Smug counter help, lunching ladies who gossip about nannies, and high prices ― all of these things be damned. The bread at Bien Cuit is so good I can ignore all annoyances and ― like Frank Costanza with his “Serenity Now” mantra ― say to myself "Bread Bread Bread" over and over and everything is okay.
The first time I went I saw on display tiny pizzas called pizzette. I didn’t have one. I’d already eaten lunch and figured I’d get one next time. But when I returned, no dice. The counterperson told me they were discontinued but could return. Naturally, I became obsessed.
A few days ago I stopped in again, this time with resolve: I would order something lunchy no matter what.
I settled for the most pizza-like item they had: tartine. It's a slice of bread with stuff on top. I thought that even though it wasn't made with real pizza dough, tomato sauce, or mozzarella, it would somehow function like pizza. I waited while the counterman heated it up and I watched with compassion as another diner struggled to cut his tartine with fork and knife. I would not do that.
Interlude 1. With so many types of pizza swirling around town, purists often insist it should be Italian in flavor. I do not live with such rigid rules and anyway, those purists disagree on which details make a pizza more or less authentic. So here’s my rule: if I eat something like pizza (for instance, a middle-eastern “Pitza” with chunks of chicken, julienne peppers, and za’atar spices ― but no sauce or cheese) and it satisfies any aspect of my internal pizza cravings, then that “Pitza” counts as pizza.
Interlude 2. I’m in the process of restructuring Pizzacentric’s tag system. I view pizza not just as the specific food pizza, but also as a category that includes affordable, addictive, and heirloom non-pizza foods. I’ve introduced a tag-category called “Pizza Proxies.” (Here are past Pizzacentric stories that I have tagged as “Pizza Proxies.”)
Back to Bien Cuit and the tartine. As you can see from the above photo, this is an open-faced sandwich and it is nothing like pizza. The topping is fancy stuff: roasted parsnips and celeriac, mustard and capers, preserved lemons, sunchoke puree, and grated pecorino. (Its flavor was sweet and a little earthy. Texture-wise, it was crunchy and soft at the same time.) It was good, but next time I’ll try the croque monsier, which ― even to someone like me ― one cannot compare to pizza. Or can one?
Note: The words bien cuit translate to “well cooked.” All of BC’s breads are dark on the outside but not burnt-tasting. My two favorites are the Miche, which boasts a lighter exterior than many of the others; and the Rye & Sunflower, which offers the excellent flavor depth European rye bread.
Bien Cuit is open Monday - Wednesday and Friday - Saturday 7 am - 8 pm; Sunday 8 am - 8 pm; closed Thursday. Map Bien Cuit.