Here in Phoenix, most of us take the saying "if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen" pretty literally come summer, knowing that the cooker can become the cook-ee in a matter of minutes. We can simmer in our own sweat at the stove or broil ourselves to rosy rareness at the outdoor grill . . .
Or we can wipe our feverish brows, come to our collective senses and just go out to eat, where the AC blows cold, other people do the hustling and we can leave the dirty dishes right there on the table. Here are 13 dishes to give us cold comfort this time of year.
Campechana at Mariscos Playa Hermosa
There's no end to the fabulous cold seafood dishes you can eat at this colorful, beach-themed Mexican seafood restaurant, but you can never go wrong with the Campechana Grande, a cooked, mixed seafood cocktail of shrimp, abalone, squid, and octopus served in a giant goblet with vegetable juice and seafood broth, diced cucumber, tomato, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, and avocado. Offered with a basket of Saltines and a bottle of ketchup (but feel free to throw in some bottled hot sauce if you want), it's a meal-in-one, eaten by spoon, one delicious slurp at a time ($14).
Rice Bowl at Phoenix Public Market Cafe
Aaron Chamberlin has a knack for making healthy eats delicious. Case in point: the rice bowl at his cute new cafe next to the Phoenix Public Market. Toasted nori and citrus-y housemade ponzu add an Asian touch to a dish that's basically a mix of seasonal vegetables garnished with carrot, radish, avocado, sprouts and sesame seed, anchored by a sturdy bottom of sushi-seasoned brown rice ($10.50). Better still, it's vegetarian, vegan and dairy-free.
Gazpacho at Lon's at the Hermosa
Gazpacho may be of Spanish origin, but we've made it our own here in Arizona, where cold soup, built upon fresh, uncooked veggies, sounds like the best possible start to a summertime meal. Executive chef Jeremy Pacheco gives his smooth, bright gazpacho a little sex appeal by topping it with a clump of crab and shrimp ceviche and a tangle of fresh cress ($9). So pretty and so easy to feel virtuous about eating.
Hiyashi Chuka at Hana Japanese Eatery
When the weather turns hot and sticky in Japan, everyone one eats cold noodles -- either somen (thin white wheat noodles, served in ice water with a simple, cold, soy-based sauce) or ramen noodles, turned into a cold noodle salad called hiyashi chuka. Hana's spectacularly good version of the latter is a summer treat you won't want to miss, combining firm, squiggly ramen noodles, slivers of omelet, pickled ginger, cucumber, and chasu (slow-cooked pork seasoned with honey and soy, similar to Chinese char siu) with a soy-sesame dressing brightened with vinegar, $12.95). Warning: This stuff is completely habit-forming. Offered at lunch, it's perfect with iced mugicha -- toasty-tasting barley tea, another summertime treat in Japan.
Vitello Tonnato at Andreoli Italian Grocer
The Italians have their own ingenious ways to beat the heat, one of them being vitello tonnato, an irresistible summer dish that doesn't look or sound half as good as it tastes. It's an unlikely combination of cold poached veal, served in slices and smothered in a homemade mayonnaise-based sauce that bears the taste and faintly granular texture of canned or jarred tuna. Yep, tuna. Weird, right? Weird and strangely delicious, bringing together the richness and delicacy of veal with a sauce that bears the briny tang of the sea, both nicely offset by a smattering of salty capers. Order it with a simple salad, some beautiful house-baked bread (complimentary) and a glass of Prosecco and you're climbing the stairway to heaven. Vitello tonnato isn't on the daily menu, so call ahead to find out when chef-owner Giovanni Scorzo will be running it as a special ($24).
Beef Tartar at Searsucker
Celebrity chef-owner Brian Malarkey and executive chef Chops Smith offer plenty of eclectic but classic ways to chillax at super-cool Searsucker, serving hot-sweet tuna poke with charred jalapeño and candied tomato ($14), fatty shaves of kobe carpaccio with hearts of palm and shiitake bacon ($15), and bright, lemony beef tartar, sided with taro chips (perfect for scooping), plus an adorable quail egg filled with creamy, yellow yolk (excellent drizzled over the tartar, $11). Presentations are huge here, so you will definitely eat with your eyes first. P.S., get there early for the made-fresh-daily poke, which often sells out.
Tuna Tataki at Atlas Bistro
If you haven't been back to this cozy BYOB since executive chef Chris McKinley jumped on board, run don't walk to Atlas. His deconstructed spin on the Nicoise -- made with grilled black tiger shrimp and grilled eggplant, piquillo peppers, silky rectangles of confit potato, haricots vert, cumin-scented eggplant puree, hard-cooked quail egg, and cucumber gribiche -- makes classic versions seem pedestrian by comparison ($12). Meanwhile, the tuna tataki, which combines thick slices of lightly seared Fijian albacore with a variety of pretty cucumbers, watermelon radish, avocado mousse and streaks of tangerine gastrique, manages to be utterly decadent but light and healthy ($14). Good trick!
Green Bean Jelly with Vegetables, Ham & Eggs at Chou's Kitchen
Buns, dumplings, pancakes, and noodles (which is to say, all things starchy) are the specialties at this friendly Chandler Chinese restaurant, whose owners hail from the chilly northeastern region of China. But when you want something a little lighter, try the green bean jelly with vegetables, ham, and egg -- which is the worst translation imaginable for a dish that has nothing at all to do with jelly as we know it. The so-called "jelly" is really a lovely heap of glass noodles -- made wide, flat, and faintly springy to the touch -- surrounded by razor-thin slivers of omelet, sliced ham, mung bean sprouts, wood-ear mushrooms, carrots and cucumbers, the whole assemblage bathed in zingy, rich sesame-mustard vinaigrette ($9.98). "Good" doesn't begin to get it, and except for the noodles and the otherworldly-looking mushrooms, it's as familiar as a good old American Cobb salad.
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Merenghata Semifreddo and Mascarpone Cheesecake at Franco's Italian Caffe
There are a slew of reasons we're glad Franco Fazzuoli is back in town, and at least two of them involve cold desserts. Nobody makes a better cheesecake, built upon a thick, buttery graham cracker crust filled with silky, Amaretto-spiked mascarpone. But the show-stopper is surely the merenghata -- a classic Italian dessert that encases semifreddo (a "half-cold" mixture of ice cream and whipped cream) in thick, crispy layers of baked meringue. Simple but so very sublime. If you can't decide which to choose (Franco also offers strawberry, banana and super-intense chocolate semifreddo), ask for a sampler platter.