Last week, we celebrated National Watermelon Day. It probably didn’t stand out, because the summer months are full of watermelon, and this sweet, vibrant fruit is a major player on lots of restaurant menus.
All month long, actually, I’ve been finding this superfruit as a star player in innovative salads and dishes across New York. Aside from it being basically the most refreshing answer to a hot August afternoon, it’s sweet enough to serve as dessert and packed with nutrients. It was even listed by US News & World Report as one of the top eight foods to aid with weight loss:
No, this isn’t a gimmick.
Watermelon is more than 90 percent water – a whole cup contains less than 50 calories. It’s a satisfying way to fill up, without filling out. What’s more, it has the highest levels of lycopene of any fruit or vegetable. This chemical is what gives tomatoes grapefruit and, of course, watermelon, their bright pink color. But lycopene is also connected to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and vision loss with age. Watermelon is also packed with Vitamin A and C.
So there are a lot of reasons to enjoy this fruit. And while there’s almost no experience as satisfying as biting into a thick slice of watermelon while sitting outside in the park, letting the pink juice drip down your chin and swallowing an accidental seed, so smooth and small you almost don’t notice it – the use of this fruit in savory dishes is amazing.
This week, instead of focusing on one restaurant, I’m giving you guys a guide to the best watermelon bites around. Because summer isn’t over yet, and there’s still time to order this fantastic fruit off of my favorite menus.
Recommended Dishes: The spicy chili vinaigrette on the watermelon and cucumber salad at No. 7 is the perfect way to liven up the sweet, delicate flavors of the cucumber and watermelon. At Petrarca Vino e Cucina in TriBeCa, the watermelon salad special used feta and balsamic to cut the watermelon’s natural sugar. My favorite neighborhood restaurant, Basil Pizza & Wine Bar, has a vegetarian-friendly, all-kosher menu featuring only organic vegetables – and you can get one of the most beautiful watermelon salads ever, complete with pea shoots, pickled onions, beautiful fans of radish, feta, a modest serving of quinoa, and golden watermelon. That’s right. I didn’t even know that was a thing until I ate at Basil.
The Not-So-Good-Bite: Because it’s seasonal, dishes featuring this fruit won’t be around much longer! It’s also quite often the victim of under-seasoning. A poorly composed watermelon dish doesn’t read as savory, and thus, doesn’t read as satisfying. It’s a great teaser, or else it needs to be smartly paired with spice and tangy notes in order to come across as a full meal.
Plus, watermelon is often paired with cheese in salads – I know that sounds a little weird, but stay with me here. Just because it’s a watermelon inspired salad, doesn’t mean its accompaniments are healthy – so be piles of feta – cubed and crumbled – that are often heaped on your watermelon.
The Good Bite: There are certain pairings you come to expect on a restaurant menu. Mozzarella and basil, beets and chevre, avocado and heirloom tomato…the mild, sweet flavors of one balance out the tart, tangy, or herbal notes of another. Candle 79 offers a pickled watermelon salad with beets – two of my favorite red foods. When paired with the rosemary-shallot vinaigrette, green beans, and almond cheese, you get an unexpected play on the sweet and tart combination. This entree is entirely vegan, and is hearty enough to serve as an entree. At No. 7 Restaurant in Brooklyn, watermelon is paired with cucumber in a spicy, asian-inspired dish. What could be overtly sweet is given an edge with a housemade chili vinaigrette, cilantro, and crumbled feta.
The Best Bite: I once enjoyed a watermelon gazpacho at Eastern Standard Kitchen in Boston that surpassed any gazpacho I had previously consumed. And I have yet to enjoy a gazpacho as much as their seasonal interpretation of the dish. The contrast of the acidic tomato base and sweet watermelon is near perfection. Unfortunately, the watermelon gazpacho didn’t return this summer, and I also no longer live in Boston. So here, Little Word Bites readers, I ask for your input: where can I find this dish before summer and the season of watermelon is over?
We’re more than halfway through August, and I can hardly believe it, but the cool evenings and thin, crisp air are a reminder that fall is quickly coming. While I’m excited for my favorite season, and the hearty root vegetables and squashes that come with it, I will sorely miss the watermelon dishes that almost never survive on a menu past August.
Check out any of these dishes, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. What’s more, I suspect there will be many last minute watermelon-inspired specials all across New York, as chefs scramble to give this seasonal fruit one last hurrah.
Until next week, friends,