Soup’s On A GUIDE TO THE BEST STEAMY GOODNESS IN TOWN
BY GREG SABIN RESTAURANT INSIDER
hen I was a young boy, the only soup I would eat that did not come out of a red-and-white can was the sizzling rice soup at The Mandarin at Arden and Eastern. A steaming bowl of salty broth redolent of green onions and garlic, it turned from dinner to dinner-and-a-show when the waiter would slowly slide a brick of dehydrated rice into the overheated bowl, generating a jet of steam and delightful sizzling that could be heard throughout the wonderfully tacky space. That soup of my childhood is still pretty incredible (and the interior decorations at The Mandarin are a bit more up to date), but I’ve branched out in my tastes (to the surprise of my mother’s friend Janice) and can give you a pretty solid rundown of some of the best noncanned soup in town. Let’s start with ramen. Not the packaged stuff you remember from college, with the tiny foil sodium bomb packed thoughtfully in each unit. I mean the real stuff, the honestto-goodness Japanese delicacy that sets people searching the world over for the perfect bowl. The best I’ve found is at Ryujin Ramen House. Owned by the folks who previously owned Akebono Sushi (my favorite sushi in town), this midtown restaurant is an unpretentious outpost of good tastes and good smells. The black garlic pork ramen is absolutely divine. It’s an enormous bowl packed with roasted pork, onions, cabbage, bamboo shoots, a soft-boiled egg and
IES JAN n 16
Owner George Muntean makes all his soups, chilis and stews from scratch daily
a voluminous mess of chewy ramen noodles, steeped in a pork broth that takes nearly 24 hours to simmer and topped with delicate droplets of black garlic oil. The flavors are front and center, delivering body blows of richness and warmth. And at less than $10, it’s a steal on a cold, windy night. Farther afield, you might stumble upon Viet-Ha, a small Vietnamese restaurant on Florin Road. Small and divey, it has some of the best soup around. Try the #8 chicken noodle soup. Served with a side of fresh basil, sprouts, limes and ginger sauce, it’s a lovely bowl of happiness. It starts with slender rice noodles and shredded chicken, then as many or as few of the add-ins as you want. With a blindingly rich cup of Vietnamese coffee, it’s a perfect cold-weather treat.
If you’re looking for something a bit more stick-to-your ribs, you can’t beat Muntean’s, the heavyweight champion of soup slingers in the 916. With at huge downtown lunch clientele, at least eight soups every day and a selection that goes well beyond the standard fare, it’s a soupstravaganza from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. On a recent visit, the soup lineup included beef and vegetable, Romanian onion (the Munteans are originally from Romania), mulligatawny, spicy lemon chicken, split pea and (no kidding) frog stew. That’s right, a cauldron of Kermit. Delicious all, but the standouts were the frog stew for its uniqueness of flavor and the split pea because you could stand a spoon in it and it’s the best I’ve had in recent memory.
If you’re looking for more sophisticated flavors and delicacy in presentation and service (because, trust me, that’s not what you get at Muntean’s, a place where the fine china is made of Styrofoam), then park your sophisticated keister down at a cafe table at Brasserie Capitale. The authentically appointed downtown brasserie serves a splendid French onion soup. The richness, sweetness and depth of flavor of the onion broth are a testament to long, slow cooking and a truckload of gently treated fat. The dish comes with a hearty cap of cheesy ecstasy, melted mercilessly under the broiler and served at a temperature unfit for human consumption. In other words: perfect. Lastly, I’ll direct you to La Bonne Soupe Cafe, the small downtown cafe that, years ago, rocketed to fast