If I said the words Velvet Turtle to a group of Southern Californians, I know at least a few would immediately respond: “Cucumber soup.” Or some might say gazpacho, because that was the other cold soup that the chain introduced to mainstream fine dining in the 1970s. I remember the Fullerton Velvet Turtle on north Harbor Boulevard was the site of special-occasion celebrations while I was growing up.
When I learned that Cary Hardwick, an owner of Seal Beach’s Spaghettini, had run several of the restaurants in the chain before opening Spaghettini with partner Laurie Sisneros, it was all I could do to not blurt out the name of that iconic soup. I waited—a moment, at least—and when I finally asked, Hardwick was happy to chat. I was thrilled to hear it still lives: He likes the soup so much he sometimes has the Spaghettini kitchen include it in the restaurant’s popular Sunday jazz brunch. (Even better: He gave me the retrotastic recipe, which appears below.)
Seal Beach’s Spaghettini, strategically located at a crossroads that makes it easily accessible to a wide circle encompassing Long Beach and Los Angeles, as well as Orange County, has been known for serious jazz performance and dining since it opened in 1988. Now Hardwick and Sisneros, in partnership with jazz musician Dave Koz, are bringing their food-music combo to Beverly Hills in November. In the run-up to the new restaurant, the original has undergone a menu refresh from chef Scott Howard, new culinary director for both locations. Longtime executive chef Victor Avila is now in charge of the Seal Beach kitchen.
Velvet Turtle Cucumber Soup
4 tablespoons butter
1 large hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced small
(Set aside ½ cup diced cucumber)
1 cup chopped leek, white part only
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons white wine
2 cups water or chicken broth
Salt and pepper
½ cup whipping ream
½ teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste
5 drops hot pepper sauce
Dash fresh or dried dill
Half and half
Melt butter in large saucepan and over medium-high heat sauté cucumber (except for reserved ½-cup), onion, and leek until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds pepper and stir in white wine and water or chicken broth. Mix thoroughly and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, partly cover, and simmer 1 hour.
Purée in blender or food processer and strain through fine sieve. Whisk in whipping cream, lemon juice, hot-pepper sauce, dill, and reserved diced cucumbers. Chill completely.
When cold, thin with half and half if too thick, and check seasoning. Garnish each serving as desired with sour cream, chopped parsley, and lemon wedge.