Let’s not call this a tuna sandwich. Yes, there is tuna involved. And yes, it is between two slices of bread. But there is no mayonnaise, no flabby celery moons, no cans or tins or strange metallic tang. This is no afterthought or tired nod to fish Fridays. This is the tuna confit at Be’wiched, the ambitious new deli in the Warehouse District.
800 Washington Ave. N.,
“Confit” means “preserved in fat,” an age-old technique often applied to tougher meats like duck — and a word nowadays tacked on to other dishes that would be more honestly described as “greasy.” But that’s not what’s going on here, and it’s much better than it sounds. I’ll let co-owner and co-sandwich-conjuror Matthew Bickford explain.
“We start with a really good center loin cut off an albacore tuna, cut it into loin steaks, and cure it overnight with a mixture of smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and sugar,” he says. “Then I [heat] it up slowly in olive oil with some aromatics — garlic, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, oregano — and slow cook it at about 200 degrees. When it starts to flake apart, I know it’s done.”
The cooking alone takes about four hours. That’s a lot more love than any canned Chicken of the Sea has ever seen. The result is thin slices of barely pink meat that have lost all their grain and let your teeth sink right in.
But there is still more work to be done to turn this tuna into a sandwich. Bickford and co-owner Michael Ryan make the focaccia, like all the other breads, in house. The tuna sits on a bed of peppery house-made tapenade with just enough preserved lemon zest to keep the butter-rich meat in line. A smear of — yes, house-made — roasted garlic aioli softens the bread without making it the least bit sloppy. Throw in a small leaf of romaine and some cucumber slices for crunch and the result is a tidy, unassuming square hiding plenty of satisfying flavor.
Whew! You’d think that activity alone would take over the kitchen — not tiny, but open for all the sandwich-lovers to see. But Bickford and Ryan, who figure they’ve got more than 30 years of cooking experience between them, most of it in fine dining (Ryan at Restaurant Alma and D’Amico, Bickford at La Belle Vie, Solera, and Zander), aim to do everything they can on-site. In addition to baking the breads — focaccia, onion buns, baguettes and ciabatta — they cure brisket for pastrami and smoke their own turkey and pork, most of it locally sourced and hormone-free.
“Matt and I are kind of chasing our tails, but we’re pretty happy,” says Ryan. “That’s one of the reasons why the menu is so small: We are doing all those things ourselves and we only want to keep getting better and expanding. We’ll do it at a pace that suits us and not before.”
Plans for expansion beyond the 11 sandwiches and eight salads on the menu include getting a beer and wine license, and adding small plates and flights for happy hour, as well as eventually selling their meats retail.
But, in the meantime, the sandwiches take center stage.
“It’s like the perfect food to me,” Bickford says. “You can pick it up, you can hold it in your hands. It’s not fussy, and yet you can have the same great flavors and flavor profiles that you can get on any plate, it’s just between two slices of bread. … Whether it’s the date spread on the turkey sandwich or the glazed fennel on the asparagus sandwich or it’s the hot pepper and olive relish on the tuna confit, you can cover a lot.”