'Wichy Woman

’wichcraft is Tom Colicchio's (a la Top Chef) sandwich joint, which opened a West coast branch few months ago behind the newly renovated Westfield Shopping Center in San Francisco. Westfield, which houses hyped fashion outlets like Juicy Couture, Coach, and a Bloomie’s, is designed to attract more and more serious fashion shoppers to the Union Square area and down town San Francisco. The food court inside the mall is expansive and fairly chic, too: Beard Papa (Japanese cream puffs), Out the Door (fast food version of The Slanted Door, the famed Vietnamese restaurant), Bistro Burger, a gelateria/creperie, and plenty more options for stuffing one’s face after coming to the stark conclusion that that Karen Millen dress in a size 6 just isn’t going to zip.

’wichcraft, however, sits behind Westfield on Mission Street at the corner of Fifth, a location that sees significantly less foot traffic than the front of the mall on Market Street. There is a parking garage opposite ’wichcraft, but the location is still slightly less than ideal. So although it’s not exactly hidden, it isn’t on display for all to see either. In December 2006, I wrote a short synopsis of my experience at the eatery on a popular restaurant review web site, and six months later, not one single other person has reviewed it.

Even I didn’t find ’wichcraft on my own; I read about it in a magazine. It’s really quite a shame that so few people have heard about it, considering the menu entices casual eaters to try foods that are probably a little beyond their typical repertoire, which I imagine was the point. However, for Californians, frisée, roasted fennel, white truffle fondue, and black trumpet mushrooms aren’t too far off our beaten culinary path. Maybe those of you in New York who have been enjoying all seven locations of ’wichcraft in your city can attest to whether you find the ingredients inspirational.

The magazine article I read complained that ’wichcraft’s food was overpriced being in the $9 range. I said to myself, “I'm willing to pay $9 for a really good sandwich. What’s the big deal? I bet I’ll even be able to squeeze two lunches out of one.”

On my first visit, I marched down to Mission and Fifth, shelled out the obligatory $9, completely confident that this was going to be my new favorite sandwich shop. I selected the slow roasted pork with red cabbage and jalapenos on a toasted hunk of bread. I was prepared to dive in, truly believing that I would never finish the whole thing.

Upon unwrapping my order, my dreams, though not entirely shattered, were dampened. First off, I have to give the magazine credit: $9 was too much. I would have expected to pay between $6 and $7 for what amounted to a decently-sized dinner. But it ain’t no two-meal monster. In all honestly, the portion is fine for a meal, just not for the price.

As for quality, the ingredients shone through. The bread was warm, soft on the inside, and crusty on the outside. The pork and fillings were well contained in the bread, making for a tidy little dinner. A delicate balance of spicy and sweet, meaty and tangy kept my mouth awater. On a second visit I experienced the same wonderful balance of flavor with a sandwich of giant marinated white anchovies with soft-cooked egg, roasted onion and frisée on country bread ($8.50). I also scarfed a black and white cupcake (think Hostess, only fresh) and checked out the beer and wine selection.

I do harbor one major complaint about ’wichcraft: its sandwich cutting tactics. Granted, I’m a seasoned sandwich cutter myself, with three or four years combined experience working behind the counters at a deli and more than one bagel shop. Seeing as ’wichcraft is, quite specifically and by name, a sandwich shop, I expected the employees to have their technique down.

On both occasions that I ate there, the sandwiches were wrapped twice, once in flimsy paper and once in butcher’s paper, but neither paper was cut through. What’s the point of wrapping it twice if you’re not going to cut through the flimsy paper? In the case of the pork sandwich, the bread was sturdy enough to keep everything intact. But for the anchovies sandwich, the bread was too thin and soggy to keep the food from dripping into my lap.

In hindsight, the location isn’t too much of a deterrent now that I’m in the know. I’ve got a place downtown that I am assured will never get crowded (there’s seating for more than 100 by my count) where I can grab a quick Chimay after shopping… or in between trying on too-small dresses.