We stopped in Mau last week to snag our first bite from the new joint by former Slow Club chef, Sante Salvoni. Salvoni gave us a full rundown of what's in store for the restaurant, fresh off of its soft opening last week, while we stuffed our cheeks with a few of his playful takes on banh mi. The first sandwich featured housemade sausage patties swaddled in crisp, fresh threads of carrot, red pepper, and shredded daikon, livened by a forest of cilantro and a generous sprinkling of paper-thin cucumber. The patties were lightly charred, mixing with the thrilling freshness and subtle crunch we love about so many Southeast Asian wraps and rolls.
When we saw a sardine banh mi on the menu, we passed over. But then we were coaxed by Salvoni into a bite (or seven) of the thing, and everything changed. Turns out, sardines are right at home in the heart of a banh mi. It's an accessible sandwich: sardines fried lightly in the tempura style, humbly dressed up with the same garnishes as the sausage version, with an addition of key lime aioli which cuts through the salt and oil like lemon on deep fried cod in the summer. Both sandwiches come with homemade sriracha and sambal sauce with lemongrass, garlic, and chilis.
Like the lovechild of a messy po' boy and a classic, fresh Vietnamese sandwich, the sardine banh mi distills what Mau is all about about -- not quite purist in Southeast Asian cuisine, but rather a Western enthusiast who plucks all the ingredients from that genre and uses them simply and well.
Salvoni tells us the menu will be a rotating, Asian-inspired roster, with a dinner-for-two option in view that features a whole striped bass. He's still flirting with a few ideas and testing out the sources of his food. The current menu features a modest smattering of things like the pork belly rice bowl, a grilled beef salad on toasted rice with bird's eye chili, and of course a few simpler soups like sweet and sour, or beef rice noodle. Sante wants everyone to be able to eat under $15. He learned a thing or two about breaking down whole pigs at Fatted Calf, and spent time earning his Vietnamese cooking chops at Tin in Soma, so we can probably count on a menu that continues to blend his enthusiasm for whole-hog butchery with classic Vietnamese flavors and garnishes.