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One thing that sets downtown D.C.’s latest bánh mì eatery, the playfully titled BONMi, apart from say, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, its Chipotle-backed contemporary: all the meats are prepared sous-vide. That is, sealed in airtight plastic bags and dunked into a warm water bath for hours and hours and hours.
“It’s probably the healthiest way to cook,” says Lynne Jacoby, a partner in the company JBH Advisory Group that has conceptualized the new 40-seat Vietnamese-style sandwich shop, opening this coming Monday, Oct. 24, at 900 19th Street NW. “You’re just putting spices in the proteins. You’re not adding oils or anything.”
Of course, there’s a good business reason, too. “From a build-out perspective, I don’t need ventilation,” Jacoby notes.
If you’re not familiar with the hassles of installing a hood system, just ask your neighborhood doughnut or burger shop operator.
“The only equipment we have back there are these sous-vide machines, these water baths,” she says. “No grill, no microwave—-nothing.”
Marinated proteins (the menu includes chicken, pork, brisket, tofu and butternut squash) are sealed in bags and submerged in the baths. The cook presses a few buttons, sets the timer and waits. That’s it. “You can’t screw it up,” Jacoby says.
The cooking method is so hassle-free, she adds, that future franchisees won’t even need to bother hiring chefs.
Ah, but what if the person monitoring the baths falls asleep and the stuff is left to soak even longer than necessary?
“Well, then you’ve got a problem,” she laughs.
Jacoby’s team has been developing the concept for BONMi for about the past year and a half. “We really wanted to bring a concept that we thought was flavorful and healthy to the general public,” she says. “You know, not everybody gets down to Chinatown and a lot of these places, unless you’re local, you probably wouldn’t even go into, because they’re junky little places. The food is great, but….”
How did the partners feel when they heard that Chipotle was working on a similar fast-casual-style bánh mì concept?
“Actually, we were really happy about it,” Jacoby says, “because bánh mì is starting to become a little more mainstream. I mean, I turn away 50 to 60 people every day we’re here.”
Photos by Chris Shott