Wicked Waffle downtown
By Tim Carman
Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
With each name that Thierry Jugnet drops - Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Yannick Cam, all early employers - my confusion only deepens about Jugnet's new Wicked Waffle in downtown Washington. This formally trained chef from Lyon who rubbed elbows with culinary greats has opened a shop in which every sandwich is served on a waffle. Hmm; don't they beat chefs with copper pots in France for lesser crimes?
The way Jugnet explains it, waffles share two vital characteristics with baguettes, brioches and other breads used for sandwiches in his home country: They're both hot and fresh. His dimpled darlings just happen to be hot and fresh from a high-heat waffle iron. As Jugnet says, customers can go from "batter to sandwich in a minute," which would probably set a lunch-counter speed record - if it were always true. I timed my last trip, and it took more than five minutes.
Frankly, I didn't care. Speed is overrated, especially when it comes to producing good food, which Wicked Waffle does (but with an asterisk, which I'll explain).
The idea for the to-go joint grew out of Jugnet's full-service Mosaic Cuisine and Cafe in Rockville, which has developed a following for its daily brunch-lunch menu that similarly dares to stretch the limits of its barely sweetened batter. Of course, diners at Mosaic can order their sandwiches on commonly recognized breadstuffs, too.
Not so at Wicked Waffle, where batter is king (and the king is not buried in butter and syrup). I have to admit I would have preferred a chewier bread for my grilled ham and cheese croque monsieur ($7.75); the airy waffle is too polite and pliable, offering easy access to the inner ingredients with barely a hint of the sandwich's signature crunch.
That is why I suggest an asterisk. Wicked's stuff is good (maybe even great) to go within, say, a four-block radius of the store. Why? The waffles degrade quickly, despite some rice flour in the batter to better absorb the inevitable moisture in the take-away clamshell.
But if you eat them hot off the iron, these Belgian-waffle "bread" slices transform the routine slog of sandwich eating. The light waffle crunch almost levitates a typically dense and plodding grilled cheese ($5.75). Same for the rare roast beef and Swiss sandwich ($8.75) , which adopts a refined air when cloaked in these fragile slices. The egg-based breakfast sandwiches ($4.50 to $5.75), with their layer of lightly cooked curds, are particularly designed for the delicate crispness of the waffle. An English muffin suddenly seems as brutish as a rugby match.
Wicked's inventiveness doesn't end at the waffle iron. Jugnet has developed a line of "soups to sip," thin liquids to drink from travel cups. I suspect that this concept, for some at least, might be even harder to swallow than a waffle-based sandwich.