Sampling the Bon Appétit Pop-Up Café
Michael White's open-faced tuna sandwich.
Bon Appétit's now-annual pop-up café opened yesterday at Lincoln Center, just in time for the onslaught of New York Fashion Week. At noon today it was relaxed and leisurely; the fashionable and the damned mainly swanned around the fountain outside of Avery Fisher Hall, leaving the building's lobby, where the café is located, relatively unscathed.
The café's conceit, which has worked so well in years past, is to sell sandwiches, salads, soups, and pastries created by famous chefs for relatively affordable prices. Though having spent $17.56 for a soup and sandwich, "relatively" bears repeating. Repeatedly.
Being the type unable to resist the combination of melted cheese and tomato soup, we ordered Cat Cora's tomato soup with grilled-cheese croutons ($6.50), though John DeLucie's cauliflower soup with wild mushrooms sported some seriously delicious-looking fungi. And since there seems to be no escaping Michael White these days, we tipped a hat to ubiquity and ordered his open-faced tuna sandwich ($10).
There's no picture of the tomato soup because our camera batteries gave up the ghost. But honestly, it wasn't tomato soup worth immortalizing. Although its vibrant red hue suggested otherwise, the soup didn't taste much like tomatoes, or really much of anything, aside from a bit of cayenne pepper. Its flavor was pallid as a prisoner, bland as bank upholstery. A few shakes of salt might have helped, but there's no faking what isn't there in the first place. The grilled-cheese croutons were faintly cheesy, but it would have taken an entire grilled cheese sandwich to liven up the soup, or at least absorb its failings.
Fortunately, White's tuna sandwich almost made up for the disappointment. While its $10 price tag was a bit steep, its proportions were at least ample: Served on a hulking slab of country bread that had been brushed with a bit of mayonnaise, the sandwich comprised chunks of tuna, mashed-up black olives, arugula, tomato slices, and purple slivers of pickled onions.
The tuna had been advertised as "olive-oil poached," but it seemed to have traveled straight from a can or jar without pausing to even glance in the olive oil's general direction. Nevertheless, it was tasty, as were the onions and olives. Where the soup suffered from a lack of salt, the sandwich flirted with too much of it, but again, its abundance of fresh, simple ingredients helped it to overcome its flaws. And given that the café is Fashion Week's de facto mess hall, you could do much worse with what is, when it comes down to it, highly pedigreed cafeteria food.
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