Best French Onion Soup

Can we spoon? IM’s dining editor seeks truth in the soup course.

Some people say you can read the quality of a restaurant in the way it cooks a steak ordered medium-rare. Others use the poached egg as the measuring stick. Or the quality of the table bread, the pluckiness of the staff, the cleanliness of the washrooms.

After years of research, I’ve decided that such merits lie beneath the melted Gruyere of French onion soup. Serve me a watery broth more like Lipton instant than a caramelized stew cooked slowly and deliberately, and I’ll show you a kitchen that skimps and cuts corners. A crock that’s more stretchy cheese than soup is the calling card of an amateur restaurant that will cover its crimes in ranch dressings and aiolis. And if the presentation veers from tradition—say, with a cheese panini plated alongside a miniature crock of onion soup, an awkward deconstruction that serves no purpose but to call attention to itself—there’s probably more showboating to come.

At Ocean Prime, all of the elements unite in perfect harmony—the density of the onions, the saltiness of the broth, the architecture of the crouton, and the tensile strength of the cheese. Onions, shallots, leeks, and scallions are caramelized to a deep brown; cooked in beef, chicken, and veal stocks; and ladled into a sturdy, genteel white bowl. Press your spoon through the oven-browned strata of provolone and cheddar, graze off a hunk of garlicky, broth-soaked crouton, and dip even deeper for a scoop of thick, Masala-sweetened soup. The French have a word for this: ooh-la-la.

8555 N. River Rd., 569-0975,

Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the December 2012 issue.