When Richmond sees temperatures in the teens, it's officially soup season. And by soup, we're talking about a bowl of liquid-based food. As far as we're concerned, anything from consommé to bisque to stew qualifies. Here are some recommendations for flavorful bowls that ricochet from savory to spicy to sweet and back again.
Duck Confit Pozole
Estilo: $13 lunch, $18 dinner
Delicious memories are quickly made of this bowl of Mexican stew adorned with a piece of fried duck skin. The bowl holds a generous amount of duck confit, an addictively spicy, but not-overly-so, broth of guajillo chili and tomato, oregano, cilantro and hominy "playing the role of white beans," as my server puts it. Shredded cabbage and lime slices adorn the red stew, the first a satisfying textural contrast and the latter a colorful one. And did I mention there's fried duck skin on top?
Estilo Una Mesa Latina
7021 Three Chopt Road
Any way you look at it, this soup is a pescetarian's dream, chock full of rockfish, pieces of shrimp and mussels in the shell. This is Dinamo, so of course it's tomato-based and muscular, made with fish stock and loaded with fregola, a coarser and rougher cousin to couscous aptly nicknamed Sardinian couscous. It has moderate heat — think two chilis, not four — and goes down like dinner given all the seafood, especially when enjoyed alongside a salad or crostini.
821 W. Cary St.
On the menu this stew is listed as a "big bowl of comfort," but in the kitchen it's known as "tons of fun." It's the quintessential beef stew studded with carrots and firm peas and jazzed up with duchess potatoes piped on top. But make no mistake, it's really a bowl of long-braised meat surrounded by token vegetables. The black Angus beef is decidedly local and familial, coming from the Northern Neck, where it's raised by co-owner Amanda Lucy's sister and brother-in-law at their Monrovia Farm. The generous serving is not for a timid appetite but it'll warm you through like little else can on a cold night.
404 N. Second St.
Tomato Coconut Soup
Curry Craft, $5
Arriving in a hammered silver crock, this southern Indian soup will set your notion of tomato soup on its ear. The astringency of the tomatoes balances the slight sweetness of the coconut milk, making for a rich, creamy and spicy broth. Full of onions, chunks of tomato and cilantro, the most satisfying spoonfuls arrive with the pungent earthiness of cumin seeds to deliver herbaceous notes Be sure to get an order of naan to accompany the soup ($2-$4). The soft flatbread makes the ideal dunking vehicle for those getting used to the dish's spices.
Curry Craft Indian Restaurant and Bar
2915 W. Cary St.
Zee Onion Soup
La Parisienne: $5.99 lunch, $7 dinner
Vegetarians, beware and carnivores, delight: This is a classic French preparation that begins with beef stock, the only way to get the depth of flavor for which the soup is known. And it's a soup with a long history dating back to Greek and Roman times, even showing up in American colonial cookbooks. With loads of caramelized onions, white wine and, yes, herb stock, too, it's served gratinéed with croutons and a melted swiss cheese and Gruyere blend that delivers a filling way to start a meal. Ask any Frenchman and he'll tell you that a glass of wine is de rigueur with this soup, so look for a red wine that picks up on the onion's sweetness like the Gamay grape, whose inherent acidity cuts the richness of the soup beautifully.
La Parisienne Bistro & Café
210 S. 10th St.