While the city’s banh mi fever may be breaking, Angelo Sosa is betting that Asian sandwiches still have traction on our palates and in our stomachs, particularly if pork buns are involved. Yesterday, Sosa — who was the executive sous chef at Jean-Georges and became synonymous with contemporary Chinese cuisine at Yumcha — opened Xie Xie [645 Ninth Avenue, 212-265-2975], the first of his planned chain of fast-casual “Asian-inspired” sandwich restaurants. He shared a few opening-day thoughts with Fork in the Road.
So how long has this been in the works?
The idea was conceived last August. We were going to launch on St. Marks, but there were some minor issues with the space. So we decided to move to Ninth Avenue.
Midtown is so apropos for what we’re doing: We can capitalize on all of the businesses, the corporations and hedge funds here.
When you got the idea for a sandwich shop, did you anticipate the Asian sandwich craze?
No. I was going to open a high-end restaurant. And then the market crashed and my investors pulled out. And then one day I made this sandwich, and was so inspired that I thought, “Wow, I’m going to open a sandwich shop.” We’re not num pang or banh mi. I think those concepts are smokescreens, more trendy. I don’t consider [Xie Xie] a trend; I’d like to consider it as a solid concept.
So how do your sandwiches differ?
What I want to do is focus more on mainstream sandwiches with very subtle flairs of Asian ingredients, like Japanese mayonnaise. Each one of the sandwiches is inspired by some impression or experience I had during my travels through Asia; they’re like taking a journey through Asia, but with a Western palate.
Give us an example.
The Fish Cha Ca La Vong is named after a restaurant in Hanoi. The fish there is marinated in turmeric and brought out on hot charcoal on a mound of dill and cilantro. That left an impression on me; I thought it would be good as a sandwich. [At Xie Xie, it’s tilapia with onion jam, sriracha mayonnaise, and fresh dill].
What’s the bread like?
It’s artisanally made by a baker in New Jersey who custom-makes it for us. We’ve got mini baguettes, amazing brioche, hot dog buns, Kaiser roles.
When will the second store on St. Marks open?
That depends on the success we have here. But it’s scheduled for fall.
What’s the most played-out sandwich condiment?
That’s a difficult question. I wanted to say sriracha, but I’d be lying if I told you that.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 24, 2009