Matzo ball soup is something that exists with nearly the same frequency in Jewish delis in the United States as it does in Jewish homes. Tastes and opinions, as with all dishes this widely consumed, are massively varied. In fact, if you ask a group of Ft. Lauderdale grandmothers what constitutes a perfect bowl of matzo ball soup, don't expect to get a word in for the next ten to fifteen minutes. The general consensus though, is that it should be neither dense and leaden, nor mushy and soggy. The perfect balance, it seems, lies somewhere in between.
For our first food fight combatant, we ventured into Roll 'n Rye in Culver City, the delicatessen hiding inside of a large strip mall housing TJ Maxx and Toys 'R Us. The soup arrives with shredded chicken, noodles, and thick chunks of celery and carrots. The broth is mild, with the flavor of the vegetables at the forefront, but as a whole not standing out on its own, nor getting in the way of the ingredients contained within. The matzo ball is very soft, but still able to maintain its shape and structure, which is a good sign. The noodles are, as expected in a dish like this, very soft, but enjoyable in a child-like way. It is a solid bowl of matzo ball soup, better than most you'll come across at average delis around town.
Our next stop was at Nate 'n Al (our second “'n” establishment of the day), where passing through the front door is like stepping into a time machine, transporting you to the much earlier days of Beverly Hills. Our waitress may have been the most pleasant women we've ever met, sliding gracefully from table to table, then placing a hand on your shoulder and calling you “hun'” in the most matronly way possible.
Then the bowl of soup arrived, and any positive memories of Roll 'n Rye quickly faded into nothing. The matzo balls are like gently firm, seductive clouds, and the broth is fragrant and clean, but deeply soulful. There are no vegetables obscuring the purity of the soup, and our only regret was the addition of noodles which, despite their pleasant bite, throw off the basic interplay of broth and matzo ball. But as far as we can tell, if a better bowl of matzo ball soup exists in Los Angeles, you're probably eating it in someone's home.
Roll 'n Rye: 10990 Jefferson Boulevard, Culver City, (310) 390-3497., Nate 'n Al Delicatessen: 414 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 274-0101.