April 3, 2018

Dear friends,

For a while there, all my buddies were longing for Greek lemon and egg soup. It was like a virus that was going around. I didn’t catch the bug until much later. A year went by before I felt the urge to make the soup. What else was I going to do with the sack of lemons in my fridge?

The soup was a revelation. I had no idea it was so lemony and creamy. I may have had avgolemono — Greek lemon-egg soup — once long ago at Gus’s on Tallmadge Avenue in Akron, but the memory is dim. The soup I made recently was either way better or prepared in a different style. Probably both, because I think I would have remembered something this good.

This classic soup can be made with rice, bulgur or orzo pasta, or with rice served on the side. The lemon juice must be fresh, but many recipes start with canned chicken broth instead of homemade. The surprise for me was that the eggs are added not in ribbons, as with egg drop soup, but are slowly tempered so they enrich and thicken the broth without leaving so much as a trace.

The recipe I found and followed in “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons starts with a whole frying chicken slow-simmered to produce a broth, which is then stocked with the cooked, shredded meat along with rice, fresh lemon juice and eggs. It’s just the thing for a drizzly spring day.

AVGOLEMONO SOUP

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1 whole chicken (3 to 4 lbs.), rinsed in salted water and drained
10 cups cold water
1 large onion, unpeeled, studded with 2 whole cloves
Kosher salt
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Fresh-ground black pepper

In a large pot, combine the chicken, water and onion and bring to a simmer. Skim off and discard the foam. Add salt to taste and simmer, covered, until the chicken is falling off the bones, 2 to 3 hours.

Remove from the heat and, using 2 large spoons, transfer the chicken to a platter to cool slightly. Remove and discard the onion from the broth.

Remove the meat from the chicken and shred or chop and return it to the pot, discarding the skin and bones. Taste the broth and add salt if needed. Stir in the rice and simmer uncovered until tender, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly ladle in about 1 cup of the hot broth, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling. Turn off the heat under the pot and slowly whisk the egg mixture into the soup.

Serve the soup immediately . Pass the pepper mill at the table. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: I continued to cook the soup without simmering for several minutes after adding the eggs. The recipe is from “The Good Egg” by Marie Simmons.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Fried corn meal mush sprinkled with Splenda, fried German bologna; stuffed cabbage soup; Japanese Genghis Khan — marinated and grilled thin-sliced lamb with sautéed onions and carrots over rice; sugar-free brownies.

What I ate in and from restaurants last week:
Cuban sandwich, salad with mozzarella and strawberries at Pub Bricco on Merriman Road in Akron; crispy spring roll, red curry noodles soup with beef at Thai Pattaya in the Portage Lakes; wontons in spicy sauce, scallion pancakes at Szechuan Gourmet in Cleveland; poutine with pulled pork at The Merchant Tavern on Merriman Road in Akron; a thin-crust veggie pizza from Earth Fare.

TIDBITS
This is a tale of two Asian restaurants, one meh and one potentially great. Szechuan Gourmet next to Tink Hol Asian grocery store in Cleveland has been lauded by several diners whose palates I trust. Thai Pattaya in Akron’s Portage Lakes area also has fans but is such a sleeper that some readers thought it had closed.

Guess which one I loved?

I tried to love Szechuan Gourmet when Tony and I visited last week on a sliced-lamb run to Park To Shop, another Asian grocery store near Tink Hol. Do not confuse the awful Szechuan Cafe next to Park to Shop with the Tink Hol Szechuan restaurant, which is much better. Still, the latter, which I had visited once before and thought lackluster, again failed to impress.

It wasn’t awful, but the six small pork wontons in spicy sauce I ordered were smushed together in a cereal bowl with a mere spoonful or so of sauce (itself nothing special), and a $14 octopus stir fry was served in a Pyrex pie plate. The baby octopuses were plentiful but the kitchen forgot (or didn’t know) to remove their beaks. Add in careless, neglectful service and it adds up to a disappointing meal.

Am I not ordering the right dishes? Visiting on off days? Whatever the answer, the spicy wontons a friend recommended couldn’t hold a candle to the ones I had at House of Hunan in Fairlawn.

In contrast, Tony and I visited Thai Pattaya with modest expectations a couple of days later and were blown away. I have been daydreaming about their luscious Red Curry Noodles Soup with beef ever since. The broth was stunning — gingery, maybe a hint of coconut, notes of lime and, of course, red curry paste. The soulful soup was stocked with round wheat noodles, chunks of roast beef caramelized on the edges and bamboo shoots. A platter of bean sprouts, julienned carrots and radish, sprigs of cilantro and lime wedges was served alongside, to add to the soup according to taste.

The restaurant is spacious and clean, and the service the evening we visited was attentive. I don’t know how the service would hold up during a rush because we arrived late and were the only customers. I can’t wait to return.

Thai Pattaya is at 497 Portage Lakes Drive in Coventry Township. The hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The phone is 330-644-8363.

THE MAILBAG

From Carol:
Because of your comment a couple of weeks ago, I’m wondering what the difference is between Thai and Vietnamese pho.

Dear Carol:
I wrote that we would have to make do with Thai “pho” until a Vietnamese restaurant opens in the area. Pho is Vietnamese, not Thai. Some Thai and Chinese restaurants offer a noodle soup they call “pho” because the soup is very popular and they want the business, just as many Chinese, Thai and even American restaurants sell a bastardized form of sushi because sushi is all the rage. And everyone, it seems, has a pretend-Thai dish on the menu.

Although the faux sushi irks me the most because my husband is an itamae (sushi master) and I know the difference between salted raw and plain raw salmon, and vinegar-splashed air-dried rice and plain steamed rice, and properly trimmed tuna and tuna with the black streak intact, and a cheap sushi roll with a thick ring of rice and a well-made sushi roll with a fair portion of expensive seafood….well, I could go on and on. Sorry for the rant.

Anyway, a wise critic once told me that she judges restaurants not by how authentic they are but by how good the food tastes. That makes sense to me, too. So Thai “pho” could be delicious. (But not, I think, faux sushi.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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