I don’t normally valet park when I go to lunch on a weekday (or ever, really). But June gloom had ended, the sun was out, and a sandwich with a side of ocean view sounded ideal. So I drove to the Lodge at Torrey Pines, intending to visit its Craftsman-styled casual restaurant, The Grill at Torrey Pines.
Valet is complimentary while you’re dining, but when I asked, to be sure, a valet said I could also self-park in the hotel parking garage for free — at least at lunchtime. He and his cohorts were busy parking more-expensive rides, so I was fine saving time and tip by doing it myself.
Better to save a couple bucks on this end, I figured, because The Grill isn’t cheap. Don’t get me wrong — it’s more affordable than its upscale, upstairs neighbor, A.R. Valentien. But between sandwiches starting at 16 dollars, a beer list worth sampling, and table service deserving of an 18-percent tip, let’s just say it’s more expensive than places that don’t offer valet parking.
At some of my favorite bánh mì spots, for example, you can find a Vietnamese pork-and-pâté sandwich for about three bucks. About 14 inches long, they usually come wrapped in parchment paper, held shut with a flimsy rubber band. Compare that to the Grill’s bánh mì. It’s on the menu between the monte cristo and turkey panini, described as featuring “wood-roasted Italian pork, chicken-liver pâté, pickled carrots, cilantro, red jalapeño, daikon, and jicama.” Served with mixed greens or French fries, the 16 dollars to order it could buy five similarly constructed sandwiches at a counter shop around the Little Saigon district of City Heights. This elevated interpretation of bánh mì begged the comparison.
First, such sandwiches are typically made on skinny baguette rolls, furnishing just enough of each ingredient within each bite to make it delectable. This bánh mì was served on a softer, French-style roll. The roll was shorter than a baguette but much bigger otherwise, meaning a lot of vegetables could be stacked on a healthy portion of thinly sliced pork and pâté spread. There was enough on it to make at least two more standard bánh mì.
11480 N. Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla
The assorted vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the jalapeño was mild enough for the casual pepper eater. But if you’re looking for the star of the dish, it’s the slightly smoky, succulent pork that made this a sandwich I could feel okay paying a premium for, especially since I ate it while gazing across the greens of the Torrey Pines golf course.
You pay for the quality, and you pay for the view. Meanwhile, with the three-dollar bánh mì across town, you underpay, if we’re being honest. If eating a high-end bánh mì taught me anything, it’s to value the more affordable places serving excellent, authentic Vietnamese sandwiches every day, such as A Chau, Paris Bakery, and the chain Cali Baguette.