On 54th street in New York down the way from the impressive entrance to the Peninsula Hotel is a little shop front with white awnings and wide open windows staring into a charming eating area and bar known as Le Bonne Soupe!
Le Bonne Soupe is a institution even by New York Standards. It's been there since the 1970's and once you pass into its dinning rooms you see that not much had changed since then either. Upon entering I was taken back to being very young and going out to eat at any of the hometown restaurants that exsisted in the 1970's. Plain white walls are bedecked with movie posters plastered right onto the walls and brightly light brown burnished wooden beams which line the corners and the roof like bad English Tudor style wall supports lend charm. It screams sort of old, but sort of new, and definitely made in the 1970's! That along with the brass pots holding green plants and a floor which reminds one of the wood veneer planks used to furnish prefab homes, scratched and used. A patina of years of dining and cooking and eating lies on every surface. In essence a place with character and charm, but bare bones about it and dated. What once was new and chic, is now used and charming.
The Menu, although my dining companions told me has changed slightly over the years, still holds to the same style of French food that it always has had. This is not bistro food. No, it is more a "ladies who lunch" meets French cafe gone "Magic Pan" rogue. French, but with a twist towards the classic American restaurant approach grown out of the 60's and 70's. Where everything comes with a salad and french fries and wine is served mostly by the carafe. All suspects were present. A salad with a "cafe" style dressing which is flavored with chicken stock according to my friends, large carafes of red wine, and french fries served in a metal canister neatly lined with parchment paper.
Now all of this sounds less than amazing I guess. But please don't think I am decrying the quality of the dining experience I had at Le Bonne Soupe, I am not! In fact I really enjoyed it. It is the namesake of the establishment however that really gets the notice for why this place is still around, the Soup!
French Onion Soup or Le Onion Soupe Gratine'e is a classic French dish very popular all over the USA. Usually served up in a little crock it comes to the table all bubbly and cheesy and piping hot. Well at Le Bonne Soupe they make what I would describe as quite possibly the best onion soup I have ever had in a restaurant. The key, the broth. I mean this broth was so beefy it almost tasted like liquid beef. Amazing. And the cheese and the bread were perfect. The onions soft and caramel in colour and so hearty. In a word it was Yum!
French Onion Soup, it's origins are food legendary. In the cafes of the Les Halles district of Paris, countless bowls of this soup are served. Once chic Parisians stopped after parties for a nightcap and soup, and at dawn wholesalers and truckers working at the market there came in for a bowl of it. But now onion soup is not so chic, and the market is being moved out of the city. These days many who come for the soup are tourists who gawk at each other and believe that they are seeing the "real" Paris. In any event it is a great soup and it is to be enjoyed in the colder weather.
So I was inspired to make some of this soup for the holidays. I mean it's a great meal idea. A big bowl of cheesy toasty soup, some fresh salad with a cafe dressing and crusty bread and butter and you have an amazing meal. I love it anyways.
I referenced a recipe in a old cookbook I have from Sunset Magazine and tweaked it just a bit. In any event it is good and if you want a little "Good" Soup give it a try the time and effort are worth the results. Enjoy!
Les Halles Onion Soup Gratine'e!
makes abut 6 servings
For the Stock
( Note: To bump up the beefy quality of the stock I actually start with commercial Beef Stock/Broth and add to it)
2 pounds beef shank bones of marrow bones or bones with meat on them
2 quarts Beef Stock or Broth
2 cups red wine
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
In a coffee filter place the following ( fill then tie shut with twine)
2 bay leaves
4 whole pepper corns
1 bundle fresh thyme
2 peeled garlic cloves
Place bones in a roasting pan and roast for 1 hour
Then place everything in a pot bring to a boil then simmer on low heat for 2 hours on the stove. Strain after cooking and hold.
makes about 2 quarts.
For the Soup
6 Medium to large yellow Spanish onions
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups beef broth
1 packet chicken bullion
1 1/2 cup red wine
1/3 cup port
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup brandy
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 cup diced Gruyere
3 1/2 cups croutons
1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere
Slice onions into fine ribbons
In a pan melt butter and oil place onions in a saute stirring occasionally on low heat till caramelized about 20 to 40 mins.
Add 1 1/2 cups red wine then add
1/4 cup brandy and 1/4 cup sherry
deglaze the pan and cook for about 5 mins.
Pre heat oven to 375 degrees
In a pot add onions, stock chicken buliion and port wine and bring to a boil add dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste
Cook 5 mins then turn heat to medium low. Hold till ready to serve.
When ready to serve, Pour soup into earthenware soup crocks
Add divided diced cheese then top with croutons
Cover with a layer of the shredded cheese.
Place into oven for 20 mins
Then turn on broiler and brown the top.