the abyss.

There is arugula on there, too.

As for the parts you could taste: Fantastic. The bread was incredibly fresh, and because it was scooped out it wasn’t overwhelmingly bready or anything. Flaky on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Balsamic vinegar is one of my favorite dressings for Italian sandwiches, though it needs to be applied with a very light hand — there’s a ton of flavor in each drop. And the red-pepper spread, though perhaps not as smooth-looking as depicted in New York magazine, had a real nice kick to it.

I would venture to guess, in fact, that you could take any number of meats and cheeses, put them on the bread from Alidoro, add the oil and balsamic vinegar and red pepper spread and get a pretty good sandwich.

That’s why I was a little disappointed. There was so much potential here, but nothing special that made this combination the one. On a truly transcendent sandwich, there is harmony among the ingredients. On this one, a couple of show-off kids in the choir were singing way too loud and it threw off the whole balance.

What it’s worth: Not an inexpensive sandwich. I believe it cost $11, plus two subway rides for me. A lot of food though.

How it rates: 86 out of 100.

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