When you live in a city where a “cool off” week means mid ‘80s with highs soaring into the upper ‘90s toward the end of the week, hot heavy food just doesn’t do the trick. At the same time, you don’t always want to dig into a big bowl of lettuce. Here are some of my favorite unique chilled dishes served around town:
Octopus Salami at Edo’s Squid
Sure, it’s easy to associate Edo’s ( 411 N Harrison St., 804-864-5488) with hot, heavy pasta, but there are lighter gems across the menu. The octopus salami is a specials-menu item that you should order next time you see it. To make octopus salami, octopus is cooked with herbs and spices, then chopped and pressed into a spherical shape that looks like cured meat. In this dish, the texture is perfect—easy to cut, tender and not at all chewy. It’s topped with a cool, finely chopped potato salad featuring tangy capers, crunchy celery and briny Kalamata olives topped with a delicate Italian-style vinaigrette, making for a cool, satisfying summer small plate.
White Bean and Pesto Salad at Bacchus
A longtime favorite of mine and a bargain at $7, this salad contains a mass of white beans tossed in pesto-olive oil vinaigrette. The flavors are classic and simple, plus the beans are hearty enough to fill you up without being too heavy. To top it all off, the salad is finished with two big slices of creamy, house-made fresh mozzarella. Add the warm bread that comes with your meal, and you’ve got a perfect cool dinner.
Hot and Numbing Tofu Skins at Peter Chang
The dish may be cold, but your mouth will be on fire. I know the idea of eating tofu skin might sound scary, but just about every eater I’ve asked to try this dish has fallen in love. The tofu skins are sliced thin, and their slightly firm texture makes them take on an almost noodle-like quality. In fact, many of my friends who generally won’t touch tofu with a 10-foot pole said this dish tastes just like pasta. The tofu skins are combined with celery, cilantro, and Chang’s signature numbing spice. The result is chewy, crunchy and spicy with an addicting tingly, umami finish—I get an extra order to go almost every time I visit Peter Chang. This dish is available at the Short Pump and Scott’s Addition locations.
Tuna Tartare at East Coast Provisions
What stands out to me about this combination of tuna, ponzu sauce, lime, cilantro, and scallions is the swipe of creme fraiche that doesn’t only add visual appeal—it contributes a creamy richness that I haven’t seen in other dishes around town. Also chilled and worth a try is the octopus.
Smoked Bluefish Dip at Rapp Session
Some fish dips are too oily. Some are too creamy. We’ll call this $4 bar snack version Goldilocks because it is just right. Despite the lack of cream cheese, the dish manages to have a creamy quality—I’m guessing it’s from the higher fat content of the bluefish. Add in some bite from chopped onions and brine from pickles and you’ve got the perfect barside snack just waiting to be spread on some simple saltines. Beer, wine or cocktail is up to you.
Chicken Liver Pâté at Heritage
This remains my favorite chicken liver pâté in town—the creamy, smooth, earthy pâté is topped with a sweet-tangy ginger gelee, peach mostarda and pickled fennel. The ingredients combine for a complex flavor that’s rich and savory with a tangy finish. In addition, the light, smooth texture also makes this dish an excellent gateway pâté for those who want to try the dish but are hesitant to go full-on country style.
Pimento Cheese Plate at Comfort
Another classic, this one always hits the spot. House-made pimento cheese with just the right balance of flavors is served alongside salty country ham, house-made bread and butter pickles, and Ritz crackers. It’s always satisfying, perfect for sharing, or making into a light solo meal. You can get the same cheese down the road at Pasture served with Ritz crackers in an adorable paper bag as well. Try it during happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m.