Same same but different

You ever run into an old flame and things are just so different from how they once were that it kind of makes you feel a whole bunch of things? Maybe a little sad, relieved perhaps, mostly nostalgic?

You think about the good times, and remember how sweet they really were at their height, but then you snap back to the present and maybe you notice the former flame’s lost some hair, put on some weight, looks tired or just different. Maybe it’s you, maybe you’ve changed. Either way, it’s not the same and even if the experience of seeing that person is pleasant enough, and you’re ok where you both are in life now, you can’t help but miss how things once were.

IMG_6839Yea, well, that was the experience I had with one of the great loves of my life this week: a sandwich from Antico Noè. When I lived in Florence, Italy, what really does feel like a whole different lifetime ago, I went to Noè more than anywhere else. I tried different things a couple of times but for the most part I got the same panino every time: the # 4, stuffed chicken with prosciutto, mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms and rosé sauce. It was warmed up briefly in a press, wrapped in a couple of napkins and handed over to me by the same hunky Florentine who seemed to never have a day away from the shop.

A few years ago, Antico Noè opened a shop in midtown Manhattan of all places. (Apparently, some enterprising, panini loving Americans bought the rights to  use their name here and promised to keep it as close to the original as possible.) I’ve been a couple of times since they originally opened and always had a decent enough sandwich. This past week, I found myself in midtown and actually on the same street as Noè, so I thought I’d drop in for lunch.

Feeling ever nostalgic and wanting to recapture the magic, I ordered my usual, the # 4. Staring at a mural of Florence and the same painted logo from the original shop while an Italian pop ballad played in the empty shop (I was there later in the afternoon, after the lunch rush), I ate my sandwich alone.

IMG_6840It wasn’t bad, by any means. The bread was warm and had been pressed down just right to squeeze everything together and make it easy to eat. The mozzarella, warm and melted, oozed out in long strands. The mushrooms gave their earthy, subtle flavor and weren’t slimy or wet as the sautéed kind sometimes are. The meat was alright, flavorful enough and a nice contrast to the other ingredients, though anywhere else I probably wouldn’t have ordered stuffed chicken. The rosé sauce, my favorite, was tangy and creamy.

IMG_6841And yet… it wasn’t the same. As far as lunches go, I was satisfied yes, but I wasn’t raving. If I had friends visiting from out of town, I wouldn’t insist that they eat there, they way I do with every single person who’s ever asked me where they should eat in Florence over the last ten years. The ingredients were the same they use in Florence, but not the exact kind I’m sure. I doubt it was the exact type of mozzarella, or the same sauce, and the bread was baked here, not there, which has to make a difference. In fact, I had my sandwich on whole grain, which way back when in Florence, wasn’t even an option.

Then again, maybe it wasn’t even the sandwich. Maybe it was the fact that I was in midtown Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers and stressed office employees, I myself being one. Maybe the sandwich just tastes better in a city that’s looked the same since before the Renaissance, when you’re in your early 20s and worried mostly about where you’ll go out that night or where to travel next weekend. It’s likely that it was both.

I’m sure New York’s Noè outpost does just fine. I’ve been there during the lunch rush and business seemed to be thriving. Lots of framed articles and media mentions line the wall when you walk in, and I’m sure Instagram has no shortage of dedications from people who studied abroad and then came back to try and relive their Florentine lunches.

But for me it felt too different. Not bad, not good, just different. And since I’d like to keep the memory of that sandwich I loved so very much all those years ago exactly as it was, I think I’ll just hold out on Noè and the # 4 till the next time I’m back in Florence, whenever that might be.

Advertisements

Surprise!!

Unassuming and delicious

I generally don’t like surprises. I don’t like surprise birthday parties or when people show up unannounced or any other time that life leaves me blindsided. But every now and then, I get surprised and love it.

Last night, Flaneur and I had to be at a friend’s place in the West Village at 7:30. It was 7:10 and we were right around the corner from her apartment but since we were going to a show and hadn’t eaten dinner, we wanted to grab something quick, lest we get stuck with growling stomachs till close to midnight.

“Let’s just go here,” I said, pointing to a corner sandwich shop whose name I hadn’t even read.

Inside, a large black chalkboard listed mostly salads and sandwiches, all vegetarian and a few vegan, along with a few coffeehouse drink and pastry standards.

Brie, pear and arugula

We quickly decided and gave the bandana-clad girl behind the counter our order: Brie, pear and arugula sandwich with raspberry mustard for Flaneur and roasted vegetable Panini with arugula and goat cheese for me.

The ingredients all sounded good enough but I wasn’t really expecting anything great. I mean, no preparation had gone into this on my part. I’d never seen this place (whose name I later found out from the menu was ‘sNice), no one had recommended it, I had never read a review of it, and until five minutes earlier I had no idea it existed at all.

But then, I was oh so pleasantly surprised. Pleasant actually, is too soft of a word. I was surprised in a great big awesome “WOW! This is friggin’ great” kind of way.

Our sandwiches arrived via a scruffy, t-shirt-and-glasses wearing waiter and right from the start I thought, “Oooh! These look good!”

Roasted veggies, goat cheese and arugula

Each one came with a leafy heap of salad—nothing crazy, just some good spinach and radicchio, carrot shavings and a vinaigrette dressing. The sandwiches were beautiful, served on thick baguette-style pressed loaves. The cross section of mine boasted bright colors of roasted red peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, shredded raw cabbage, arugula and creamy white goat cheese. Flaneur’s, though slightly less colorful, showed off deep green arugula, creamy beige Brie and crisp off-white pear slices.

After swapping halves so we could try both, we got to grubbing. What these vegetarian sandwiches offered in good looks, they then tripled in taste. One bite into each of our respective choices we both stopped and looked at each other , totally surprised by just how delicious these sandwiches were.

The goat cheese in mine offered a perfect tanginess to go with the soft, roasted vegetables. Combined with the warm crunchy bread, this sandwich had me hooked. The Brie and pear combo was just as delicious, and fun to eat too. The smooth creaminess of the Brie, the slight crispness of the pear, the subtle sour zing of the raspberry mustard and the crunchiness of the bread made each bite better than the last, and made the last bite one to make you wonder why oh why do good things always have to come to an end?

We wolfed them down in part because we were in a hurry but mostly because those unexpectedly amazing sandwiches were just too good to put down. Now if only all surprises were this enjoyable.

In the meantime…

During my last days in Florence, my dear camera met an untimely end. Well, no, I’m sure it lives on in the life of whatever lucky bastard found it at the bar where I lost it, but things between the camera and me definitely ended that night. Fittingly enough, it was my going away party. Goodbye, Florence. Goodbye, camera.

Antico Noe’s #4

Fast forward to three months later, and I still haven’t replaced it. And seeing as how having a camera with which to take pictures with and then post on this very blog is crucial, I have nothing new to offer on this new blog of mine.

That being said, I’m recycling something I previously wrote and posting it here. Just until I get a new camera, which should be soon, I’ve promised myself.

This first piece is something I wrote while still living in Florence, for my roommate’s website about student life in the city. I then reused it for a writing contest my sister told me about and it came in 26th place (which makes me wonder how many entries there were). Regardless, you might find it entertaining if you want to know more about  secret bakeries.

The second piece is something I wrote for the same writing contest. It’s a guide to panini in Florence. It came in at the very unimpressive 63rd place in the contest, but hey, I had fun writing it. If for no other reason than reminiscing about sandwiches in Florence.