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12 March, 2010

Empty Bowls 2010 Soup Review

Posted in : Dining in Durham - NC, Restaurants on by : The Gourmez

I posted the press release for Empty Bowls 2010 a few weeks ago. It’s a unique annual fundraiser that benefits Urban Ministries of Durham. At the time, I was unsure that I would make it, being as it was my fourth wedding anniversary and all, but we ended up going last Friday anyhow. Why not celebrate by sampling eight soups created by Durham’s top chefs and organizations?

The event was held in the Durham Armory.

Tickets were available for $15 or $30 and the more expensive ones included our choice of a handcrafted soup bowl. The actual soup was served up in small, Styrofoam containers. That’s not a complaint: without small portion sizes, I could never have made my way through all eight soups offered.

The title of Durham’s Best Soup was at stake, and voting was done by both a judge’s panel and an innovative fundraising technique for the popular vote: diners were encouraged to vote with their money by placing donations in bins at the soup station they enjoyed the most.

On to the soup! Be prepared for many similar pictures to follow, and be aware that soup can only be made to look so exciting in a Styrofoam cup. Also, keep in mind that these were prepared in vast quantities, so I wouldn’t expect them to be quite as appealing as a bowl in any of their respective establishments. That won’t stop me from reviewing them anyway, though. ,)

#1 Sweet Potato, Poblano, and Apple Bisque-Watt’s Grocery

Love, love, love Watt’s Grocery–did not love this soup. Mainly, I thought there was way too much ginger in it, which popped out and masked the other flavors. I didn’t think the poblano combined well with the apple or sweet potato, either. The tortilla strip added a fun texture.

#2 Clam Chowder-blu Seafood

This one was pretty good, but I like a thicker chowder. The clam chunks were quite large, which was a nice change from your typical clam chowder, but they were few and far between.

#3 Chicken Masa-Revolution

This was my official first taste of Revolution’s food, and it whet my appetite for my planned dinner there in a few weeks. The chicken masa was by far my favorite of the evening. First, the soup was attractive, with lots of bright colors from the cilantro, bell pepper, and corn. Second, the texture, which must have come from masa harina if I’m to take any stock in a soup’s name, was really great. It was like supping on a liquefied tortilla, with lots of flavor from those bright ingredients previously mentioned.

#4 Manhattan Seafood Chowder-Whole Foods

There was a great assortment of seafood in this dish, and it had a pretty good flavor, with an appealing color. I wouldn’t order it in a restaurant, though. I tend to migrate to creamy soups.

#5 Lenten Gumbo-Papa Mojo’s

Not being Catholic, it took me a few bites to realize why there were no lentils in the soup, as I’d expected from the name. Oh . . . vegetarian gumbo, not lentil-based. Yeah, I’m not always that sharp. Anyhow, the gumbo was an interesting take and served as a palate cleanser for me to make it through the next four soups. The collards in it were great and the flavor was pretty good, but I expected more kick from a gumbo. Also, it was somewhat greasy. As with Watt’s, I love Papa Mojo’s but this soup was not the best representation of what they can do.

#6 Potato-Leek Soup-Rue Cler

Buttery, refined, texture of a consommé. Can you tell this was from a French restaurant? There was some sort of wine floating around in the soup, along with the delicate leek and potato flavors. A yummy soup but I’d have liked a little more pizazz. Third place for me.

#7 Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Soup-Community Cafe of Urban Ministries of Durham

I’m not sure where the chicken was in this soup, but the strong celery taste of the stock was intriguing. The soup was too thick and dense to really enjoy it, however.

#8 Butternut Squash and Apple-Nana’s

This was my second favorite soup of the night. It was delicious. The apple was tart and the crème fraiche with chives added such a nice, velvety layer of flavor. I wanted to eat a whole bowl but there was no way I could finish one-it was my eighth soup sample, after all.

I did manage to save room for dessert, though. Two desserts, actually, since we wandered down to beyu later, but that’s another blog. There was a large dessert table at Empty Bowls, furbished by donations from a bunch of different locations.

I chose some sort of sticky cupcake with a buttercream frosting.

At least I think it was buttercream, though it tasted more like shortening. The appeal of sticky-gooeyness did me wrong this time-I could taste the baking soda far too easily and the dessert was not good, but this evening was about soup, anyhow. I should have just grabbed a cheesecake cup.

At the end of the evening, the judges and doners agreed with me, both groups dubbing Revolution’s Chicken Masa “The Best Soup in Durham.” I’m glad I found out about the event, and it was a fun experience, but I’ll need to come prepared to do battle for seats next year!

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