We, and perhaps you too, are feeling a little sick right now. Congested, body aches, taste buds not exactly firing on all cylinders. So for this week's food fight, we're changing the format a little. Rather than taking two versions of the same dish and seeing which one is tastier, we're eating two very dissimilar bowls of soup, and declaring the winner based on which one makes us feel better. But rather than eating something we grew up with, like chicken noodle, or matzo ball soup, we dug into some of our city's deep, and rich ethnic diversity.
We began our journey for lunch, at the Thai restaurant Yai. We actually hadn't heard anything at all about their soups, but figured they deserved a shot. We sat down with a few friends, who ordered dishes like salted fish fried rice; crispy pork with broccoli (which was, it turns out, very good); and quite a bit more. But in need of something hot and broth-based, we made sure to order the hot-and-sour tom yum goong as well. Our waitress asked us if we wanted it mild or medium. We said “spicy.” It arrived, a rather pretty looking bowl of soup, and we quickly ladled some for ourselves. It was actually not as spicy as we would have liked, and our companions groaned over the occasionally frustrating difference between “white spicy” and “Thai spicy.” We wondered how you say “gringo” in Thai.
The soup was rather extreme in its flavors, with a good amount of sourness to counteract the spice, as well as some earthiness from the mushrooms. But the most dominant flavor, even with an illness-subdued palate, was an aggressive saltiness. It was a good soup, and very much what we needed, but would have been far better if the sodium had been dialed back a touch.
For our second competitor, we had actually planned to go to West L.A. for a bowl of chicken soup at the popular Oaxacan restaurant Monte Alban. But after stopping by the opening of The Spare Room in Hollywood, and feeling somewhat exhausted, we were wondering if there might be something a little closer. Good fortune, it turned out, was on our side. As we turned left onto La Brea from Hollywood Boulevard, we happened to see a small Russian/Armenian restaurant stuck into the back of a tiny strip mall, with a sign outside advertising “hot soup.” Could it be this easy?
We entered the very small and charming restaurant, called Roubo's Place, took a seat, and asked our waitress for advice. “You should have the Russian borch,” she told us. “It has no meat, but lots of vegetables. When you are sick, you need vitamins.”
While waiting for our food, we took in the odd but deeply intriguing atmosphere of Roubo's Place. There were tables packed with grilled meats, and adorned with beers, as well as bottles of Jose Cuervo and Hennessy. Old Russian and Armenian men sauntered back and fourth between the dining room and the outside, taking turns smoking cigarettes, drinking booze, and eating meat. Immediately, it felt like our kind of restaurant.
Then, our bowl of hot, deep-red borch (their menu's spelling, not ours) arrived, along with a loaf of warm, soft, lightly crusty bread, and some sour cream. The soup was soothing, flavorful, and in all honesty, everything we could have possibly hoped for. It is also, obviously, the winner of today's food fight. We will be back.