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 them simply as summer rolls, differentiating them from their crisply fried cousins, 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 are 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 definitely increased lately considering the proliferation of pho restaurants that have recently opened up on the Eastbank, for example Magasin Vietnamese Cafe that threw open it’s doors on Magazine Street in late February last year. Since their 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, their 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 that 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 Westbank favorite Tan Dinh, Ba Chi Canteen opened mere months ago and is already seeing a steady influx 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 find 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 who’s great talent and unique perspective on New Orleans cuisine is reflected in the dishes served at Cafe Minh. You can have order a bowl of pho in the same breath with fried, Nutty-Crusted Louisiana Oysters. Minh’s shrimp summer rolls are oh-so slightly, yet significantly, altered with the addition of fresh avocado and a peanut-citrus dipping sauce.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can enjoy New Orleans-style 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 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 crawfish tails, fresh cilantro, mint, carrot, Swiss chard and bean sprouts served with a spicy Crystal – honey dipping sauce.
*Article originally published in the June 2013 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Cafe b is closed