By Catherine Zuckerman
Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011
"Be good" and "do good" are central tenets of BONMi, the perky Vietnamese sandwich shop that opened in Farragut West last month. Lofty goals, but it appears that the people behind this 34-seat restaurant take them to heart.
Notice, for example, the grinning, eager staff. Then check out the prices, none of which exceed $8. Twenty percent of bottled water sales go to HOW Global, a nonprofit organization that teaches sustainability in poor communities. Finally, quality. Everything here, save for the Lyon Bakery bread, is made in-house from scratch. You can practically taste the high standards.
BONMi is the brainchild of JBH Advisory Group, a New York consulting firm that specializes in food and beverage programs. Partner Lynne Jacoby says the concept - to offer something fresh and worldly, with a good flavor profile but at low cost - was developed over the past two years with many rounds of recipe testing and tweaking. Judging by the long lines at noon and my recent lunch, Jacoby's time was well spent.
Not surprisingly, the menu focuses on Vietnamese banh mi, all served classic-style (minus the pâté) on baguettes made partially with rice flour and dressed with pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, cilantro and chili-lime mayonnaise. Most popular is the rich brisket marinated with soy, garlic and honey ($7.50); I also liked the soft pork meatballs ($6.50) and the chicken bolstered by five spice powder ($6). Vegetarian taste buds will delight in garlicky tofu, or butternut squash scented with ginger and coconut (both $6.25). Sandwiches can be made over as lettuce wraps; all meats and squash are cooked sous-vide (in sealed plastic bags, submerged in warm water for several hours). The technique's benefit is threefold, says Jacoby: It eliminates the hassle of a hooded grill, requires little oil or butter and results in exceptionally moist meat (still tender when I finished mine at home).
If you prefer salad, the Kickshaw is for you. A heap of pickled vegetables and cabbage, bean sprouts and al dente rice noodles tossed in a zesty peanut dressing, it's as hearty as it is healthful-tasting ($6.75; add $2 for chicken, squash or tofu). Keep that fork handy for the summer rolls; filled with chicken or squash, noodles, herbs and vegetables, they taste fine but are floppy and apt to fall apart ($2.50).
Cinnamon-laced Vietnamese coffee is a nice touch ($2.50 for 14 ounces), as are the chewy, not-too-sweet "bites," made with fruit, honey, nuts and seeds ($2 for two). I popped a pumpkin one for breakfast and thought to myself, " 'Good' might be an understatement."
Designing just the right bite
Bonmi's dessert offerings are vegan, gluten-free, full of fiber -- and pretty delicious
By Vicky Hallett
Nov. 8, 2011
When your motto is "Be good. Do good," it feels not so good to serve a typical dessert. So the team developing the menu for Bonmi, a bahn mi-inspired sandwich and salad shop that just opened at 900 19th St. NW, found itself in a pickle.
"We wanted a sweet treat that wasn't a cookie or a brownie," says Buddy Gillespie. They also wanted something without refined sugars that could be prepared on site without an oven, and be easy to grab and go for on-the-run customers. Oh, and it would be helpful if that something were dairy- and gluten-free.
After some serious experimentation, co-worker Alexis Kukuka came up with the winning combination: Medjool dates, roasted almonds and dried fruits. Chop the ingredients up, form into flattened balls and chill, and you have Bonmi bites ($2). The four varieties -- blueberry lemon, chocolate coconut, pumpkin five spice and cranberry sunflower -- come in packs of two, making them a cinch to share, or to save half for later. (The bites aren't big, but the fiber content makes them filling.)
And although you've probably never encountered anything like the bites on the streets of Vietnam, they're an appropriate ending to a meal that's designed to maximize nutrition, Gillespie says. Sandwich fillings are cooked with a technique that requires less oil, and customers have the option of getting anything in a lettuce wrap to avoid extra carbs. "We're healthy, but we don't beat it down your throat," he says.
When it comes to the sweet bites, however, customers probably wouldn't mind.