(Published on March 17, 2009)
It’s been oddly cold in LA lately and I’ve been having a nonstop French Onion Soup craving for about three weeks. Now, I can’t eat tremendous amounts of dairy so I’ve had to space these indulgences out like a carefully orchestrated march into foreign territory.
The first craving hit hard and I didn’t have time to research, so I went to the closest purveyor of FOS to my house, Figaro Bistrot. The thing about Figaro is that the decor is perfect. It’s all sconces and rose-colored imitation Tiffany glass. Zinc bar. Fresh macrons. It is the kind of place that makes having a moody bowl of hot and cheesy soup sound like the most romantic solo date possible. I was perfectly primed to have a Dining Experience, especially when a waiter brought me a pillow to sit on so my height (or lack thereof) wouldn’t leave me looking like an alcoholic 5-year-old, downing Chimays while waiting for her order. The lighting was perfect, the people were beautiful, the soup was underwhelming.
Maybe I’m a bit oldschool, but when I want French Onion Soup, I’m thinking beef stock, butter, onions, bread, and gruyere. I do not want stewed tomato chunks and celery, both of which I fished out of my Figaro broth, holding up to the candlelight to make sure my palate wasn’t imagining things. Needless to say, this soup experience left me totally unsatisfied and two days later, I found myself pining away for some more dangerous elixir.
Riverside Cafe in Burbank is not quite a hole in the wall, but it’s damn close. The tables are covered in sticky 80s oilcloth, the menus are crushed, and the outdoor bathroom is not much different than something you’d find at a Mobil station. But the food is home cooked heaven. They have a baked potato menu for God’s sake. Their French Onion Soup is divine, cooked-to-order. The crocks arrive at the table accompanied by a warning, DO NOT TOUCH THEM. Indeed, they are ingenious miniature ovens, keeping the cheese perfectly melty throughout the meal. With no extraneous vegetables in sight, Riverside’s take on this classic was simply perfect and enough to sate my appetite. For this week at least.