Fourth time’s the charm.
I was determined to figure out why the bread on the signature Bon Me sandwich ($6) was stale every time I tried it. This riff on the Vietnamese classic banh mi is filled with a nice pate, a spicy mayo that you get in every bite, lots of crisp shredded vegetables, and the filling of your choice (Chinese BBQ pork, miso-braised pulled pork, spice-rubbed chicken, and soy-paprika tofu are all exceptional). Unlike the real bahn mi, there’s not much fat here, so it’s a good healthy version.
There was a pattern: I was only eating the sandwich at the new brick-and-mortar Bon Me around dinnertime — the popular Bon Me food truck opened a restaurant in February adjacent to The Friendly Toast in the Kendall Square courtyard that houses The Blue Room and West Bridge. The husband-wife team of Patrick Lynch, 34, and Alison Fong, 33, both raised in Brookline, are streamline geniuses. They can get 250 people in and out of the new spot quickly at lunch and give them consistently good food with plenty of flavor. (If you run food trucks and you can’t crank it out, you’re pretty much dead in the water.)
During the day, the bright space, with a handful of stainless tables, a window counter with stools under round white pendants, and a wood-paneled prep area with opaque glass, so you cannot see your food being made, looks industrial/architectural sleek. At night, the lighting is much too bright, it’s a little empty, and frankly bleak.
Lynch and Fong were part of Mayor Menino’s 2010 food truck challenge and launched their first truck a year later. At the time of the challenge, the ink on Lynch’s MIT urban-planning master’s degree wasn’t yet dry. Fong, a Culinary Institute of America grad, had worked for celebrated New York chef Gray Kunz, Patricia Yeo, at Estragon Tapas Bar in the South End, and as director of food service at Brimmer and May school.
It made no sense that the baguette on their Bon Me sandwich was stale. Then I remembered something I used to see in Paris when I lived there some time ago: lines outside the patisseries at the end of the day, often very long. Why didn’t the French buy enough bread at breakfast for the evening meal? Someone told me that the custom was to buy dinner baguettes from the batch baked in the afternoon, the freshest available.
So I returned to Kendall Square for lunch and the bread was fresher. Perhaps the problem here is that the crusty, airy baguettes can’t last the whole day.
Besides the sandwich, there is a noodle salad ($7), with soba or rice noodles, a rice bowl ($6.50) with white or brown rice, a few sides, including edamame ($2) with sesame salt and star anise, deviled tea eggs that are lightly spicy ($2.50), and delicious Asian greens such as yau choy, stir-fried with soy sauce, and tasting a little like broccoli rabe. Every single noodle is just right, veggies are bright and fresh, miso lime dressing a little piquant, spicy peanut dressing addictive. In the other bowls, both white and brown rice is well done, pickled carrots and daikon pleasingly lively, cilantro aromatic, sprouts crunchy.
Fillings rotate so there are three on offer, with a couple of sides and desserts. Chocolate rice pudding ($2.50) looks dreadful but is a delicious little cup. “Key” lime pudding with a garnish of crushed gingersnaps ($3) is smooth, creamy, and nicely limey.
All meals at the restaurant are packed to go, every main course in a square cardboard box about the size of a Macbook Air. When you fold back the wide lid, it’s a little like eating out of your laptop. No one asks if you’re dining on the premises and then presents a real plate, the way some takeout spots do.
Another problem here is that the space sometimes looks like a messy student cafeteria. Friendly counter folks aren’t coming out often enough to tidy tables and when they do, they’re only marginally cleaner than before. Trash should be pulled more often.
Those are growing pains, the result of becoming wildly popular sooner than anticipated, and easily remedied. It’s harder to fix poor food. If the streamline geniuses have a few tweaks up their sleeves, all will be well, and lines will form day and night.