I frequently dine at North By Northwest in Austin. (Yes I’m naming names here people.) Mostly the food is good, but I swear that place annoys me with their propensity to create obviously inferior dishes that could have been fine, and should have been were there anyone paying attention. I’m not talking about improperly cooked instances of a generally good dish: I’m talking about recipes that are just plain bad, for no good reason.
Case in point: the Grilled Portabello Sandwich. First, of course, it’s Portobello. That I can forgive as virtually every grocery store on the planet spells the word incorrectly too. The “sandwich” involves grilled mushroom (sliced), eggplant (sliced thick), sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and some sort of ranch-like dressing, all wrapped in a thick pita-like (but definitely not really a pita) bread.
OK, where to start with what’s wrong. I think I’ll work my way in by pointing out that eggplant is really not something anybody should want on a sandwich. I can possibly imagine eggplant that’s been roasted pretty fiercely – sliced thin – and then topped with cheese, but really the vegetable has little taste. Forget it. Make a nice eggplant-olive salad on the side if somebody really wants to make Big Eggplant happy. If it absolutely must be in the sandwich, cook it. Normal people do not want to eat half-cooked eggplant chunks.
The mushrooms which star in the dish also need to be completely cooked. Completely. What’s more, they need to be seasoned, and this really is one of the main problems with the sandwich that make me wonder whether anybody there ever actually tastes the things. This is a rich sandwich at a brewpub and the lead ingredient in the dish has been given no pizazz at all.
The sun-dried tomatoes are fine, but there’s not enough of that. What the sandwich sorely needs is oomph. What sort of thing do you do to a grilled sandwich in this form to provide oomph? Right: carmelized onions and grilled marinated banana peppers. I want a mushroom cheesesteak, because that’s exactly what this sandwich wants to be! There’s a mushroom cheesesteak locked up with those demented inappropriate chunks of eggplant, and it’s whimpering pitifully for help!
Finally, the cheese: it hits the table, and it’s still cold! That’s right: the barely-grilled vegetables are more-or-less hot, but the cheese is stuffed into the bread cold from the refrigerator. I’m sorry, but a cold lump of mozzarella (unmelted, in other words) is not a value-add. It’s a lump of solid milk.
The ranch dressing is fine, such as it is, but it’d be completely unnecessary were the rest of the dish done properly.
Here’s what needs to happen:
- Marinate the mushrooms in something like thinned soy sauce, cheap balsamic vinegar, or a dry salt/pepper/thyme rub. Almost anything would be better than nothing.
- Get the onions and peppers going on the griddle. The onions can be pre-cooked of course.
- Sautee the mushrooms – sliced – and cook them until they are actually done. I want some browning.
- Combine into a little pile of veg and top with a handful of shaved provolone and let the cheese melt in a little – on the grill. The whole assembly should be hot.
- Hit the veg with some parsley (forget the ranch) and plate out onto the warm pita-like stuff (which I confess isn’t bad at all).
I find it really hard to believe that the above sandwich would be less well-received than the weird dish currently served.