It’s no surprise that most of us seek out cool dishes in the hottest part of the summer — which often arrives at the end of August — because who wants to eat a steaming bowl of ramen or thick greasy burger when it’s 100°F? These dishes don’t have to be bland, either, so one can excite the taste buds while also chilling the mouth and digestive system. Here are ten dishes I’ve stumbled on lately that made me feel like I was a polar bear sitting on an ice floe.
Eggplant salad at Steam
Steam is a brand new Chinese restaurant in Greenwich Village that nominally focuses on dishes from Shanghai, with a few other regions thrown in for good measure. Dumplings and other steamed dishes are an important component, though the cold buffet dishes are also prominent. One of the most satisfying is an eggplant salad ($7.50). Served cold, it consists of matchsticks of the purple vegetable log-piled and then drizzled with a sweet dark sauce, with a salty cilantro-scallion relish on top. It is utterly refreshing on a hot day.
Gazpacho at Mercado Little Spain
Late summer is the perfect time to thrill to gazpacho — the tomatoes are at their ripest, the red-wine vinegar tingles on the tongue, and the soup slides coolingly down your throat, perhaps alternating with bites of bread or a crisp salad. The soup is all over Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards, in the Spanish Diner (where it’s $12), and at the tapas bars and snack counters, including variations in pleasing hues, sometimes served as it has been historically — in a glass.
Sesame Noodles at Hwa Yuan
Sesame noodles are one of the summer’s most cooling treats, wheat noodles cooked al dente then sluiced with a sauce that combines sesame paste and peanut butter, and sprinkled with scallions. It’s a Chinese-American dish supposedly invented by Shorty Tang. Why not experience it for $12 at the restaurant started by his descendants, Hwa Yuan?
Mezze Filistini at Al Badawi
Palestinian and Yemeni spot Al Badawi has one of Brooklyn’s most notable platters of vegetable-based dips and salads ($27) in mezze filistini, with a selection that includes richly flavored baba ghanoush, hummus laked with olive oil and chickpeas, tabbouleh, red-pepper muhammara, and the thickened yogurt called labneh.
Steak tartare at T. Brasserie
What could be colder on the tongue than lean, freshly ground steak? Or more of a contrast to the hot heaviness of a hamburger? At newcomer T. Brasserie in Tin Building at the Seaport, steak tartare ($22) is a puck-shaped mass topped with a quail egg yolk — providing enhanced lubrication — and microgreens, which add a mild crunch. Don’t fail to mix them in!
Boiled chicken in chile sauce at So Do Fun
Just because a dish is served cold doesn’t mean is can’t be spicy as hell — and that’s the case with this Sichuan chicken salad ($9.95) at So Do Fun, a restaurant serving Sichuan food from a Cantonese perspective. Get a bowl of white rice to go along with it, and you’ll have a full meal. Underneath the tasty, sesame-dotted poultry lurks plenty of chile oil and chile paste in an incendiary quantity.
Bibim mak kook soo at Han Bat
Koreatown old-timer Han Bat offers a series of cold noodle dishes perfect for summer dining, especially so when eaten outside in the dining shed. For bibim mak kook soo ($13.95), buckwheat noodles are bathed with strips of beef and shredded vegetables in a vinegar-laced gochujang — the perfect combo of sour, sweet, spicy, and cold.
Watermelon salad at Antique Bar & Bakery
The popularization and wide distribution of seedless watermelon was a necessary precondition of today’s ubiquitous watermelon salad, served chilled and adding sour and salty notes to summer’s favorite fruit. At Antique Bar & Bakery in Hoboken, this colorful watermelon salad ($10) also includes briny cubes of feta cheese, yellow heirloom tomatoes, and purple onions, making for the tastiest and most refreshing salad imaginable.
Cold udon at Omen Azen
A Japanese restaurant is a good place to look for a satisfying bowl of cold noodles — in fact, many ramen parlors offer seasonal cold ramen ($24). But in an entirely different vein is the mix-it-yourself cold udon at Soho-veteran townhouse, Omen Azen. The homemade noodles are served separately with an opaque sesame-dashi broth on the side, along with all sorts of delightful add-ins.
Heirloom tomato salad at Corner Bar
There’s no better time of the year than late August and early September to enjoy sweet and wildly colorful heirloom tomatoes, in eye-socking shades of yellow, red, purple, orange, and green. At Corner Bar, a new tavern on the Lower East Side, the freshest specimens are provided, along with tangy goat cheese in clumps on top, basil for punch, and, perhaps best of all, pine nuts that have been toasted for a mellow crunch ($22).