We’ll always have banh mi
New Paris Bakery & Cafe6901 Stockton Blvd #300
Sacramento, CA 95823
I love nothing more than a good loaf of toothsome, grainy artisan bread, but there’s also a lot to be said for a nice white, highly refined, crisp-crusted baguette, with the kind of fluffy interior so beloved of the French. Such a loaf is even better as banh mi—stuffed full of tart marinated vegetables, cilantro, lip-searing jalapenos and such meaty offerings as chicken, sardines or pork of all sorts, from meatballs to grilled slices to ham to headcheese.
Well, maybe not the headcheese. It is, however, on the menu at the New Paris Bakery & Cafe, a quick lunch spot in one of the shopping centers at 65th Street and Stockton Boulevard, behind the Florin Mall. It’s an offshoot of the wholesale New Paris Baking Company, and the mini-baguettes in which the banh-mi fillings nestle are a top-notch example of that light and highly refined vein. On a recent visit, we tried one with shredded pork and pork skin. At $1.75, it was a fresh and meaty bargain. (You can get a whole-baguette banh mi for just $5. It strikes me that a few of these, cut into short lengths, would be fantastic to serve at a party.) Banh mi really ought to be the next big trend in fast food. They’re filling, unbelievably cheap, fresh and hand-held. If you skip the nice crunchy, browned pork skin, they’re even good for you.
Banh mi, however, is not the only thing you’ll find at New Paris. The bakery counter stocks light and flaky-looking croissants, and there’s a snack-food counter, too. The latter is small, but it has everything from cookies and Pocky to purple-yam chips and something called “jackfruit crisp bits.” There’s also a hearty lunch menu, and on our visit that’s what was bringing in crowds of working folks on their lunch breaks. There’s pho aplenty, in every possible beefy combination as well as seafood and chicken varieties. There are rice-noodle bowls as well as grilled-rice plates. There are also some interesting soups that you don’t see everywhere, like bun bo hue, a spicy pork soup from northern Vietnam that’s stocked with pork hock, beef tendon and (the delicate among you may wish to avert your eyes) pork-blood cake.
I’ve enjoyed bun bo hue in a slightly tamer, bloodless variety, and I was tempted—I figure pork-blood cake must be something like boudin noir, which I like—but in the end I didn’t feel quite adventurous enough. Plus, it was what may have been the last warm and sunny day of the late fall, so I gravitated toward a rice-noodle salad. I always find it hard to resist the siren song of Vietnamese grilled pork, but I felt it was my bounden duty to branch out, so I ordered a rice-noodle bowl with sugarcane-wrapped shrimp and asked to have egg rolls added as well. My husband got the banh mi as a sort of appetizer, and a bowl of pho.
My rice-noodle bowl had lots of fresh greenery, including plenty of mint and lettuce. The carrots floating in the dressing to pour over the bowl were plentiful and tangy. The shrimp paste had been removed from the sugarcane it was wrapped around, but it had a sweetly oceanic flavor spiked with black pepper and a pleasantly resilient texture. The exterior seemed to have been fried, with an odd but appealing texture like tofu skin. The egg rolls had a meaty, flavorful interior and were piping-hot and fresh. I prefer rice-paper wrappers, however, for their distinctive chewy crunch; these crisp wheat-flour wrappers tended to go soggy quickly when the dressing hit them.
My husband’s pho was a simple, enormous bowlful. (The server steered him to the small, which proved to be more than enough.) The clear beef broth was gutsy and meaty, with strong notes of cinnamon, but it had a few little spots of greasiness floating on the surface. The noodles and sliced rare beef were just right.
Upon sitting down, we were brought welcome glasses of fragrant iced tea. The cafe also has a large selection of slushy drinks and tea with pearls. We ordered a mocha milk tea, which turned out to be a little peculiar. I had thought, somehow, that “tea” would be metaphorical, simply referring to the bubble-tea concept. Instead, coffee and tea were indeed mixed in a very sweet, iced drink. I think next time we’ll get the purely mocha slushy or something with just tea.
I had hoped to pick up some of the huge, puffy, delicious-looking croissants to take home, but by the time we finished our lunch, the ones I’d seen in the bakery case had been sold. Still, we left full and happy, with a new option for a quick, yummy lunch and the resolution to return to New Paris for both its French roots and its Vietnamese offerings.