It was 29 degrees this morning at my Sebastopol home, and the grass on my back lawn shimmered and crackled with frost. Later this afternoon, it will get up to 70 with brilliant sunshine.
The obvious question is, how can it really be January? The second question is, where can I get some great soup? Yes soup, because it will warm my bones and thaw my fingers, but not be so heavy a meal that it will weigh me down too much to scamper in the warm sun afterwards.
Here are some of the North Bay’s best soups:
Hana Japanese Restaurant
Chef-owner Ken Tominaga has been lauded as one of California’s finest talents for good reason. His pristine sushi counts, as does his artful presentations showcased in his “osusume” specials like seared Wagyu in balsamic reduction, steamed dashi egg custard with prawn, and unagi and monk fish liver with poached daikon. But some of his most satisfying creations are soups, including a good variety of soba, udon and ramen. If it’s fat, slippery udon you crave, you can have it in hot, slurpable broth stocked with vegetables and prawn tempura on the side, or swimming with pan seared sliced rib-eye steak. Buckwheat soba noodles are classic, bobbing in hot broth with vegetables and prawn tempura on the side, or there is ramen, the street food favorite gussied up to modern tastes with braised pork belly and soft boiled egg.
101 Golf Course Drive Rohnert Park, 707-586-0270, hanajapanese.com.
Spud Point Crab Company
The shanty café might not look like a big deal from the outside (or inside), but that is because the real effort goes into the cooking, not the décor. Actually, the true effort comes before even the first pot hits the stove, because owners Tony and Carol Anello catch their own crab and seafood themselves, on a sturdy boat named Annabelle. Crab and clams find their way into creamy, nicely peppery chowders so thick you can stand a spoon in them, and build little castles on top with oyster crackers. There is also a nicely spiced red chowder, brimming plenty of fresh, sweet seafood.
1860 Westshore Rd., Bodega Bay, 707-875-9472, spudpointcrab.com.
There’s something so magical about hot and sour soup, the way it is so tingly sour and rich and soothing all at once. Few shops do it better than Kirin, which has plenty of tangy kick, tempered by meaty mushrooms, and plenty of pork and shrimp. There’s a whole soup menu, in fact, ranging from spicy seafood, to spinach and tofu, to classic wor won ton and sizzling rice, to an unusual and mouthwatering mussel soup that sings and sears with garlic and jalapeño.
2700 Yulupa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-525-1957, kirin-restaurant.com.
If you’ve ever been cold and hungry enough to dream of climbing into a bowl of soup, this French bistro has the answer. Its French onion is a burbling, golden bowl blanketed with lots of gooey gruyere, pillows of soaked-to-nearly-soft croutons, and silky rafts of sweet caramelized onion bobbing in a hot, savory pond of beef broth. The chef crafts it, layers on the cheese and bakes it in the oven so even the bowl is brilliantly hot and the cheese cooks in chewy trails along the outside edges (peel them off and pop them into your mouth with your fingers).
540 Main St., Napa, 707-252-8115, angelerestaurant.com.
Chef Ryan Fancher sources his ingredients from local sustainable ranchers, fishmongers and farmers, which means dishes change frequently with the seasons and his whims (mmm, butternut squash soup). But a reliable year-round favorite can be found with his sumptuous cauliflower velouté. The humble vegetable is turned to velvet, then plumped up with studs of just-crisp caramelized florets, dots of sweet raisin, an unexpected tart jolt of caper, and a bit of almond for crunch. The finishing touch – a dollop of caviar, for a salty black accent to the snowy white soup.
231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100, barndiva.com.
Tip: For that souper-special meal, get to the restaurant in complete relaxation with a Pure Luxury limo or town car. Our beverage holders can even stash that take home cup of soup!