On a cold December day in New York, I took the 6 train down from the Upper East Side to the Astor Place stop with porchetta on my mind. No, not Sara Jenkins’ glorious Porchetta sandwich served at her sandwich spot so devoted to porchetta it’s called, well, Porchetta. This time I was headed to Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria to try a porchetta sandwich that made a bit of a splash when it first appeared a year or two ago. Now the New York food media has moved on, as it tends to do, and that sandwich continues to be served with slightly less fanfare. I knew I had to give it a try before it disappeared entirely.
The sandwich is such an event, you should ignore all efforts to sell you appetizers and drinks to go along with it. I ate my sandwich at the bar and when it arrived, I’m pretty sure the restaurant shook as it was placed before me:
The most striking thing about this porchetta sandwich isn’t the porchetta, actually. It’s the bread. As you unhinge your jaw to take the first bite, you’ll be stunned at the textural experience that follows: the bread shatters beneath your teeth. The bread is a struggle, but also a delight. Now I know how Godzilla must feel when he chomps into a glass skyscraper.
As for the porchetta itself–and I should explain here, for those who don’t know, that porchetta is roasted pork heavily flavored with herbs and spices (most notably fennel pollen) until tender on the inside and crispy on the outside; I made it once–it hit all the marks you expect from excellent porchetta: tender, moist, and heavily perfumed. After recovering from the bread, I found myself smacking my lips in delight. But that bread, man*. That bread’s an issue.
(* Note: I don’t normally say “man.” I’m giving it a go here.)
That’s the scene at Il Buco as I left, to give you a sense of the place. A few weeks later, I’d be in a very different environment–Gjelina in Venice Beach–when I encountered my first west coast version of the mythological porchetta sandwich. Here I am in my new sunglasses (note: I don’t normally include pictures of myself in posts like these, but I wanted you to see the restaurant and this is the only picture that shows that. Ok?)
This picture, like the last picture, was taken in December (December 31st, to be exact). As you can see, I am sitting outside and not wearing a jacket. These factors don’t enter into the porchetta discussion, but perhaps they played a silent role in the verdict I’m about to render.
First, though, thumbelina carrots. Gjelina is famous for them (roasted, infused with orange juice). They are wonderful:
And look, a salad with arugula (unwieldy, rugged-from-the-farm arugula with lots of character) and trout:
And, finally, the porchetta sandwich we’re here to discuss:
Here’s a porchetta sandwich that’s all about decadence in balance. The bread is every bit as good as the bread at Il Buco, only it makes way more sense for this sandwich. For starters: you can fit it into your mouth. The meat hits all the marks–tender, moist, herbacious–though it’s not as plentiful as the meat at Il Buco (notice the thicker slices in the earlier picture). But the zippy slaw and housemade aoili take the Gjelina porchetta sandwich over the top. For me, it’s the clear winner.
Let’s not bring Sara Jenkins’ Porchetta into this fight. That sandwich is an institution outside the scope of scrutiny. But in the battle of East Coast vs. West Coast porchetta sandwiches that I ate in December, Gjelina takes the prize. Well done, California.