It's pretty straightforward and pretty much tells me all I need to know in about 5 minutes and honestly determines whether or not I'll return.
I order the French Onion Soup.
You can pretty much tell the authenticity of the establishment with one bowl. About a year ago, I was all jazzed about a new spot opening up on what is now called "Restaurant Row" here in D.C. Funny, because when I was growing up, it was more like "Hooker Highway" or "Prostitute Promenade". But, you know how it goes. The G word. Anyway, this big deal from Philly was coming down, importing his staff and opening a significantly large brasserie on 14th Street. I was so excited, I had such high hopes of having my Les Halles back.
Les Halles. The teeny tiny restaurant on Park Avenue South in New York City that served as my home away from alcove studio home when I lived on 29th and 3rd. I was desperate for a substitute and just couldn't find one that was just right. It was like Cinderella's sisters and that damn shoe. Either it was too far away (too big) or simply not up to snuff (too small). No perfect fit.
Let me give you some background... Back when Les Halles on Park Avenue South was small and hadn't yet expanded into the bodega next door, I was a regular 3 times a week. My psuedo-boyfriend Nate and I had a routine. We'd go spontaneously, never making a reservation. He'd usually arrive a bit before me, so would put his name down with the hostess (she never seemed to remember us or at least never let on) and then head to the bar. He'd have a beer from the tap and order a Cote du Rhone for me where we'd wait on our table over our chosen aperitif, usually no more than 20 minutes. We systematically made our way around the menu until it had been sampled several times over. There was never a bad meal. We'd managed to win over Tim, the waiter who likes no one and I'm still friends with Carlos, the executive chef who took over after Anthony Bourdain threw open the doors of culinary fame. This went on for years until my pseudo moved to Los Angeles. On his last night in NYC, we decided to head to Les Halles. The bodega next door was boarded up and contractor work licenses decorated the door. I scanned the packed restaurant for Nate, didn't see him so went to put our name down with the hostess. "Oh, hello! He's already at the bar".
Look at that, she remembered us.
Well, after he left, I kept up my visits, though mainly for brunch. I'd have a full out breakfast or simply the onion soup. Carlos offered to teach me how to make it one afternoon after a particularly long Sunday afternoon at the bar. "Come in tomorrow morning, we'll make it together". It was one of the best days of my life culminating in a random run-in with Anthony Bourdain, but that's another blog post. That story deserves it's own. But one extremely important detail I took away from that magical day in the Les Halles kitchen with Carlos was the simple knowledge that the soup I'd prepared that day would not be served that night. It had to wait. About 2 days. You know, for all the flavours to get to know each other. To fall in love.
So when I strolled into this new super trendy, super hyped, spot across from Pearl Dive, I gave them the test.
I ordered a simple bowl of onion soup. One bite in..... *side eye*
"Was this made today?"
"Hold on, let me check...." *2 minutes pass* "OF COURSE!! Of course, I was assured by the chef that it was made today"
Let's go back to the original.