At some point during our relentless New Orleans summers, even people disinclined to eat cold dishes open to the idea. Chilled dishes grow in their appealing the longer hot weather lingers. Here’s a list of the dozen best such summertime delicacies. We are fortunate in having many locally-grown foods that lend themselves to this sort of thing. Among them, crabmeat is king, followed closely by big shrimp.
Certain cold dishes have come to be such widespread classics that I have left them out of the consideration. Most of these have their own lists. Not included here are:
Sushi and sashimi
That leaves a top dozen chilled dishes that are not only delicious but offbeat. That’s enough to keep your interest for the remaining–what is it, eight more months?–of summer.
1. Pelican Club. French Quarter: 615 Bienville. 504-523-1504. In the warm months, the seafood martini is a must to begin any meal at the PC. Lobster, crabmeat, and shrimp come together on top of chilled, lumpy mashed potatoes (you may not even notice that’s what it is), covered with a great ravigote sauce.
2. La Petite Grocery. Uptown: 4238 Magazine. 504-891-3377. Steak tartare has almost disappeared from restaurants nationwide. Reason: fear of raw beef, which is what this is. The best was on Arnaud’s lunch menu before the storm, but that meal is extinct. However, the tartare at La Petite Grocery is fully satisfying, and something I start with at least every other meal there.
3. Clancy’s. Uptown: 6100 Annunciation St. 504-895-111. Crabmeat Louis is not really a New Orleans dish–the most convincing story is that it originated in San Francisco a century ago. But it sure seems local, showing off our jumbo lump crabmeat nicely. It’s a light salad, fleshed out not only with the crabmeat but deviled egg quarters and a sauce made of mostly of mayonnaise, with chili sauce, horseradish, and green onions. Perfect in summer, as either an appetizer or an entree.
4. Bistro Daisy. Uptown: 5831 Magazine. 504-899-6987. The idea of pairing beets with crabmeat seems crazy–the red beet juice gets all over the white lumps. But the flavors are really perfect together. The idea first appeared at the extinct Peristyle, where Chef Tony Schulte worked before he moved to La Petit Grocery, then to his own Bistro Daisy. The chilled crabmeat ‘n’ beets remains a fixture on his menu there, as offbeat and fascinating as ever.
5. Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154. The spicy seafood Caprese combines the standard tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (which makes it Caprese) with nice-looking local crabmeat, shrimp and crawfish. The sauce is a very light white remoulade. It’s made as an appetizer, but it’s almost big enough for an entree. Chef Duke’s antipasto assortment would also make this list.
6. Mariza. Bywater: 2900 Chartres St. 504-598-5700. Quite a few restaurants make their own cured, smoked charcuterie and salumi. It’s very hip to do so, and most of those who make the commitment do it well. . But at this moment the most impressive, exacting such board is covered with the works of Ian Schnoebelen, who with his partner Laurie Casebonne owns Mariza. The version that includes cheeses, olives and condiments is particularly a pleasure.
7. Galatoire’s. French Quarter: 209 Bourbon. 504-525-2021. “The Galatoire Goute” is three favorite cold appetizers on one plate. Here are a) jumbo lump crabmeat maison (a dish other restaurants call crabmeat ravigote), in a light mayonnaise with mustard, capers, and lemon; 2) shrimp remoulade, tangy, spicy, and made with Louisiana shrimp of unimpeachable merit, boiled and peeled on site; and iii) crawfish with a mustardy variation of the sauce on the crabmeat. Shrimp pinch-hits when crawfish are out of season. This makes a great lunch for one, or an appetizer for the table with cocktails.
8. Hoa Hong 9 (Nine Roses). Gretna: 1100 Stephens. 504-366-7665. Vietnamese spring rolls are the ones made with big shrimp and cold rice noodles, wrapped in the stretchy spring roll skins, and served with a spicy carrot sauce or peanut sauce. Haven’t had better than here.
9. Cafe Granada. Carrollton: 1506 S Carrollton Ave. 504-865-1612. An assortment of cold tapas supplies everything you need for a meal: ham, salami, manchego cheese, olives, smoked salmon, grilled chilled asparagus, carpaccio of filet mignon, and ceviche of the day. Quite a variety.
10. Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422. Antoine’s makes the richest and best vichyssoise in town. The potato-and-leek soup with more than a little heavy cream. They recently brought it back from limbo, and I hope it stays.
11. Lola’s. Esplanade Ridge: 3312 Esplanade. 504-488-6946. No restaurant in New Orleans has made gazpacho longer than Lola’s has. The late founder Angel Miranda premiered his gazpacho at his Altamira restaurant at the 1984 World’s Fair. When he opened Lola’s a few years later, he continued to make the cold vegetable soup in the style of his native Andalucia. All the vegetables are pureed, and the soup is thickened invisibly by the addition of bread. Terrific.
12. Kim Son. Gretna: 349 Whitney Ave. 504-366-2489. Vietnamese restaurants have a wide assortment of “bun” dishes–roasted meats atop cool noodles, perhaps outright cold. Kim Son has the definitive local version of that, made with beef or pork.