BAGUETTE BOX: Crusty drippy goodness in a bun. Lance Hammond
Baguette Box
1203 Pine St, 332-0220
Sun-Thurs 11 am-9 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-3 am.

I have long wanted to open a restaurant called, by day, "Hungry," with a neon sign that would click on after 11:00 p.m. and add, "Drunk &." But Seattle's draconian liquor laws forbid any reference to intoxication in the name of a restaurant, which is why it's the Stumbling--not Drunken--Goat on Phinney Ridge, and which means that, sadly, I cannot live out this dream.

But I was pleased to hear that Eric Banh, the co-owner of Monsoon, was opening a Capitol Hill sandwich shop, right next to the Baltic Room, that would be open until 3:00 a.m. on weekends, catering to the same overlubricated and underfed early-morning crowd. (A disclaimer: I'm friends with Eric, and he has given me food at both places, but Baguette Box would be well worth writing about, if only for offering a break from the tyranny of the late-night hot dog.) Those expecting fancified banh mi sandwiches will be surprised; Banh is using the new shop to break away from Vietnamese traditions and to play with the international language of big, baguette-y deli sandwiches.

In order to cushion myself against partiality, and to see the restaurant at the hour that most intrigues me, I arranged to meet a posse of friends at the Baguette Box at 2:00 a.m. last Saturday. Because I am five months pregnant and rather boring these days, I took a disco nap until the appointed hour. My valiant husband, on the other hand, orchestrated a Capitol Hill pub crawl for eight or so people. When I arrived, some were crashed out on the Box's too-few chairs, some wavering just a bit at the standup bar.

By far the most popular choice among drunken humans is the Drunken Chicken sandwich ($6.50), a perfectly ridiculous sandwich based on Monsoon's very popular deep-fried and glazed chicken (think General Tsao, but better). There is no reason such sticky, tasty food needs to be wedged into a bun, and it is nearly impossible to eat with any grace, but somehow it makes sense at two in the morning.

"They should have warned me about the egg salad stuff," said Steve, looking at the yellowed baguette end left over (he'd polished off the rest) from his salmon gravlax sandwich ($7.50). I'd had the sandwich on an earlier visit, and had grooved on its tea-sandwich-on-steroids aesthetic. It is indeed dressed with an egg salad-y sauce gribiche, an old-fashioned French concoction, and since I like egg salad, I thought it went nicely with ruffles of cold salmon and sliced radish. But perhaps it's true that Steve deserved a warning.

The Box offers equal opportunity for all kinds of drunks. My vegan friend Justin opted out of the pork tongue special and sat happily snacking on some oil-slicked (and kind of underseasoned) roasted asparagus ($3.50)--a sort of French fry stand-in being enjoyed at all the tables. He gave me a bite of his sloppy, satisfying grilled eggplant and zucchini sandwich ($5.90) and said, "Pretty fucking good at three sheets to the wind." I'd agree, but I found my own bliss in a sandwich of giant meatballs ($6.90) that dripped marinara down my arm.

There was a little frank discussion about whether the sandwiches were too high-minded for late-night dining. "The Midwest girl in me just wants some bologna and two slices of Wonder Bread," said the other Sarah. It's true that the Box is shy on traditional drunk-pleasing foods like eggs, cheese, and French fries, but after the long wait for the last of the sandwiches to emerge, our little crowd seemed satisfied, and greasy-fingered enough.

For those of you who don't barhop enough (or nap enough), the Box is open during waking hours too. You just might have more trouble with the bread then. During the day, it seems, the bread of choice can be a mouthful. "Is it me or is the bread too hard?" Andrew asked on an earlier, more reasonable dinner-hour visit, when he tried the otherwise delicious salami sandwich ($6.90). The best choices are the saucier sandwiches--the meatballs, the veggies, the lamb with spicy sauce ($7.90)--that soften up the substantial baguettes. But after midnight, the bread no longer seems as much of an issue. Even Andrew finished his sandwich, right down to its crusty point.