Toast has long been a staple of the up-and-coming-and-now-arrived Bucktown/Wicker Park restaurant scene. The original Damen location opened in 1996, and a second location was opened in Lincoln Park a few years later, allowing the owners and chefs plenty of time to craft their menu to the wants and needs of the trendy neighborhoods' denizens. Translation: they've got a sizable brunch menu that puts some crafty twists on morning staples like pancakes, waffles, and omelets.
The exception to the everyday American approach to dining, though, is the Ahi Tuna sandwich ($11.00). A thick slice of ahi tuna steak is seared medium rare and topped with slices of fennel root, a vegetable commonly found in Mediterranean cuisine with a taste akin to sweetened celery (the more commonly used seeds are a key ingredient in liquorish and absinthe). Tomato concassé, a paste-like sauce made of peeled and seeded tomatoes, is also heaped on top, along with saffron rouille, a condiment-like sauce similar to aioli that's made with garlic, saffron and chili peppers. Mache, a lettuce with tiny leaves, garnishes before it's all pressed between a lightly toasted roll.
If this all sounds like the most overly-complicated, pretentiously bourgeois sandwich you've ever heard of, this blogger doesn't disagree. If this sandwich were a high schooler, it'd be the wealthy, stuck up kid who brags about returning from a summer abroad in Paris to find daddy dangling the keys to a brand new Lexus, but who secretly just wants to fit in with the common ham and cheeses of the world. And with all of the different competing flavors, the tuna—a rather tasty fish on its own—is almost completely overshadowed. But the flavors that do come through—a medley of herbs and spices—are very welcome ones. So while this sandwich is a little all over the place, it still tastes good. And really, that's what's important in the end.
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