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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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February 6, 2009 7:57 AM

French onion soup: at home and abroad -- a February favorite

Posted by Nancy Leson

The popularity of French onion soup can't be denied. It's served everywhere, and today in Ticket I wrote about some of the many great places you (and I) might go for a cheese-laden bowlful:

I hit some French restaurants, bien sur -- including Madison Park Cafe, Cafe Presse and Place Pigalle. But also paid a visit to Panera Bread -- my first to a national chain that impressed me for its efficiency, its bakery and its ubiquitous presence around the Sound. I also turned readers on to the "dirty little secret" of savvy food shoppers like me: frozen onion soup packaged and sold at Trader Joe's ($4.99 for two). Talk about ease and convenience. Let's say you just got home from work and realized there's "nothing" for dinner. And then you remember: Ooh! French onion soup:

So you turn on the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine and "prepare" an easy meal for two.
When the soup comes out of the box, it looks like this:

But while you're throwing together a quick salad, it's beginning to look like this:

And an hour after you walk in the door, you could be sitting down to this:

If you were really smart, you'd have also hit TJ's up for their frozen croissants (a freezer-staple in my house), bearing in mind that those classic French rolls need some forethought, since they call for an "overnight" (i.e. eight-hour) rise before baking:

But, as I mentioned in my roundup, sometimes you just want to go out for a bowl. You could spend a lovely evening with friends at Madison Park Cafe, as I did, and leave sated after a spooning into a classic version of soup and a memorable rendition of cassoulet -- served in a cast-iron skillet:

Or go to Cafe Presse alone, sit at the bar, and commune with a my vote for the best French onion soup in town (Jim Drohman's Lyonnaise version, made with chicken stock rather than beef, available at Presse and at its sister-store, Le Pichet):

Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

I never need an excuse to go to Place Pigalle, though here's a good one:

Still hungry after all that cheese? Maybe you'll get lucky and find braised lamb shank on the menu:

Not that you'd have room after a dinner like that one, but I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest a little pot de creme:

Of course, sometimes you just want to eat it and beat it. And that's when Panera Bread's got your number:

So, what did I miss? Where you go when the urge for French onion soup hits?

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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