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17: Pan Bagnat at Meritage

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The pan bagnat is the stuff of picnic legend in France, a delight that, according to a New York Times recipe involves sitting on the tin foil-protected sandwich en route to your picnic destination. But don't worry if you don't have time to make a sandwich using your sit bones; at Meritage, a diner can take a seat at the bar and enjoy a pan bagnat so good that we'd sing the Marseillaise if our mouths weren't full of tuna.

See also: 18: Blackened Salmon Toro at Shag

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Many will walk into a classy joint like Meritage and look right past the $13 sandwiches and head for the a la carte seafood and high-price entrees. But the pan bagnat is one of the best things we've tried on the menu. Meritage lifts this French picnic food into a fine-dining experience by taking great care with the quality and portion size of each ingredient.

The bread in the pan bagnat is served slightly warm, with the unmistakable crusty, crispy perfection of well prepared baguette. Even if the bread were old copies of the New York Times, we'd dig in to get to taste of the finest seared tuna in the Twin Cities. It peeks out from most corners of the sandwich, a deep fleshy pink with slightly grilled edges.

The supplementary ingredients in the pan bagnat stay out of the way of the protein, only adding tart notes to accentuate the rich tuna taste. The hard-cooked eggs are a creamy border between the subtler ingredients and the herby olive tapenade spread on one side of the bread. The secret weapon of the sandwich is the fresh green beans. The crisp bite of the green beans coupled with the smooth, buttery tuna will you leave you counting to 10 between bites to make sure you savor the sandwich.

There's surely a time to focus on oysters and the best Sazerac in town at Meritage, but for us it's probably after our 10th pan bagnat and glass of champagne.

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