It's that time of year again: a time to kick off your shoes and feel the grass between your toes. A time to shed your coat and hat and let the sun shine down upon your face. Everything becomes lighter; our hearts, our clothes, and even our food. Stews give way to salads, steaming mugs of tea and coffee give way to tall, icy glasses dripping with condensation, and fried foods are shunted aside for anything fresh.
Although it is called by many names, like goi cuon, spring roll, and salad roll, many of us here refer to it simply as the summer roll, differentiating it from its crisply fried cousin, the egg roll. This delicious food item that has recently spiked in popularity, one that speaks to the season, is essentially fresh herbs and vegetables, rice vermicelli, and seasoned shrimp or pork wrapped together in opaque sheets of slightly chewy rice paper, and commonly served with a creamy peanut dipping sauce.
The fandom surrounding Vietnamese food in our city has defi nitely increased lately, considering the proliferation of pho restaurants that have recently opened up on the East Bank: for example, Magasin Café, which threw open its doors on Magazine Street in late February last year. Since its opening, the Uptown neighborhood has responded admirably, many thrilled that there would be a good Vietnamese option that didn't require a trip across the Crescent City Connection. At Magasin, the emphasis IS the summer roll, with an array of interesting ingredients, including garlic-fried tofu, lemongrass chicken, and avocado. I urge you to try the Chinese Sausage & Eggs, which was both spicy and fresh at the same time. As a matter of fact, you can try three different kinds of rolls without going over budget.
An even more recent addition to the Vietnamese craze can be found on Maple Street in the building that once housed Figaro's Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria. A cousin to the West Bank favorite Tan Dinh, Ba Chi Canteen opened mere months ago and is already seeing a steady infl ux of local customers (including many students from Tulane University nearby). Along with pho, vermicelli bowls, and their new creation, called "bacos," Ba Chi offers two different summer rolls, one stuffed with charbroiled pork and the other shrimp. These tasty rolls are only made more delicious with the ubiquitous peanut sauce...no one can dip just one. you might as well get the fried egg rolls too, because you'd struggle to fi nd their equal anywhere; well, except their original home at Tan Dinh.
When Vietnamese and Creole cuisine comes together, it tastes like Cafe Minh. Located on the corner of Canal and David Streets, this fusion restaurant is owned by Chef Minh Bui, whose great talent and unique perspective on New Orleans cuisine is refl ected in the dishes served at Cafe Minh. you can order a bowl of pho in the same breath as fried, nut-crusted Louisiana oysters. Minh's shrimp summer rolls are oh-so-slightly, yet signifi cantly, altered with the addition of fresh avocado and a peanut-citrus dipping sauce.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can enjoy New Orleansstyle summer rolls at Cafe B on Metaire Road. Executive Chef Chris Montero, who was trained to cook in the many kitchens of the French Quarter, offers a menu that sometimes veers from the traditional Creole menu. Along with classics like chicken & andouille gumbo, and a Pot O' BBQ Gulf Shrimp, Cafe B also offers a Chipotle BBQ Pork Sandwich and, yes, summer rolls. The rolls are made with Breaux Bridge crawfi sh tails, fresh cilantro, mint, carrot, Swiss chard, and bean sprouts served with a spicy Crystal-honey dipping sauce.