Star Tribune food dude Rick Nelson takes a look at some of the best soups in town this week in the Taste section. We're happy to see so many Shea clients and friends on the list, including Macy's, Yum! Kitchen and Bakery and Meritage. We happen to agree with Rick's picks and think you should try out a few of his suggestions to warm winter's chill.
Going out? Super soups for supper
Article by: Rick Nelson , Star Tribune Updated: January 25, 2012 - 4:33 PM
Minestrone. Beer-cheese. Hot-and-sour pork. Pho. Chicken with matzo balls. Twin Cities chefs are crafting a wide variety of flavor-packed soups to warm winter's chill.
A taste of pho
Here's the thing about pho: Each proponent of this cornerstone of Vietnamese cuisine has a rock-solid opinion about its composition, which means that there are countless ways to enjoy this fantastic soup.
My favorite? The deeply fragrant versions at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, where chef/owner Hai Truong wrings every possible flavor molecule out of each carefully selected ingredient, and the parts add up to several wholes. Making stock is a two-day process, involving oxtails and knuckle bones from grass-fed, family farm-raised cows. ("There are no feedlots in Vietnam," he said. "It's important to get as close to those authentic flavors as possible.") Then there are slow-roasted onions, fennel and ginger and a nuanced combination of spices and herbs. Each gigantic bowl is prepared to order, so the slurp-worthy noodles and top-shelf proteins (order the rare rib-eye steak, or the beef meatballs) aren't overcooked and everything is tantalizingly fresh.
"In the winter, we sometimes run out because it's so popular," said Truong. "But there is only so much that we can make at a time. We can't rush it."
799 University Av., St. Paul
No popcorn on this cheese soup
Leave it to Tilia chef Steven Brown to burnish a contemporary gloss on that midcentury culinary anachronism, beer-cheese soup ($8). In Brown's imaginative hands it becomes luxury personified, a silky swirl of lovingly aged white Cheddar and Minneapolis-brewed Fulton Beer's beautifully balanced version of an India Pale Ale. A gentle mustard-infused oil garnish, traces of thyme and an oven-warmed bowl complete this perfect wintertime repast.
2726 W. 43rd St., Mpls
Memorable Korean dishes
At Green Spoon in Minneapolis, the majority of the menu is tailored for the neighborhood's college crowd, but it's also peppered with Korean-accented dishes that have their roots in home cooking.
"When we first opened the restaurant, we struggled with our traditional Korean dishes, they didn't come out the right way," said owner Jinsoo Park. "So my mother visited and fixed the recipes, and now everything is coming out perfect." The fishcake soup, for instance, served only at dinner. It's a meal in a bowl, a steaming pool of amber-tinted dashi fortified with dried anchovies, soy sauce, seaweed and green onions, and dressed with crêpe-like, crab-flecked fishcakes that are speared on wooden satays.
"It's definitely a popular seller among our Korean crowd," said chef Chris Paddock. "But it's not really something that our American guests order." Their loss.
2600 University Av. SE., Mpls
Fresh from the produce counter
"I like making soup," said Salty Tart baker/owner Michelle Gayer. And on winter weekdays, she does just that, a vegetarian soup that changes frequently, "that's based on what everyone is in the mood to eat, and whatever is seasonally available at the Produce Exchange," she said, referring to her greengrocer neighbor in the Midtown Global Market.
Lately that means a cauliflower-Parmesan purée, with bits of roasted cauliflower for texture, or a colorful and equally flavorful medley of white beans, kale, zucchini and potatoes, each portion ($4, served with a slice of one of the bakery's first-rate breads) carefully reheated to order to maintain the ingredients' essence. "It's my vegetable replacement meal, and I like texture in my soup," Gayer said. "I don't like mush."
920 E. Lake St., Mpls
Minestrone and more
Be'wiched Deli owners Mike Ryan and Matthew Bickford are not only masterful sandwich makers, they're also gifted soup artisans. The imaginative selection ($3.50 to $5) changes daily -- it could include a roasted butternut squash garnished with apples and house-cured bacon, or a luscious sunchoke-potato purée -- but the duo always has a knockout minestrone on hand, a steaming bowl of Parmesan-kissed tomato broth brimming with toothy cannellini beans, the carrot-onion-celery mirepoix triumvirate, poached chicken and a garden's worth of herbs. To order it is to love it.
800 Washington Av. N., Mpls
The wild rice favorite
In the Twin Cities, before there was Macy's, there was Marshall Field's, and prior to that, for more than a century, there was Dayton's. The department store's restaurants have always specialized in timeless fare, starting with wild rice soup ($3.95 to $4.95). The quintessentially Minnesota formula -- prepare it yourself, using the recipe at right -- remains an ultimate comfort food, with mushrooms and sherry notching up the soup's creamy richness, carrots contributing a pop of color and almonds boosting the wild rice's intrinsic nuttiness. Enjoy it with a popover, naturally.
Oak Grill (700 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-375-2938)
River Room (411 Cedar St., St. Paul, 651-292-5174)
Lakeshore Grill (Southdale, Edina, (952-924-6727)
Lakeshore Grill (Ridgedale, Minnetonka, 952-591-6727)
Which came first, the chicken or the soup?
The chicken soup pinnacle? It's a tie. Unadulterated goodness reigns at Meritage, where chef/co-owner Russell Klein garnishes an ultra-refined, deeply flavorful chicken broth with painstakingly diced carrots, snips of fresh dill and a pair of tender matzo balls ($7). Across town at Yum! Kitchen and Bakery, owner Patti Soskin's crew puts together the ultimate in cold-season comfort, a golden broth accented by garlic and black pepper and filled with egg noodles, juicy chicken and onion ($3.95 to $4.95). If Soskin made a cough-drop version, she'd be a billionaire.
Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, http://www.meritage-stpaul.com/)
Yum! Kitchen and Bakery (4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000, http://www.yumkitchen.com/)
A big bowl of comfort
Don't let the busy chain restaurant surroundings lull you into culinary complacency, because Big Bowl knows how to cook. Case in point: the restaurant's spectacular hot-and-sour soup ($6.95), which is not only seductively delicious but is also quite possibly a cure for the common cold, or a high-performing cold relief medicine, anyway.
The high-fidelity flavors waft right out of the tureen, tickling your nose before they caress your taste buds. A zingy vinegar sting is balanced against the earthy punch of thinly sliced shiitake and cloud ear mushrooms, and fresh eggs and traces of sesame oil dance in and out of a robust, carefully nurtured pork stock. Enjoy it with one of the bar's zesty, immunity-boosting ginger ales.
3669 Galleria, Edina, 952-928-7888
12649 Wayzata Blvd. (Ridgedale), Minnetonka, 952-797-9888
1705 W. Hwy. 36 (Rosedale), Roseville, 651-636-7173