The sudden, heartbreaking closure and unexpected resurrection of irreplaceable Cuban sandwich spot Paseo should go down in the annals of Seattle lore. We will long herald the story of restaurant investor Ryan Santwire, who bought the Paseo name and the Fremont space, but not the recipes, then hired back most of the original staff, put them in a commercial kitchen, and recreated the entire Paseo menu from memory.
But could the magic truly be recreated? Or would it fall into a sort of sandwich uncanny valley, where all the requisite parts are present, yet somehow so entirely different... so wrong.
For three years I lived and worked across the street from the Fremont location. I ate at Paseo at least once a week, my palate tuned like a watch to the textures, the contrasting flavors. The Seattle Times reported that the restaurant reopened January 8, and two days later the line outside was typical for a Saturday. All the smells were right. The menu looked the same. The staff was friendly, happy to be alive again. The weird red plates beneath the sandwiches were unchanged.
I ordered my two favorites, the Caribbean roast and the Havana seared scallops, and found a corner to conduct my objective and immensely important test.
For me, the Paseo sandwich can be broken down into its four most crucial components: the bread, the spread, the onions, and the marinade. The Giuseppe roll from Macrina Bakery was just as I remember. Every bite was accompanied by a satisfying crunch. The warm, fluffy interior soaked up the combined essence of the sandwich's contents, so that my last corner bits were like their own separate meal.
As for the spread, generous heaps of garlic mayonnaise smothered both sandwiches. The seared scallops were particularly pornographic, dripping all over the place as I futilely attempted to contain the situation. The onions, the most visually recognizable ingredient in the Paseo sandwich, were still thick-cut and caramelized, adding that extra crunch and a subtle sweetness. Same as it ever was.
The marinade is perhaps the most crucial and secretive ingredient. This is where my red flags shot up. The pork shoulder was tender and savory. But pinching those leftover scraps and eating them alone, it just lacked a certain oomph: that surprising tanginess of indeterminate origin that elevated the sandwich into mythological status. This new pork was just, well, good.
Maybe it was my imagination. Had I not known of the new ownership, would I have noticed anything at all? It seems, at least from my highly unofficial early visit, that Santwire and the Paseo team have done an amazing job returning our lost love so quickly, and without the source material. If they only got it 99 percent right, it's still much better than most.