The bánh mì, a study in textures—cool pickled veggies, crunchy bread, and caramelized pork—and flavors—savory roast meats and charcuterie, and perhaps pate; hot peppers; and Asian mayo—is one of my all-time favorite sandwiches. So much so that a lifetime ago when I was a line cook at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, I took it upon myself to add it to the menu while the chef was on vacation. We had charcuterie, pickles, pork, fish sauce, and chilies in house, so I figured why not run it as a special. Chef was not pleased with my addition of what I called the Banh-Jimmy to his menu.
That chef is long gone from the subterranean craft beer temple. These days Tito King’s Kitchen at Jimmy’s No. 43 serves up Filipino-inspired fare created by Chef King Phojanakong of Kuma Inn and Umi Nom. When I read that Chef King was working on a crispy duck bánh mì I hightailed it to Manhattan.
The crispy duck in King’s bánh mì is confitted with salt, garlic, and black pepper and then seared on a flat top, resulting in a crisp sheet of duck that’s crunchy on the outside and moist within. The standard Vietnamese sandwich dressings get a twist with Filipino atchara, a slaw of daikon and carrots pickled in rice vinegar with ginger, garlic and chilies. Rounding out the party are cucumbers cilantro, hot sauce, sweet chili mayo, and Maggi.
Until I bit into the crispy duck bánh mì I didn’t truly appreciate what Maggi does for a Vietnamese sandwich, namely give it a wallop of umami. I always thought that signature meaty flavor came from a combo of mayo, pork juice, and fish sauce until King schooled me. “You can’t have a Vietnamese sandwich without good old Maggi,” King says.
It’s no surprise that King and I share the same favorite Vietnamese sandwich, the No. 1 from Bánh Mì Saigon hard by DiPalo’s in Little Chitaly. The caramelized pork on that sandwich has an amazing crunchiness, I like to think it inspired King to create what might just be the East Village’s best duck sandwich.
Tito King’s Kitchen at Jimmys No. 43, 43 E. 7th St., 212-982-3006