Friday, January 13, 2012

When it's cold, just give me some hot soup

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Aladdin Cafes lentil soup got international attention this week.
  • Aladdin Cafe's lentil soup got international attention this week.

Fat City's Jonathan Bender certainly has the last word on the controversial "Meatless in the Midwest" essay by A.G. Sulzberger that ran in this week's New York Times. The most interesting thing, for me anyway, was Sulzberger's claim that Kansas City's Aladdin Cafe at 3903 Wyoming served "the best lentil soup I've ever had."

Last night was bitterly cold, and I didn't have the energy to go out to eat or cook at home. So I stopped by the Aladdin Cafe for takeout. Because of the New York Times plug, I wondered if the dining room would be filled with people eating lentil soup. Not so, but it was early, and the folks in the one occupied booth in the first-floor dining room didn't have soup at all! I paid for my two Styrofoam cups of soup and a couple of sandwiches and drove home, where I immediately dumped the soup into china bowls. I don't give a damn how good the soup tasted: I won't eat from Styrofoam dishware. (It did look much more appealing in a vintage Noritake pattern.)

To Sulzberger's credit, it really might be the best lentil soup in the city. The texture is silky, not runny, and it's a warm umber color, not that brassy turmeric yellow that you find in the bland concoctions served at most local Middle Eastern restaurants. So I'm nominating it to my list of the five best soups in the city. This list is bound to change from day to day, maybe even meal to meal.

The other four on my list? Definitely chef Max Chao's egg drop soup served at Nara (1617 Main, 816-221-6272) because it's the only egg drop soup in town that doesn't look like nuclear-reactor waste: slimy and glow-in-the-dark yellow. It's a light, soothing and appetite-enhancing prelude to something wildly spicy.

Westport Cafes roasted fennel soup.
  • Westport Cafe's roasted fennel soup.
The roasted fennel soup at the Westport Cafe & Bar (419 Westport Road, 816-931-4740) is another great cold-weather creation. Chef-owner Aaron Confessori takes fresh fennel bulbs and onion, roasts them in a hot oven, sprinkles them with olive oil and salt and pepper, and cooks them down in vegetable stock, adding a splash of cream at the end. It's perfectly delicious in its pure state, but some customers are following the lead of floral designer and event planner Dan Meiner. "When Dan comes in, he requests crumbled bacon on top of his soup," Confessori says. "It really is delicious that way."

I get a mighty craving for the chicken noodle soup at Stroud's (4200 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Fairway, 913-262-8500) when I'm suffering from a bad cold, but while it has a nostalgic comforting quality, it doesn't have the immediate restorative powers that one gets sipping the Thom Kha at Hot Basil (7528 West 119th Street, Overland Park, 913-451-3713). The secret is the galanga root. It cures whatever might be ailing you. That and the coconut milk, lemongrass, tamarind and cilantro.

What soups push all your buttons, Fat City readers? Leave your advice in our comments.

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