You’re probably thinking the same thing I used to: What is there to say about it, really? It’s just tomatoes, chopped or pureed with some veggies and served cold.
There is, in fact, so much more to gazpacho, the classic Spanish cold soup that originated in the southern region of Andalusia using the peasant staples of stale bread, garlic, olive oil, salt, and vinegar.
Well beyond the homeland, it has long been a fixture on summer menus, even as other chilled soups, from pea to cucumber, have edged past the tomato variety. There’s a lingering perception that a regular gazpacho isn’t terribly exciting.
“The common thought about gazpacho is that it’s plain, because I don’t think most people have ventured outside the version they’ve typically had,” says Jason Heard, chef at East Coast Grill, whose tropical gazpacho is a signature dish at the Cambridge restaurant. “We’ve made grilled cantaloupe gazpacho before, so there’s really no end to what you can do with it if you choose to experiment.”
True enough, on local menus gazpacho has cropped up in colorful preparations, from the traditional to more adventurous kinds that incorporate fruits and various herbs. Here’s a sampling of restaurants that have their own interesting take on the dish.
EAST COAST GRILL
“I have to ask: Do you have any allergies?” So asked Brenda, our sweet server, when I ordered a bowl of Elmer’s tropical gazpacho. It turns out East Coast Grill’s version features a tiny bit of Clamato juice, which contains clam broth. Its lightness belies its long list of ingredients: mango, avocado, cucumber, poblano chile, red bell pepper, red onion, thyme, cilantro, rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic, ground toasted cumin, and tomato, Clamato, and lime juice. Exceedingly thin and flavorful, it’s finished with olive oil that’s pureed with cilantro, strained, and then drizzled on top. Housemade cornbread croutons add some crunch and float alongside a fat wedge of lime. I could eat this gazpacho all summer long and still want more. Elmer, by the way, is Elmer Sanchez, a native of El Salvador who has cooked in the kitchen for nearly 30 years and is largely responsible for this terrific dish. 1271 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-491-6568, www.eastcoastgrill.net. Hours: Sun-Thu 5:30-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5:30-10:30 p.m. Price: $9.
The first note you get on the tongue is the sweetness, followed by a little jolt of tartness. This charming neighborhood favorite in Needham puts a particularly summery spin on the typical gazpacho. Its recipe calls for equal parts peaches and Roma tomatoes that are pureed with mint, basil, and champagne vinegar and garnished with bits of cucumber, red onion, and tomato. A dollop of Greek yogurt with some mint and parsley rounds out an appetizer that’s notably refreshing, the kind of chilled concoction you’d love to have beachside with a beer. The Needham restaurant regularly has a gazpacho on the menu, but this is its first peach variety. It’s a keeper. 942 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-9600, www.sweetbasilneedham.com. Hours: Mon-Fri 5-10 p.m., Sat-Sun 4-10 p.m. Price: $10.
You’ll be forgiven for mistaking Cuchi Cuchi’s gazpacho for another one of its whimsical cocktails. It arrives in a martini glass rimmed with chopped parsley and two thin slices of cucumber, plus a petite scoop of granita made of cucumber and riesling in the center. It’s as lovely as it tastes. This variation on the classic purees cucumbers and almonds, which gives it a viscous texture that’s also a bit chalky. It’s one of the more unusual gazpachos you’ll taste around here, memorable for its creaminess and also for how filling it is. Pair it with one of the eclectic small plates (try the chicken Kiev), and you’ve got a light supper. 795 Main St., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-864-2929, www.cuchicuchi.cc.
Hours: Sun-Wed 5:30-10:30 p.m.,
Thu-Sat 5:30-11 p.m. Price: $9.
Like the place itself, there’s nothing fancy about Cafe Pamplona’s gazpacho. It’s decidedly straightforward, just a bowl or cup of pale red potion finely blended with onion, garlic, bread crumbs, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. It’s served on a stark white plate with a single slice of bread. No chunks, no garnish, no fanfare. A small amount of vegetable oil gives it a pretty shimmer, and the tomato base is smooth and overwhelmed by garlic. In a good way. It’s the perfect gazpacho for a simple lunch or a late-night snack since Cafe Pamplona, a beloved subterranean haunt in Harvard Square, stays open late. A white gazpacho goes on the menu this week. 12 Bow St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-492-0352. Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily. Prices: $3.95 (cup), $4.50 (bowl).
Ask nicely and your waiter will be tempted to reveal the secret to Dalí’s classic rendition (Tamara Bourso co-owns both Dalí and Cuchi Cuchi). On second thought, the waiter decides he’ll let the mystery be. At least that was our experience on a recent trip to see why Dalí’s gazpacho is routinely mentioned as a local favorite. This rustic take owes a lot to tradition, a coarsely chopped mixture of tomatoes, tomato juice, green peppers, cucumbers, scallions, onions, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon, basil, and parsley. A sprinkle of diced egg works as the perfect garnish, both to the eye and on the palate. 415 Washington St., Somerville, 617-661-3254, www.dalirestaurant.com. Hours: Sun-Thu 5:30-10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5:30-11 p.m. Price: $7.
Devra First is away. Her reviews will resume in two weeks.