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Summer wrap-up

There’s still enough of the warm-weather season left to refresh your menu with Asian-inspired salad rolls.

The Vietnamese have a long tradition of eating packets of food enclosed in translucent rice flour wrappers or crisp lettuce leaves. Alternately called summer rolls, rice paper rolls, or salad rolls, they typically include savory mixtures of vegetables, cellophane noodles, fresh herbs, and/or meat or seafood rolled up in the covering of choice, then dipped into a tangy sauce. Compared to the heavier, deep-fried spring roll with its wheat-flour-based skin, the summer roll is like a gossamer wrap thrown over bare shoulders to counteract the chill of an air-conditioned room—the perfect starter for a hot-weather meal.

With Southeast Asian accents continuing to infiltrate American menus, summer rolls are showing up on many appetizer lists—often interpreted with a chef’s personal touch. Patricia Yeo, chef-owner of the 160-seat Sapa in New York City, features them in several guises on her Asian-influenced contemporary American menu. Her Viet­namese Summer Roll ($7) is available year-round, with the filling varying with the season. Her riff on the lobster roll uses delicate rice paper—made with rice flour and dehydrated tapioca—wrapped around a “salad” of poached lobster, lemony mayonnaise, and fresh mint; it sells for $11.

On Sapa’s menu, the term “rice paper roll” is used interchangeably with summer roll, and under that heading, Yeo offers what she calls “updated versions of sushi”($9). Two examples are Spicy Tuna flavored with house- made sambal, then rolled up with jicama and fresh Thai basil, and Lemongrass Cured Salmon and Avocado, house-cured with lemongrass, coriander, sugar, and salt and partnered with sugar snaps, avocado, and green tobiko caviar. Guests can also order a sampler of three different rolls for $14. All are accompanied by a choice of dipping sauces: fish sauce blended with lime juice, wasabi and soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise, and sweet chili sauce.

While Sapa’s rolls use the freshest ingredients, Yeo also sees them as vehicles for cross-utilization. “I save the trimmings left over from squaring off fish for an entrée, processing them into a fish-mousse filling for my rolls,” she explains.

The 150-seat Le Colonial in Chicago (avg. check, $35), describes itself as “Viet­namese-inspired with French presentation,” so the summer rolls tend to be more authentic in style. Two varieties are made daily from scratch by a Vietnamese woman hired solely for that task.

The Goi Cuon are listed on the menu as “soft salad rolls with shrimp, lettuce, bean sprouts, rice vermicelli, and aromatic herbs in rice paper.” They are accompanied by a peanut dipping sauce. Bo Bia are vegetarian rolls; they’re filled with julienne vegetables and herbs, and come with a sweet dipping sauce. Both are menued six to an order for $6.75.

“The salad rolls make a light and refreshing choice during the hotter weather,” says Pat Gilroy, Le Colonial’s assistant operations manager. He adds that orders go way up in the summer, especially for take-out.

At the hip Loft 11 in San Francisco,  the summer rolls have a Pacific fusion beat. The menu is composed of small plates to share, each with a price tag of $9. Fresh Summer Prawn Rolls with Peanut Sauce feature shrimp and pork slices wrapped in lettuce leaves with sprouts and mint sprigs, while Vegetarian Rice-Paper Rolls combine fresh vermicelli noodles with wok-fried cabbage, carrots, celery, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms.

But Loft 11 also does rolls that take a detour from tradition. Charbroiled Beef Rolls Wrapped in Asian Wild Pepper Leaves adhere to the “wrap and roll” theme but use ingredients not usually associated with summer rolls. And Tender Beef Slices Wrapped Over Sweet Scallions served with vermicelli noodles and crushed roasted peanuts deconstructs the roll—sans the rice paper. When innovative chefs roll their own, their imaginations take the lead.          


Kid-Friendly Menus

Long a favorite of Greek, Italian, and Caribbean peasant cuisine, goat is now making its way into upscale restaurants. Chef Scott Conant of L’impero in New York City features roasted Capretto with artichoke, speck, and potato groestle ($29). The goat is sourced from a small Vermont cooperative. “Conant chose to integrate goat into the menu because it’s part of the cucino rustico of Italy, and he wanted to take that notion and refine it,” says Chef de Cuisine Craig Wallen.

Restaurant 5 Ninth in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District features braised and roasted kid goat with wild arugula, grilled spring garlic, and meyer lemon, and at Restaurant August in New Orleans, there’s a goat special, Cabritos, paired with artichoke barigoule. Chef de Cuisine Lee Richardson spoke highly of goat’s “mild, tender characteristics.” 

Chef Michael Psilakis of New York’s Onera says that goat has “less of a gamey flavor than lamb, and is more acceptable by the American palate,” once diners taste it, that is. He uses it in a “reinvented” Moussaka ($16), a traditional Greek dish often made with beef or lamb.   


Saving In Seattle

Almost every city has its restaurant week, with high-end eateries offering special deals. But Seattle, WA, is giving bargain-hunting diners an extra three weeks to live large at discount prices.

For the second year, the Seattle Restaurant Consortium (SRC) is offering a month-long “Dinner at 8” promotion, covering over 20 area restaurants. Supported by MasterCard, the promotion kicks off September 1, and features prix-fixe three-course menus including appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

Larry Kurofsky of Purple Café and Winebar, one of the participating restaurants, says that “Dinner at 8 provides an opportunity to sample unique foods in a new format, not often prepared in the Café.” He adds that September is the perfect time for the promotion, as there tends to be a decline in business after the busy summer months.


Deck of Cods

The traditional brandade, a whipped puree of dried salt cod, mashed potatoes, and olive oil, originated in Nimes, France, and  eventually made its way to French restaurant menus on this side of the Atlantic. When Hubert Keller opened an outpost of his famous San Francisco restaurant, Fleur de Lys, in Las Vegas, he “wanted to do something that uniquely reflected the town. When people come here, they want to have fun,” he says. So Keller created a “Black Jack” of Cod Brandade ($18), forming the puree into two playing cards arranged on cucumber gelee. Osetra caviar and tomato cut-outs are used to mark the suits. To complete the gambling theme, the signature appetizer is served with potato rounds that resemble poker chips.


Tuna Summer Rolls

1 cup sushi rice, cooked
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp. mirin
2 tsp. minced jalapeño peppers
2 tsp. minced shallots
2 tsp. sugar, divided
1 tsp. fish sauce
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. soy sauce
7.1 oz. can tuna, drained, flaked
8 (8-in.) rice paper wrappers
3⁄4 cup shredded green cabbage
1⁄4 cup shredded red cabbage
1⁄4 cup chopped scallions
1⁄2 cup slivered carrots
Vinegar-soy dipping sauce

  1. Combine rice, ginger, mirin, jalapeños, shallots, 1 tsp. sugar, fish sauce, and salt in bowl.
  2. Combine soy sauce and 1 tsp. sugar; toss with tuna.
  3. Soften rice paper, one sheet at a time, by submerging in hot water for 30 sec.
  4. Mix cabbages; place 2 tbsp. over half the rice paper, leaving border. Spread on 1⁄3 cup rice mixture; top with 1 oz. tuna, carrots, and scallions.
  5. Roll up to enclose filling. Repeat with remaining Ingredients. Cut in half.

Yield: 8 servings. 

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