Petaluma, California, December 8, 2011—WE ALL HAVE GUILTY pleasures. Among mine: the Croque-monsieur, which I would nominate to the Hundred Plates except that among the many variations there are too many that seem to me not to measure up. Besides, I think I've already promoted the (generic) Grilled Ham and Cheese. (One of these days I'll have to bring some order to these matters.)
The best one I've ever eaten, I think, was served to me in the bar down at the Square St. Médard in Paris, where Les Caves de Bourgogne is now. Thirty years ago this was a rougher area; the bar was more ordinary. Still, the sandwich was on good bread, Poilâne in fact.
A true croque-monsieur requires really good bread. Also four other things: decent boiled ham; decent Gruyère cheese; Béchamel sauce; and that hyphen in its name. Don't ask how it got its name; no one seems to know. The earliest mention in the literature seems to be Proust, according to the French-language Wikipedia; but in this Internet epoch all such research seems circular at best, unverifiable in general.
Now today's question is, what the hell is a "croque baton"? I'd never seen the term before today, when it showed up (as seen here, no circumflex on "bâton") on the lunch menu at this bakery we like in Petaluma. Googling suggests it's a yuppieish word referring to a pressed grilled sandwich. The Dutch make pressed grilled ham-and-cheese, and call them Tosti's (Dutch nouns ending in vowels adding the apostrophe "s" to denote plural); the Italians of course call them panini.
But baton? Why "baton"? No idea. In any case, it tasted good. It was made with chopped ham and Gruyère — the cheese had been diced, I'm pretty sure — combined with a Mornay-type sauce, put between slices of bread, buttered, and grilled. The green salad with it was clean and flavorful and nicely dressed with good olive oil and salt. No complaints.
wine• Della Fattoria, 141 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma; (707) 763-0161