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Near the bakery was the sandwich trove: baskets of pre-made, wrapped cold sandwiches and a refrigerated case of panini awaiting the grill. I thought they were a little pricey (after 10 days of $5.50 sandwiches paid for with Canadian dollars), ranging from $6.95 to $7.95, but they all looked so intriguing that I walked away with three, including the just-grilled, vaunted Cubano, a pre-wrapped muffaletta, and a huge ham sandwich that was intended for the grill but whose ingredients (ham, Swiss cheese, honey mustard) looked to me as though they'd be equally good cold. On my way to the checkout counter, I couldn't resist filling a box with cold roasted broccoli in an Asian-inspired dressing (cruciferous vegetables had been conspicuously absent from my diet), and, since the counter itself was covered with enticing baked goods -- including an upside-down pear-caramel tart, a custardy croissant-and-brioche bread pudding, and an array of beautifully decorated miniature cupcakes -- I snagged a helping of meringue-topped tres leches cake.
And then I drove more than 30 miles to go to the movies. Sure, there were closer theaters, but I was drawn to the Century 25 in Union City not just because it was offering a double bill of Fantastic Four and the elusive War of the Worlds I'd missed all summer, but also because I had a happy memory of the other time I'd gone there, when it was the only Bay Area theater showing the reissue of Scarface: an immaculate, comfortable screening room and perfect projection.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Region: South of Market
Hot and cold buffet $7.50/ pound
Tres leches cake $3.95
Miniature cupcakes $1.25 each
Bubble-wrap chocolate $14/ pound
Open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Muni: 6, 7, 26, 71, F
Noise level: moderate to high
During the cartoony Fantastic Four I enjoyed the still-warm Cubano, whose flattened baguette encased chunks of the superlative garlicky pork roast also available on its own on DeLessio's hot table, plus sliced ham, melty Swiss cheese, and pickles. In truth, I enjoyed half of the Cubano, discovering that what I'd thought was a pricey sandwich was in reality a bargain, since I could easily make two meals of it.
Halfway through the gripping War of the Worlds, the film relaxed its grip on me enough so that I could reach into the bag for half of the compact but stuffed muffaletta: salami, ham, mortadella, provolone, Swiss cheese, and olive salad on a seeded roll. Even distracted by Spielberg's matchless pyrotechnics, I could tell this was one knockout of a sandwich.
I was tapering off after the orgy I'd been on; the day after the double bill, the huge ham-and-Swiss (again, half of it, really), with its sweet honey mustard, was almost too perfect an accompaniment for Capote, a movie I'd managed to miss at both Telluride and Toronto. I found the film and the sandwich perfect: How clever to suggest the whole of Truman Capote's life through one six-year chunk of it, rather than the standard birth-to-death biopic; and how good a simple ham-and-cheese sandwich can be when each of its four components, including the sturdy peasant bread and tangy mustard, are of excellent quality.
The still-crunchy, slightly smoky broccoli spears and the lush cake, drenched in custard and sided with strawberries, consumed at home, tipped me over into infatuation. I was so taken with DeLessio that I had to return for a sit-down lunch, this time with my father, who had pronounced the half of the muffaletta I'd gifted him with "better than the ones I had in New Orleans," which shocked me, but only slightly. It was damned good.
We toted our trays out to a sunny sidewalk table. Dad had gotten a grilled Reuben; I'd scored a pre-wrapped house-made meatloaf on DeLessio's own focaccia, but I was more interested in the array of hot and cold food I'd assembled on a couple of plates. There was macaroni and cheese, not the soft little kiddie kind but big al dente tubes encrusted with provolone, cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan; what a sign called "the ultimate potato gratin," anointed with cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped scallions; firm Brussels sprouts heady with pesto; a superlative potato salad with chopped hard-boiled egg; tangy, citrusy beet salad; and a black bean salad, the only item I can be the least bit critical about (I would have liked more corn kernels in its assortment of vegetables). Everything was fresh, everything was appetizing, everything was made with quality ingredients. I don't think I'd ever seen such a rewarding buffet before, in which I found not one loser. There were dozens more dishes awaiting subsequent explorations.
My father's Reuben was as good as one from a New York deli. I thought I'd like the meatloaf sandwich better on sturdier bread, but that was a matter of personal choice. On the way out, I snagged a portion of tres leches for my mom and a box of six of those adorable miniature cupcakes, including vanilla cake topped with raspberry cream and coconut and chocolate topped with mint frosting, which proved so rich and satisfying that they were plenty big enough. And, helpless in the grip of DeLessio, I also picked up two chunks of distinctive "bubble-wrap" chocolate, an orange chocolate version with ground almonds and a white chocolate mint. Each was no more expensive than concession-stand chocolate, if you do the math, but as different from it as DeLessio is from most prepared-food markets, no matter how posh. My one regret is that DeLessio is not open for a late-night snack. No -- on reflection, that it's not open 24/7.
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