Friday, September 08, 2006

Eating. french dip.

We staggered out of work shortly after nine p.m. after a day which had begun (for me) with rising at 6 and arriving at the lab around 6:45. I had only one thing on my mind. French dip. We drove straight down Madison towards the water, to the diner that is never very busy (unlike the Tex-Mex place a few doors away that always has at least a forty-five minute wait, even on a Tuesday). They have a wide array of burgers, all excellent, but it is the prime rib sandwich that I usually order. It comes on a toasted, square ciabatta roll and a pile of french fries on an oval platter, with a soup cup of au jus to dip the sandwich in.

Supposedly the french dip sandwich was invented (by accident, as many culinary creations seem to have) in a Los Angeles coffee shop when the proprieter inadvertently dropped half a french roll into the pan drippings while making a roast beef sandwich. Somehow it became a hit as more and more customers requested their sandwiches dipped in what they now call au jus. I don't know if this is the real story; I only know that this is one of my favorite sandwiches of all time and nearly every time I see it on the menu I have to order it.

Sometimes it is called a french dip, sometimes they call it a prime rib sandwich. Thinly sliced beef (steak, roast beef, prime rib) is layered on toasted bread - a french roll, or baguette, or some other kind of hard roll, always sliced at an angle to facilitate dipping. Sometimes the bread is buttered; other times, not. It has to be toasted; you need that crunch softened by the dip in au jus. Perhaps there might be some cheese melted on top, or grilled onions, or both, even though roast beef needs neither.

One time I had a tremendous craving for a french dip, and decided to have a go at making my own. I bought a baguette, a piece of steak. Caramelized some onions and added a leftover prime rib bone, simmered it to make an au jus for dipping. I froze the beef just until it was firm enough to slice thinly, and sautéed the paper-thin shreds of steak until just cooked. Toasted the halved baguette, draped the meat over it, cut it across on the diagonal. The sandwich was delicious, but I have somehow never gotten around to making it again.

Tonight my sandwich is perfect. The bread is toasted and buttered, crunchy and soft all at once. The prime rib is medium-rare, rosy pink throughout. I dip everything into the au jus, one bite at a time, ignoring the fries, which C. eats. As I eat the rest of the day fades away, it is just C. and I and our dinner and the easy conversation flowing between us. I love this restaurant, with its red booths and walls decorated with framed Interview magazine covers. It was a good way to end the day.

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