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 V.23 No.30 | July 24 - 30, 2014 

Summer Dining

Some Like it Cold

Our summer soup spectacular

Roasted carrot and ginger with chive from Vinaigrette
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Roasted carrot and ginger with chive from Vinaigrette

Look, we have a situation here. The same situation we have every summer—the city is baking, the sun spitting fire, and our swamp coolers keep pooping out. It's summer in the desert, and we love-slash-hate it.

Vinaigrette’s chilled beet with chive cream
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Vinaigrette’s chilled beet with chive cream

What we mostly love is finding sweet, fleeting relief from the summer blaze by stepping into artificially cold climes, diving into coolish public pools or ingesting icy things. Yes, this is one of the best fixes—delicious frigidity cascading down our throats and into our 98.6 degree stomachs.

But ice cream is too sweet, and sweet drinks unquenching. Chewing only generates more heat.

You know what we need? (Don't say cold water because I can't write an article about drinking water for the summer dining issue.) What we need is ... a fresh bowl of chilled soup!

Yes, cold soup. It's not just for the destitute. Cold soups are one of my favorite things about summer, containing the freshness of the garden and the ripeness of the sun, but chilled to a relieving stasis. It's summer on the rocks, no mastication required.

I understand that not everyone "gets" cold soups. I understand that the thought of cold soups sends some sensitive eaters into a simmering rage. Like my friend Bryce, who exclaimed, and I quote, "Cold soups? Fuck 'em."

As is usually the case, such a disproportionately passionate response to a trifling thing harkens back to past trauma: junior high when he was offered a "cherry soup" with a white cream he enthusiastically assumed to be Cool Whip. But it was sour cream, and as soon as it sourly hit his tongue, he felt duped, robbed, screwed over.

Yes, cold soup. It's not just for the destitute. Cold soups are one of my favorite things about summer, containing the freshness of the garden and the ripeness of the sun, but chilled to a relieving stasis. It's summer on the rocks, no mastication required.

He has hated cold soup ever since.

It's too bad because our town is awash in the most tasty, refreshing, tongue-elating chilled soups this summer. The fact that most places offer soup du jour just makes the quest more gratifyingly unpredictable.

An exception to the du jour thing is Hartford Square (300 Broadway NE), where owner Sarah Hartford plies a new chilled soup every week all summer long. She’s done seafood gazpacho, green gazpacho, potato and leek with sorrel, classic tomato, cucumber mint, asparagus and cucumber, avocado and cucumber, and chilled beet and raspberry. Hartford’s favorite (and an avowed crowd-pleaser) is the cold plum soup squeezed from plums, red wine, grape juice, lemon juice and crème fraîche. Check Hartford Square’s website (hartfordsq.com) to see what’s being dished out each week.

Most everyone is familiar with gazpacho, that cold Spanish soup which we usually envision as tomato-based (the term is really much more encompassing in Spain). Piattini (1403 Girard NE) does a bright, velvety tomato-red pepper gazpacho drizzled with sherry vinegar that is an absolute freakin’ splendor. Hartford Square's version is pulpy, uber-fresh and fantastically flavorful.

These soups can be elusive though. If you want a surefire bet that gazpacho will be on the menu, go to MÁS Tapas y Vino (125 Second Street NW) at Hotel Andaluz, where it’s a permanent summer fixture. Traditional Spanish gazpacho (a dish so old it’s mentioned in Don Quixote) includes leftover bread, and MÁS honors that classic recipe by tossing in the unused bread from the night before. It’s still a very light soup, tomato-based and pureéd till smooth and of a light-peach hue. A garnish of strawberries and basil adds a little more sweet acidity to a dish that’s already nicely acidic.

But guys, seriously, gazpacho’s kind of a no-brainer. Let’s peep deeper into the garden and try the Grove Café & Market (600 Central SE), where summer soup specials have included chilled asparagus with lemon and parmesan, and chilled zucchini coconut. Grove chef Jason Greene emphasizes the importance of using “local veggies at their peak” and not being stingy on the seasoning: “Cold soups must be seasoned well, or they can fall flat on flavor.”

Vinaigrette (1828 Central SW), that palace of summer whose entire menu revolves around greens and vegetables, almost always has an exciting, flavorful cold soup on hand. Their wantonly delicious carrot ginger soup, perfectly nippy but laced with warming ginger, mirrors that same tingly, refreshing sensation of forming a snowball with bare hands. Other cold soup inducements at Vinaigrette have included velvet beet and watermelon gazpacho.

The cold soup spigot runs more sporadically at Slate Street Café (515 Slate NW), but you might be lucky enough to come on a day they're offering their chilled cantaloupe soup—a yogurt, herb and cantaloupe concoction that one of their staff unpretentiously described as "a thinner smoothie in a bowl."

Melon soups are on the rise, FYI. Farm & Table (8917 Fourth Street NW) does a watermelon gazpacho with serrano pepper jelly of which they are particularly proud.

So, you see, the varietals of cold soup are as wide-ranging and lavish as the varietals of produce in your garden.

I once read a passage in a women's magazine about the proper way to eat soup that said: “Move the soup spoon away from you rather than toward you.” Wrong. How’s it ever going to get to your lips that way? It’s hot out people; get that chilly soup in your mouth ASAP.

 
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