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Originally published February 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 6, 2009 at 12:58 PM

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Nancy Leson

French onion soup was made for February

February cold brings fond thoughts of French onion soup. Here's where to find some of the Seattle area's best.

Seattle Times food writer

Ah, February. A month that makes you want to hunker down with a fragrant bowl of soup, a piece of imported cheese and a nice crust of bread — preferably all in the same vessel.

I love onion soup, and when the mood strikes I'll make it at home. But when I'm too busy or too lazy to bother, I'll head out in search of the French classic, variations of which are available at many area restaurants, including these.

Did I miss your favorite? Come talk to me on my blog: www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat.

Café Presse

1117 12th Ave., Seattle

206-709-7674

www.cafepresseseattle.com

Hours: 7 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

There's so much to love at Capitol Hill's all-hours bistro, it's hard to know where to start. I'm nuts about chef Jim Drohman's gâteau au foie de volaille (chicken livers disguised as heaven-on-a-plate and my idea of breakfast) and often stop by for his charcuterie and a glass of something wet and white. But baby, when it's cold outside, there's only one thing on my mind: soupe a l'oignon gratinee ($11). You may know it from its Le Pichet iteration as gratin Lyonnais (same soup, different name). Each is made, as in Lyon, with a vibrant chicken stock. What makes it special? Everything from cave-aged Gruyere de Comte, Tall Grass Bakery's pain au levain and the fact that I can commune with that soup "alone" at Presse's busy bar.

Madison Park Cafe

1807 42nd Ave. E., Seattle

206-324-2626

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www.madisonparkcafe.citysearch.com

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; brunch 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays

Note: Onion soup available at dinner only!

It's been 30 years since Karen Binder opened Madison Park Cafe as an espresso stop, later turning it into a popular breakfast and lunchery. Today Mad Park habitués fill this sunny little house at weekend brunch and flock to its pretty patio in warm weather. For the past decade, the cafe has built its reputation as a dinner house: a warm, welcoming French bistro where the cassoulet — served in a cast-iron skillet — is among the best in town. I insist you come to spoon into that breadcrumb-ly crown, teasing out tender duck confit, housemade pancetta, wild boar sausage and bits of lamb. Share it if you must (though trust me, you won't want to) so that you might also enjoy a proper crock of French onion soup ($8) capped with Columbia City Bakery's bread and Swiss Gruyere.

Place Pigalle

81 Pike St., Seattle

206-624-1756

www.placepigalle-seattle.com

Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11:30-3 p.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays; dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

I have a crazy dream that someday I'll wile away the afternoon at Pike Place Market, stopping first at Maximillien where I'll eat oysters on the half-shell and soupe a l'oignon while staring out at Elliott Bay. And then, in time for the evening cocktail hour, I'll round the bend (OK, the butcher's cases at Don & Joe's Meats), beg for a coveted corner table at Place Pigalle, and do it all over again. Only this time I'll begin with steamed mussels (their gaping shells facing north, holding bits of smoky bacon, the sauce sharp with balsamic vinegar) before delving into a cup of deep, dark, oniony broth scented with sherry and crusted over with Gruyere ($9). In my dreams I finish with a chocolate pot de crème — and live to tell the tale.

Panera Bread

• Seattle: 401 N.E. Northgate Way, No. 1101; 206-362-3188

• Bellevue: 1100 Bellevue Way N.E., Suite 9; 425-453-2600

• Redmond: 17262 Redmond Way; 425-497-0727

• Lynnwood: 3000 184th St. S.W.; 425-774-1416

• Tukwila: 17250 Southcenter Parkway, Suite 152; 425-251-8700

Notes: Hours vary. See www.panerabread.com for other area locations.

French onion soup is a daily feature on the weekly "soup schedule" at this bustling national chain known for its (terrific!) in-house baked goods and ubiquitous presence at shop-till-you-drop spots across the land. But until this month — when I hit the handsome Northgate store — I hadn't been. Now that I have, I'm going back: for a quick soup-and-salad or soup-and-sandwich fix (they've got a "You Pick Two" halvsie-special) and a baguette to go. My onion soup ($4.59), served with a hunk of that fresh baguette on the side, bobbed with crisp croutons and a sprinkling of Asiago-Parmesan blend (purists, forgive them), making it a fine precursor to my Harvest Salad, whose greens played host to Gorgonzola, pecans, pears and dried cranberries.

Trader Joe's

www.traderjoes.com

So, I'm dining at the home of friends known for their culinary expertise and the elegance with which they entertain. We sip cocktails and nibble appetizers in preparation for a ravishing roast. In between, there's soup. "This is delicious!" I said, cracking through the layer of melted cheese and bread into a fragrant broth thick with onions. "You shouldn't have gone to the trouble." "I didn't," replied my smiling hostess. And that's how I got hooked on "Plats du Chef Heat & Serve French Onion Soup" — sold frozen at TJ's (two for $4.99). Yes, you can nuke the frozen soup (after removing the shrink-wrapped plastic). But why ruin the mystique? Better to put the solid block into an ovenproof bowl and bake it for 40 minutes.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com. To read her blog, go to www.seattletimes.com/allyoucaneat

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Nancy Leson

Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants. Check her latest thoughts in her All You Can Eat blog. Her column appears each Wednesday. Her restaurant roundups appear monthly, on Fridays, in the Restaurants and Entertainment sections.
nancyleson@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8838 | Blog

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