Searching for the Ideal Onion Soup

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Many years ago, we used to get the best French onion soup at a place in Chicago called R.J. Grunt's. It was created in 1971 as the very first eating establishment of the famed Chicago restaurateur Rich Melman. While Melman did not deliver great cooking, his series of establishments certainly set the stage for the tremendous explosion of great cooking in Chicago.

R.J. Grunt's was a hamburger place. Even if it did not create the salad bar--that is in dispute--it does seem to have created the all-you-can-eat salad bar with a profusion of items. But probably the best thing on the menu was French onion soup. The soup was so good that when my brother was in the Children's Hospital getting treated for his finger (the one that was eventually amputated), we used to go to Grunt's, get an onion soup to go, and bring it to his room. A few treats in an otherwise horrid time.

I had never tasted anything as good as Grunt's version of the soup until I was at a soft opening for a new restaurant in DC--Ris. This French onion soup had everything. It was crammed with caramelized onions. The broth was rich and beefy without swallowing up everything else. The bread on top was well-soaked, with the crust still a bit crunchy. Best, it was served in a handleless high white container (not really a bowl) with the bubbling gruyere cheese cascading down the sides. When the cheese cooled you could pick it off and let is melt in your mouth.

In the cold winter, Ris is worth going to if for no other reason than to get a perfect rendition of onion soup to warm you up.

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Ezekiel J. Emanuel

Ezekiel Emanuel is director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and heads the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

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