It has happened again only this year it happened much earlier and with greater ferocity than ever before: The weather went from months of unrelenting big-dog-breathing-on-you- heat to a few blissful days of brilliant skies, cool breezes and low humidity straight on into tarp-the-plants-and-drain-the-pipes it’s, literally, freezing outside.
Though as of this writing the forecasts are still all over the place but right now it looks as though we will not break 60 degrees this weekend and every night will bring temperatures in the low to mid 40s.
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 show up ready to make fun of us for our inability to tolerate “mild” winter weather then they devolve, shocked by the way the humidity has the power to transform the cold air they are accustomed to into a deep bone chilling assault that is hard to shake off even when temperatures are in the 40s. 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 are fortunate to have a great many places where we can enjoy distinctive heart-warming soups – the last thing anyone wanted even just last week but are now top of mind – that are best enjoyed on frigid days. Here are a few of my favorites for shaking the cold.
I am fortunate to live right around the corner from Luvi (5236 Tchoupitoulas St., 605-3340, luvirestaurant.com) 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.
Pho Tau Bay (I565 Tulane Ave., 368-9846, photaubayrestaurant.com) 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.
At kin (4600 Washington Ave., 304-8557, facebook.com/kinfordindin) the pork tonkatsu broth is the most traditional one offered with the minuscule 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.
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 (3800 Canal St., 482-9179, mandinasrestaurant.com) 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.
The oyster stew at Brigtsen’s (723 Dante St., 861-7610, brigtsens.com) 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.
Stay warm, everyone, and have a great weekend, everyone. Use it to celebrate the people and the community you love.