I am always amazed by the reaction of visitors from frigid climates such as Chicago to the misery of our own cold, damp winter weather. They are usually shocked by the way the humidity has the power to transform the cold air they’re accustomed to into a deep, bone chilling assault that’s hard to shake off even when temperatures are in the 40’s. On such days nothing has restorative powers that approach those to be had from a steaming bowl of soup, the ultimate comfort food when the needle drops.
In a climate most often associated with sultry weather, we’re fortunate to have a great many places where we can enjoy distinctive soups, stews and gumbos that are best enjoyed on cold days.
The oyster stew at Brigtsen’s is a silken reduction of oyster liquor flecked with ribbons of scallions and loaded with plump, briny oysters. On occasion lucky diners will find a version that mimics oysters Rockefeller with a broth kissed with a hint of Herbsaint.
Pho Tau Bay has long been one of my top destinations on a cold day. My go-to is the PTB Wonton Soup, a house specialty, from which I can pluck the dumplings of pork and shrimp from the light, tasty, flavorful, warming broth. Another favorite is Bo Kho, a Vietnamese-style spiced beef stew. Chunks of marinated beef and carrots arrive swimming in the most delicious gravy ever with the faintest hints of warm, sweet spices.
It was the late, great chef Warren LeRuth who created the perfect marriage between oysters and artichokes in an elegant soup that became an instant classic. It was widely copied then and now, but Mandina’s version stands apart. The soup is thickened with a pale roux rather than cream, allowing the brine from the oysters and the delicate herbal notes from the artichokes to shine through. The restaurant’s version of turtle soup is an excellent, as well.
I am fortunate to live right around the corner from Luvi, which enables me to regularly indulge my intense passion for the dumpling soup chef Hoa Gong learned from his mother in his native Shanghai. A thin, complex soy broth that I could consume every single day, summer included, is beautiful to behold with elegant origami-like pillows filled with pork, ginger and cabbage floating within.
At kin the pork tonkatsu broth is the most traditional one offered with the miniscule restaurant’s silken puddles of house-made ramen. Combinations offered in the rich, cloudy broth change frequently, but a recent variety combined crisped pork belly, Brussels sprouts and wilted greens topped with a marinated, soft-yolked egg. Another version combined the broth with panko-fried chicken and yuka crisps. Another broth is based on chicken stock infused with seafood tare. I recently found it paired with a roasted, spice-rubbed fillet of lemon fish.
On those frequent days when I have an envie for a meat-free dish, I go for kin’s Karl Winslow, which changes daily but always includes seasoned and browned minced tofu that mimics ground pork. The pairing of a dense umami-rich roasted mushroom broth with braised mushrooms, pickled mustard greens and slivers of radish and carrot was particularly satisfying.
Brigtsen’s, 723 Dante St., 861-7610, Brigtsens.com
kin, 4600 Washington Ave., 304-8557
Luvi, 5236 Tchoupitoulas St., 605-3340, LuviRestaurant.com
Mandina’s, 3800 Canal St., 482-9179, MandinasRestaurant.com
Pho Tau Bay, 1565 Tulane Ave., 368-9846, PhoTauBayRestaurant.com
Top Taco/Agave Week, TopTacoNola.com
New Orleans’ third annual Top Taco festival and multi-day celebration of tequila and mezcal, Agave Week, will return Sunday, March 10-Friday, March 15 with an array of festive events around town. A very limited amount of advance discounted tickets for Top Taco – Agave Week’s grand tasting on Thursday, March 14 are available. The celebration, Top Taco, happens at Woldenberg Park with chefs and bartenders from over 50 restaurants competing for the coveted awards in four categories: Top Creative Taco, Top Traditional Taco, Top Creative Tequila Cocktail and Top Traditional Margarita. A portion of proceeds will benefit Foster Nola, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children in the city’s foster care system as they transition into adulthood.