Sandwich of the Week: Fast Gourmet’s Chivito
Two blocks north of the U Street Corridor on 14th Street in Washington, D.C., in the shop front of a grubby gas station, sits the neighborhood’s unlikely contender for the best bargain lunch. Fast Gourmet is located inside a gas station; you have to walk past the pumps to enter, and the café shares its space with the station vendor, purveyor of cigarettes and beef jerky from a cloudy Plexiglas booth. The café is scattered with spare black tables and lined by drink machines, and above the counter, in front of the exposed kitchen, hangs a board with the menu scrawled on it in colorful chalk. But Fast Gourmet is anything but generic. It delivers exactly what its name promises: sumptuous food at deli pace.
Fast Gourmet was founded by two Uruguayan brothers, Juan and Manuel Olivera, the former of whom trained as a chef in Italy and France, including at the prestigious Institut Paul Bocuse. The menu includes wraps, salads, and empanadas, but consists mostly of sandwiches. The first part of the sandwichmenu, titled "Urban Taste," features traditional-seeming fare such as roast beef, pork, and tuna. But the real standouts are the sandwiches on the so-called "Flair" menu, including the breaded-tenderloin Milanesa and the succulent Chivito. The Chivito is a traditional Uruguayan sandwich, and upon reading the ingredient list, you might be skeptical. How can a single sandwich meld beef tenderloin, bacon, Black Forest ham, mozzarella, green olives, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, and tomato without losing its head along the way?
The most remarkable thing about the Chivito is that each ingredient manages to hold its own. Pressed in a soft white roll, it is exceptionally juicy, and each ingredient is so well cooked — when you reach inside to rip off a piece of tenderloin, it will practically fell apart in your hand — that the sandwich achieves a lovely balance, the flavors at once complementing and playing off each other. Each bite has a slightly different combination of ingredients and therefore a slightly different flavor profile. The briny olives pop against the rich meats, and the melted mozzarella lends the whole affair a touch of creaminess. Too often are tomatoes nothing more than a soggy clump at the bottom of a sandwich, but Fast Gourmet’s are firm and flavorful, and add a welcome tang. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the Chivito is that, despite a potentially problematic addiction to hot sauce, the little bottle of DC Redbone sat untouched by my plate for minutes on end before I remembered it was there. I never so much as uncapped it.
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