One of the most popular episodes of "Seinfeld" ever was centered on a New York City restaurateur affectionately called the "Soup Nazi,"inspired by Al Yeganeh's legendary midtown soup kitchen. You can now buy four of his soups at most Bakersfield Vons stores.
The soups are packaged in shelf-stable cartons and cost $3.99 ($3.59 for Vons Club members when we visited) for 17.3-ounce containers. Available for purchase are tomato bisque, lobster bisque, chicken noodle and lentil. Newman's favorite, jambalaya, is not yet available in stores. One of the ironies of the episode was that Elaine Benes, the character played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, ended up destroying the Soup Nazi's business by getting an armoire that contained all the secret recipes for his tempting creations.
Yet his new venture really lets the cat out of the bag: The ingredients on the label tell you what he puts in each one, though obviously not the proportions. He has a fondness for Tabasco sauce (found in all but the lentil) and his vegetable choices in the lentil are dazzling (butternut squash, parsnips and poblano peppers, among the usual suspects). The tomato bisque has red wine vinegar and white wine. The lobster bisque includes spinach.
What do they taste like? The chicken noodle is dark, and it's stunning to find an asparagus tip in a packaged soup. The tomato bisque is chunky, rich with red pepper bits and julienne carrot strips and, again, some spinach, with an appealing richness added from cream and Parmesan cheese. (There are only 440 calories in the two-serving package). The back label reads: "The tomato bisque that gives all the others an inferiority complex." The lentil soup is chunky with a nice variety of vegetables, and garlic is a noticeable presence in the lobster bisque.
You can get the recipe for the lobster bisque on the website, though Al keeps some secrets, not mentioning the specific proportions of his "Lobster spice blend." Here's a link to the recipe: originalsoupman.com/soup-recipe/lobster-bisque.
Even before the "Seinfeld" episode aired, New Yorkers lined up and waited patiently for the to-go soup, and critics praised it. The company's website is originalsoupman.com, and the "SoupLine" for comments or questions is 213-768-SOUP.
Locally, soups are available at Vons stores at 4500 Coffee Road, 3400 Stine Road, 2401 N. Chester Ave., 5360 Olive Drive, 5700 Stockdale Highway, 9000 Ming Ave., and 5610 Lake Isabella Blvd. in Lake Isabella. When we bought some at the Coffee Road store, they were out of lobster bisque.
-- Pete Tittl, contributing columnist
New and different
Zaika Indian Cuisine has added new chef's specials, including lamb chops, garlic shrimp, garlic chicken and crispy shish kabobs. Fish tikka masala will be a special for the month of March at the Saturday champagne brunch, and shish kabobs will be available at both Saturday and Sunday brunches ... Cataldo's has moved into the old Plumberry's location at 13001 Stockdale Highway, opening Cataldo's Pizza on the Riverwalk. Phone is 587-7888. Lunch and dinner is served daily, and delivery is available up to three miles from the location ... Chick-fil-A is publicizing a secret menu that includes a chicken breakfast burrito made with spicy chicken and pepper jack cheese added to its chicken egg and cheese bagel and spicy chicken biscuit ... Panera Bread is now offering a peach pecan crunch muffin made with a pecan granola topping and cinnamon, for a limited time ... BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse has added a grilled salmon and lobster combination dinner to its menu.
Upcoming Valentien wine dinner
Reader Jim Etherton wrote to endorse the wine dinners at Valentien Restaurant & Wine Bar, the next one coming on April 4, featuring Wrath Wines from Monterey.
"We have attended several, and they are spectacular," he wrote. "Jeramy provides an exquisite meal of at least four courses built around the featured wines. Yes, a bit pricey, but cheaper than a weekend trip to Napa. Please try to attend. I think you and your dining companion will be knocked off your feet."
That date doesn't work for me, but I will have to keep that in mind for future dining excursions. Cost for the Wrath event is $98 a person plus tax and tip. Call 864-0397 for reservations.
Craft beer fest coming
The folks at Imbibe Wine and Spirits Merchant haven't narrowed down all the details yet, but are promising the first Bakersfield Craft Beer Festival on Saturday, May 25, set for the Cal State Bakersfield Amphitheater. Imbibe is partnering with Eureka! Burger and Moo Creamery to host the event, which will feature more than 20 craft breweries, including Kern River Brewing Company, Lengthwise Brewing, Firestone, Walker Brewing Co., Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Deschutes Brewery and Cismontane Brewing. Tickets will be on sale in early April, according to Imbibe's Facebook page.
-- Matt Munoz, Californian staff writer
Catching up on ketchup
Last week brought news of French's new marinades, and this week we're looking at tomato-based condiments with an informal taste test. The contenders were California Sun Dried Tomato Ketchup from Traina Foods and Heinz Tomato Ketchup Blended with Real Jalapeno.
The sun-dried tomato ketchup packed a taste punch, not surprising since each bottle contains more than 4 pounds of tomatoes. While I wouldn't eat plain ketchup on its own, I gladly consumed the sun-dried ketchup I had alloted for french-fry dipping by itself. That was made easier by the condiment's consistency, which is closer to a paste than a sauce. This ketchup would be great to build flavor in a sauce or on a hamburger when you don't want to end up looking like a Carl's Jr. ad. Sold at Green Frog Market before it closed, the ketchup is now available at Traina's website, traina.com.
Much easier to find is Heinz's jalapeno ketchup, which is closer to your standard sauce. At first, the taste doesn't seem any different from your standard Heinz, but then the heat sneaks up on you.
Sadly, it's more of a polite "boo" than a full flavor surprise, which will disappoint spice seekers. If you're a fan of Sriracha or El Tapatio, you might want to shake a little in the bottle if you want some real heat. But for those who want a little heat without the heartburn, this beats those packets you get at the fast food chains. The ketchup is in grocery stores now.
-- Stefani Dias, Californian assistant lifestyles editor