Workday lunch.  Sandwiches and salads.  Ho-hum, right?

For our friends near Farragut Square, there’s a new option that’s likely to make you rethink that assessment.  And for everyone else…they’re Metro accessible!

Welcome BONMi, a quick-service shop offering up sandwiches, salads, and summer rolls with flavors inspired by those of traditional Vietnamese banh mi.  A trip to Vietnam convinced Lynne Jacoby and her partners that the satisfying street food could be the next big thing, and then they took it one step further.  They kept the flavors the same but upgraded their offerings to incorporate modern prep techniques and presentations to appeal to health-conscious diners.

We had a chance to take a look around BONMi late last week as they were putting the finishing touches on the interior, and then we were back there at lunchtime today to taste one of the first sandwiches to come off their cafeteria-style prep line.  What we saw (and tasted) has us hungry for more.  And if it does the same to you, we’ve got TEN FREE LUNCHES to give away to Capital Spice readers.

Join us after the jump a look at the interior and the food as well as details on how you can win one of the ten free lunches.

Arguably the greatest thing to come out of Vietnam’s French colonial period, banh mi are traditionally filled with meat products and topped with pickled veggies, cucumber, and cilantro.  The bread, made with rice flour, has a pillowy crumb and a cracklingly crisp crust.  Hot peppers and homemade mayonnaise balance each other out to create a flavor that is at once sweet, sour and spicy.  A well-made banh mi is more than just a sandwich, it’s a handheld meal.

At BONMi, they’ve got their own take on the traditional sandwich that stays true to the signature tastes while updating the technique.  Fillings are prepared sous-vide, the better to concentrate the flavors while minimizing the need for additional fat and calories from oil or butter.  Options include three kinds of chicken, pork meatballs and garlic black pepper pork, beef brisket, chile garlic tofu and butternut squash.

In the pork meatball sandwich we tasted, the results were meatballs that were juicy and tender with the fragrance and flavor of five-spice.  The toppings are similarly attentive to the classics – pickled veggies are sweet-sour, not briny, and the chili-lime mayo offers a subtle heat.

BONMi’s efforts to incorporate traditional elements extends all the way out from the fillings to the bread.  They have worked with local favorite Lyon Bakery to develop a proprietary baguette that blends traditional rice flour with white flour for a texture that is lighter than most.  It’s not a perfect representation of the traditional banh mi delivery system, but it works well.

If you’re looking for something lighter (or if you’ve already had their sandwiches a few times this week), you can try any of their sandwiches on a lettuce wrap instead of on a baguette.  You can also try one of two salad options topped with either BONMi chicken, chile garlic tofu or butternut squash.  Want something to whet your appetite?  Try a summer roll stuffed with rice noodles, carrots, cucumber, cilantro and either butternut squash or chicken.  And for dessert, try one of their BONMi bars, a chewy fruit-paste dessert available in flavors like pumpkin five-spice, cranberry sunflower, chocolate coconut and blueberry lemon.

Prices are highly competitive, with sandwiches running between $6 and $7.50 and salads starting at $6.50.  Beverages include housemade Vietnamese iced coffee ($2.50), lemonade and iced tea ($2 each).  And what you see is what you get – the prices listed on the menu boards are inclusive of tax, making for nice round numbers that won’t leave you with a handful of change.

BONMi has been developed with an eye toward expansion.  Sandwiches and salads are made to order, while summer rolls, BONMi bars and beverages are prepped and ready for the taking.  Even the sous-vide cooking method serves to make this a more adaptable concept – waterbath cooking eliminates the need for costly and complicated ventilation systems, allowing BONMi to open in much smaller footprints than their fast-casual competition.  But they’re not just about making a buck at BONMi.  They’ve partnered with Hands on the World Global, committing to donate 20% of the sale of every bottle of water to the organization’s mission to combat world poverty and improve access to clean water.

To build buzz, BONMi is relying on good, old-fashioned word of mouth…and freebies.  They’re giving away 2500 coupons good for one free sandwich or salad to potential customers in their neighborhood.  And, as part of that giveaway, they’ve given us ten coupons to give away here at Capital Spice.  If you’d like to try BONMi out for yourself, take a look at their menu and comment here with which item you’d most like to try.  We’ll announce ten lucky winners on Friday and send out coupons via email.  Winners can then print out their coupons and bring them to BONMi for redemption between now and February 15th, 2012.

Good luck, and BON appetite!

900 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC
BONMi on Urbanspoon