Early last week, Sara Polon and her mother, Marilyn — co-owners of Soupergirl (thesoupergirl.com) in Takoma Park, Md., — announced plans to open a soup counter on M Street … in the middle of May. Though temperatures in D.C. hover around 75 degrees that time of year, the pair are betting that lines will be long for their soups and stews that complement the warmer weather. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be chilled: rather, summer stews are often served warm and made with lighter broths and seasonal produce. It’s a trend other restaurants are experimenting with, including the following hoping to bowl you over with new summer stews.
Asian Bouillabaisse, $24
Water & Wall, 3811 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 105, Arlington; 703-294-4949, waterandwall.com. (Virginia Square)
Chef-owner Tim Ma’s bouillabaisse blends French and Burmese influences. The tomato base is spiced with Asian staples including garlic, ginger, lemongrass, Thai basil and Thai chili. “We throw in a little bit of saffron to keep it somewhat traditional,” Ma says. Into the broth also go fingerling potatoes, mussels, squid, shrimp and the fish of the week. The Thai chili and lemon are key to the dish, Ma says: “The heat and the lemons makes it appropriate for summer.” In fact, the chef adds more of those ingredients as temperatures rise.
Peruvian Ajiaco, $10
Del Campo, 777 I St. NW; 202-289-7377, delcampodc.com. (Gallery Place)
During a recent trip to Peru, chef Victor Albisu fell hard for an ajiaco (a traditional potato stew with roots in Latin America) he encountered in a city market. His version includes slow-cooked brisket, onions, garlic, potato and herbs. “We garnish it with little things that pop up out of the ground, like fiddlehead, Peruvian black mint and ramps that we grill,” Albisu says. “It’s a stew you can serve year-round if you let the veggies and the garnishes come to you.”
Republic, 6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park, Md.; 301-270-3000, republictakoma.com. (Takoma)
Chef Danny Wells’ Asian-inspired lunch stew features mussels, shrimp, Manila clams and “whatever fish we happen to be using that day,” Wells says. That all goes into a base made from coconut milk, limes, Thai basil, roasted shrimp shells and dried shrimp. The end result balances sweetness and spice. “I like to eat spicy things in hot weather,” Wells says. “I don’t know why: I guess you’re already sweating, so a little more doesn’t hurt.”
Green Spring Vegetable Stew, $22
Blue Duck Tavern, 1201 24th St. NW; 202-419-6755, blueducktavern.com. (Foggy Bottom)
Blue Duck Tavern’s vegetable broth-based stew looks more like a garden in a bowl. It’s filled with just about every type of seasonal produce available — peas, fava beans, green beans, asparagus, Swiss chard, sorrel, spring onions — along with whole-grain spelt, guanciale and olive oil croutons. (A vegetarian version ditches the guanciale, a type of cured pork). The ingredients rotate to best showcase the season’s bounty: “It’s going to taste different week to week, depending on what our growers have,” sous chef Adam Sheff says.
Three Tomatoes Stew, $10
Lupo Verde, 1401 T St. NW; 202-827-4752, lupoverdedc.com. (U Street)
In keeping with Lupo Verde’s roots in Northern Italian cuisine, the summer stew raises simple tomatoes to delicious levels by accenting them with rustic veggies. The dish, set to debut in June, blends San Marzano, heirloom and cherry tomatoes into a chunky stew. A hefty dollop of basil ricotta cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and a garnish of fava and green beans keeps things bright.