No matter how you spoon it — pureed or chunky, hot or cold — it’s the original comfort food built on a foundation of vegetables and water, perfumed with spices and enriched with butter, cream, and meat. The more those elements get to know each other, the more complex the flavor. And the better the soup.
With the wind nipping at your cheeks and your fingers stiffening in the frost, it’s a body-warming meal in a cup. Looking ahead to cold and flu season ahead, soup is a holistic prescription and throat-easing friend, and a perfect amuse bouche on chilly holiday evenings. Here are some favorites for the wintry nights to come…
Gumbo: Having worked for Emeril Lagasse, Rosso Pizzeria’s John Franchetti knows his roux. The buttery base for a true Lousiana gumbo, insiders say John’s is the real deal, incorporating house made sausage and seafood. Rosso’s soup menu changes up every couple of days, so call ahead to see what’s on the burner. Others include hearty wild mushroom with winter veggies and a creamy winter root vegetable soup. 53 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 544-3221.
Tofu Soup (it’s better than you think): Beat the cold with a roiling, boiling pot of silken tofu with a combination of veggies and meats (try the combination with beef, shrimps and clams) all topped with raw egg (it cooks in the soup). Tov Tofu, 1169 Yulupa Ave (near Whole Foods), Santa Rosa, 566-9469. Open Tuesday through Sunday 11am to 2pm, 5-9pm. Closed Monday.
Butternut Squash: A perennial fall favorite, Santi’s version incorporates house made sweet Italian sausage topped with olive oil and roasted pumpkin seeds into the warm, creamy mix. On New Year’s Eve, the Santi kitchen whips up Zuppa di Cavolfiore: Cauliflower soup with sea urchin, herbs, and brioche croutons. Reservations required. 2097 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Rosa, 528-1549.
Mushroom: A myriad of magical fungi – namely golden chanterelle and cremini) commingle in Monti’s Rotisserie’s Cream of Exotic Mushroom, garnished with truffle oil and chives. (714 Village Court, Santa Rosa, 568-4404).
Clam Chowder: Spud Point Crab Company is where to go for the most authentic clam chowder this side of the Hudson. Rich and milky, your spoon won’t stand up straight in this creamy broth, but the seafood flavor’s to die for. 1860 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay, 875-9472. Another top bet: Bostonian Dennis Kelly of Sebastopol’s Henweigh Cafe (4550 Gravenstein Hwy. North (Rt.116), Sebastopol, 829-7500, open Wednesday through Sunday) claims he’s got the real deal at his restaurant — a hearty white chow-dah with the perfect ratio of clams to potatoes (plus a few other secret ingredients ). Having tasted the wares of several nearby West Coast chowder-hawkers (including the nearby Sequoia Drive-In, which also does some great chowder, 1382 Gravenstein Hwy S, Sebastopol, 829-7543), Kelly stands by his product.
Turkey Noodle: Just like grandma used to make, but without the gristle. Willie Bird’s Restaurant serves up some kind of turkey soup every day, alternating turkey noodle, turkey rice and turkey barley. 1150 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 542-0861.
Vegan: Bliss Bakery does a daily soup that can be made vegan (they are always vegetarian) for the asking. A recent winner was a ruby red beet soup with a crumble of goat cheese. 463 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa, 542-6000.
Pho: Served up in bowls the size and approximate volume of bathtubs, its a brothy Vietnamese blend of meat, noodles, and vegetables. Extra points for tendons and offal, though you can certainly get it without. Consider it the Vietnamese answer to grandma’s chicken soup. Best Bets: Goji Kitchen (1965 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 523-3888) Simply Vietnam (966 North Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa, 566.8910).
Agedashi: Fried squares of tofu are immersed in a brothy dashi bath. Sweet, sour, crunchy and absolutely guaranteed to warm your cockles. Street-Eatz Mobile Kitchen (various locations, see street-eatz.com for their current schedule); Shogun Japanese (2350 Midway Dr., Santa Rosa, 575-5557)
Hot and Sour Soup: A soul-satisfying broth filled with egg, mushrooms, pork, bamboo shoots and soy sauce, this Chinese resaturant staple is a meal bellwether. If it’s good, then chances are the rest of the meal will be too. Bad, and well, you’re on your own. China Room, 500 Mission Blvd # E, Santa Rosa; Mandarin Chinese Restaurant, 2781 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, 526-2126.
Menudo, birria: Most taquerias feature menudo and birria (a goat-meat stew) on the weekend. Best bet: Chelino’s, where you can load up on soup and crispy, crunchy taco’s dorados (fried hard-shell tacos) with carne asada (under $3 each and way better than the Bell). 1079 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, (707) 571-7478. Relleno Negro: El Rinconcito Yucateco, 3935 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. 707.526.2720.
Miso: Many Americans are put off this usually grainy, overly salted broth because restaurants don’t take the time to do it right. A daily staple for Japanese, true miso is the embodiment of umami (sometimes called the fifth-flavor) with a combination of rich, savory and smoky flavors. Skip the freeze-dried versions and go for the real deal at Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr., Rohnert Park, 586-0270.
Chili: Pull the cord on your weekday escape hatch for a dose of small-town life at the Jimtown Store in the heart of Alexander Valley. Beyond the rustic quaintness is a serious kitchen known with a lock on chili, both vegetarian and carnivorous. Take a steaming bowl out to the covered porch for best results. 6706 State Highway 128, Healdsburg, 433-1212
General Soup Rx: Mac’s Kosher Deli does several daily soups from scratch that may not be fancy, but they’re soul-soothing bowls of comfort for a rainy day (or otherwise). 630 4th St., Santa Rosa, 545-3785. Also in downtown Santa Rosa, Fourth Street Market Deli has several daily soups made from scratch on cold days, with minestrone being a favorite of chilly office drones.
What are your favorites?