I could devote each week’s column to sandwiches without effort. There are too many variations, wonderfully creative abominations and utter masterpieces in this town to ignore for too long.
The players might differ, but certain elements should be present and sandwich rules followed. The bread, whether rye, Pullman, challah or baguette, needs to be fresh. It should be properly lubricated with the sauce, aioli, jam or spread of your choosing. And the construction, regardless of the middle components, needs to be sound ( i.e. don’t put wet tomatoes directly onto the bread, and try to get equal dispersal of stuff for optimum bites).
Croque Matthieu from Pasjoli
I recognize the many pitfalls of claiming anything is the best of whatever it is you’re talking about. It’s subjective. My best might not be your best. If the mood and setting are just right, anything can be the best. But I feel good throwing my weight behind what I deem to be the best grilled cheese sandwich in my universe.
It is the croque Matthieu on the bar menu at Pasjoli in Santa Monica.
During a recent visit, my party fell silent as we each bit into a square of the sandwich. The bread, annealed and shiny, was all crunch and butter. Then there was crispy Gruyère cheese, like a nutty, sharp cracker cemented to the inside of the sandwich. It shattered into a puddle of rich, creamy Mornay sauce that melted into sweet caramelized onions and shaved Bayonne ham.
The decadence of French onion soup, the simplicity of a good jambon beurre and the thrill of a gooey grilled cheese were all present, crammed into this four-bite sandwich. Its unabashed decadence something to marvel.
The sandwich is named for Mathew Kim, former chef de cuisine at the restaurant, who used to make a grilled cheese blanketed in Mornay sauce and a fried egg.
“Every now and then he would make a fancy grilled cheese kind of scenario,” chef-owner Dave Beran said during a recent call.
The sandwich made its way onto the Pasjoli lunch menu and was offered as a limited takeaway item, but it disappeared along with lunch service at the restaurant. When our restaurant critic, Bill Addison, tried Kim’s sandwich back in 2020, he wrote, “I went feral on this thing.”
Kim now runs a gourmet edibles company, but Beran recently brought back a version of the sandwich for the restaurant’s new bar menu.
He starts by cutting the top and bottom off of a baguette, then slicing it through the middle. He adds a heap of shredded Gruyère cheese to a nonstick pan. Once it’s melted and bubbly, he places the baguette slices onto the cheese, letting the two fuse together.
After the bread cools, he spreads a thick Mornay sauce onto the crispy cheese and adds a mound of jammy onions. They’re the same onions he features in the restaurant’s signature caramelized onion tart, cooked low and slow for six hours and finished with Madeira and sherry. He layers on slices of Bayonne ham, which taste like a combination of prosciutto and country ham, and closes the sandwich with another piece of baguette crusted with the melted Gruyère.
To finish the sandwich, he adds butter, shallot, garlic and thyme to a pan. Then he adds the sandwich to the pan, engulfing the entire thing in butter, basting it like a piece of Wagyu.
“We basically cook the sandwich like it’s a piece of meat,” Beran said. “It’s a pretty awesome sandwich.”
The croque Matthieu is only available on the bar menu, served until 7 p.m.