The scoop on soup11/5/2014
Readers have been asking about my favorite places for soup. I also recently ran across Fiona Kirk’s latest book, “Soup Can Make You Thin.” Kirk amused me a few years ago with her “What the F**k Should I Eat?,” so I paid attention. She is not advocating the dreaded cabbage soup diet. In fact, just about any kind of soup works in this diet. She simply asserts that eating soups alone will help one lose weight because the liquids are filling, more so than when solid foods are eaten with glasses of water. Soups are also exceptionally nutritious and are lower in fats and carbohydrates than most other meals.
Des Moines’ soup culture reflects the city’s ethnic and culinary character. The most reliably excellent soups in town are found in Asian cafés. Vietnamese places like Pho 888, H’s Pho & Restaurant, TNT, Café Lily, A Dong, Fuzion, Aroy-Dee, Fawn’s, Nut Pob, Saigon Café, Pho Saigon, Pho 515, Golden Triangle and Pho All Seasons all make beef stock from bones, usually a 12-hour process that produces a nutritional broth that anthropologists credit for turning Neanderthals into humans. A bowl of pho also includes scallions, onions, bean sprouts, fresh basil, cilantro, chopped chilies and lime. One chooses among rare beef round roast, lean of fatty briskets, meatballs, tendon, tripe, flank steak, tofu, chicken and seafood for toppings. This feast in a bowl is economical, usually $6 – $9 depending on size of bowl. At Café Lily and H’s Pho, pork bone stock is also served in the same mode, a variation more popular in Laos than Vietnam.
Soups at local Thai restaurants are based on chicken stock cooked with lemongrass, basil and kaffir lime leaves. Napa cabbage and mushrooms are added along with a choice of meats, though chicken is most popular. Tom Kha versions add coconut milk, Tom yums do not. King & I, Thai Flavors, Lemongrass, Nut Pob, Blu, Cool Basil and Zuzap all offer superb Thai soups. A similar soup is featured at Baru at the Des Moines Art Center.
Ankeny’s New Horizon is one of America’s premiere makers of stocks and glaces, which are reduced and concentrated bone stocks. I have seen their frozen products at Whole Foods and in some of the town’s best restaurant pantries. Using them at home, I cannot tell the difference between them and my homemade bone stocks. That’s not the case with inferior bouillons and canned “stocks.” French onion soup is the pho of Europe. Superb versions are served at Baru 66, Bistro Montage and Django. They use various combinations of veal and beef stock with caramelized onions, sherry or brandy. They are finished with croutons and cheese on top and placed under a broiler.
If Iowa had an official state soup, it should probably feature squash. The state is the source of several heirloom squashes, including the mother of the acorn squash. David Baruthio (Baru 66) and Joe Tripp (Alba) coax amazing flavors out of squash soups and soups in general. Alba’s burger and soup lunch special is one of the best deals in town for $7. I have paid twice that just for similar bowls of soup in bigger cities.
My favorite place for soup, though, is Trellis at the Des Moines Botanical Center. Lisa LaValle specializes in vegetable stocks of complexity, and her café offers two- and three-soup lunch specials, so one need not choose among temptations. Her October menu included a divine squash soup finished with chili oil on top, a Puerto Rican root vegetable soup and a green soup made with half a dozen edible greens from the garden.
Side Dishes: CherryBerry closed six of its area frozen yogurt stores in the metro. The CherryBerry store on Destination Avenue in Grimes remains open. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Trellis 909 Robert D. Ray Drive, 323-6290 Tues. – Sun., 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.