Saturday, December 1, 2007

Philippe - French Dipped Sandwiches - Los Angeles, CA

Aaahhh...the French Dipped Sandwich. How could you not love a sandwich filled with hot roast beef and cheese and dipped in salty, beef flavored au jus? I've always been a fan of the French Dip but had never known that it's origin was based in LA until moving to the LA area. Here in LA there are 2 establishments that hotly debate over who is the originator of the French Dip; the first of which is Philippe's.

According to Philippe's website, Philippe's was established in 1908 by a French immigrant by the name of Philippe Mathieu. Legend has it that one day in 1918 Philippe was preparing a sandwich for a policeman and mistakenly dropped the french roll for the sandwich into the roasting pan drippings. Apparently the policeman liked the sandwich so much that he came back the next day and brought along friends to try the sandwich "dipped in the meat pan". And hence, the French Dip was born; allegedly so named because of Philippe's French heritage, because it is served on a "French" roll, or because the Police Officer's name happened to be (unbelievably) Officer French. Regardless of the history of the sandwich, I had to give this alleged originator a taste to see what all the hubub was about and to compare the real deal to what I had come to know as the French Dip.

My wife and I met our usual foodie buddies over at Philippe's in LA on a fine SoCal afternoon. The menu is pretty simple with French Dipped sandwiches being offered with a choice of 5 different meats (Beef, Pork, Lamb, Ham or Oven Roasted Turkey). You can add your choice of cheese (Swiss, American, Monterey Jack or Bleu Cheese) and choose between having it single or double-dipped in au jus. I ordered the Beef French Dipped sandwich with Swiss for myself and a Lamb for my wife; both double dipped. We also got a macaroni salad side order, a Chocolate Creme Pie for dessert, and some Lemonade to wash it all down.

My Beef French Dip was good...really good...perfectly soaked with tasty Au Jus. My only complaint is that I wish it came with a side of Au Jus for you to dip in for added flavor as I felt at times that it definitely needed it despite being double-dipped. My wife's Lamb was pretty good too, but the beef was better. The problem I found with the Lamb was that some of the meat was a bit on the dry side. Both my wife and I agreed that next time around we'll just be getting the Beef. As for the sides and desserts, they were decent too but let's be honest...that's not what people go to Philippe's for. People flock from all over the LA area for their French Dipped Sandwiches and in my opinion, It's well worth the drive regardless of where you're driving from. I guess next i'll have to try out the other alleged originator of the "French Dip" for a comparison. PE Cole's Buffet here I come! Stay Tuned!

The Original French Dipped Sandwiches
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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Havana Sandwich Company - Cuban Food - El Segundo, CA

My wife (thankfully!) turned me on to the Sandwich Cubano (Cuban Sandwich) several years ago at a great little Cuban restaurant we found during a trip to Orlando, Florida and i've had a love affair with them ever since. This sandwich really has my name all over it...slices of roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, and pickles dressed with mustard come together inside of some nice crusty Cuban bread that has all been perfectly toasted in a sandwich press. The beauty of the Cuban sandwich for me really lies in the layers of flavor each bite awards the taste buds with. You get the rich flavor of the roast pork (Mmmm...roast pork), the saltiness of the ham, the bite from the mustard, and the sourness from the pickles in every crunchy, breaded bite. Granted, the crusty bread usually has a tendency to do a number on the roof of my mouth, but that's a small price to pay for the satisfaction given by a good Sandwich Cubano.

In a place like Florida that is in close geographic proximity to Cuba itself it isn't too hard to find really good Cuban food. I mean, Florida was the first stop in the US for many Cuban refugees, many of which made Florida their permanent home here in the US. So naturally there are many Cuban restaurants there. Unfortunately, we are on the opposite side of the country and authentic Cuban restaurants aren't as easy to come by here in SoCal. Ever since moving to the LA area though, i've been in search of a good Sandwich Cubano. My wife tipped me off to this place she found online, The Havana Sandwich Company in El Segundo, and I thought my prayers were answered. Unfortunately, we must be too far from Cuba or something because the meal we had there was definitely a bit on the disappointing side.

We took a short drive over to El Segundo one evening to give the Havana Sandwich Company a taste and see if I could satisfy this long-standing craving for a good Sandwich Cubano. When we got there, first thing I noticed was that the place was empty. Not a good sign. Granted, it was later in the evening and this place is probably more popular for lunch, etc. but the sight of an empty restaurant wasn't too encouraging. The signs boast of having the Best Cuban Sandwiches in the world so I put any reservations from my initial impression aside and headed on in. Once inside, we ordered the Papas Rellenas as an appetizer, an Original Cuban Sandwich, and the Ropa Vieja Havana plate.

First, let's start with the Papas Rellenas. The Papas Rellenas (3 potato balls stuffed with beef & pork) were disappointingly overcooked. They definitely spent too much time in the deep fryer and ended up being a bit on the dry side. They probably would have been pretty tasty had they not been overcooked, but in their present state they were less than appetizing. Strike 1.
Next up was what I came here for; the Cuban Sandwich. Maybe my standards are just too high from having eaten Cuban Sandwiches from some really good places, but this sandwich was thoroughly disappointing. The pork didn't seem to have much flavor and there was barely any pickles in it making for a pretty flavorless sandwich overall. The pork and pickles are the highlights of the Cuban sandwich and for some reason the pork used in this sandwich just didn't light up my taste buds like a proper roast pork should. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Strike 2!
The last chance for this place was the Ropa Vieja Havana plate. Ropa Vieja (which translates to "Old Clothes") is a traditional Cuban dish usually made from shredded flank steak tenderly cooked in a tomato based sauce. The Ropa Vieja from Havana Sandwich Company came along with a side of rice and some black beans...both of which are regular accompaniments with many Cuban dishes. Unfortunately, the third time was not a charm as again I found the Ropa Vieja to be a little lacking in the flavor department. The rice and black beans were good but the beef was a bit on the bland side. Strike 3!

So that makes for 3 different items and 3 seperate disappointments. Overall I have to say that the Havana Sandwich Company was a big disappointment. After reading some of the reviews on Yelp I had high hopes for this place but it definitely didn't live up to the hype. In all honesty, from this first experience I wouldn't even bother to make a second trip. I'd rather spend the time trying to find a good Cuban Sandwich rather than wasting time with flavorless ones.

Havana Sandwich Company
229 Main Street
El Segundo, CA 90245

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