Fast French

Add these to the depressingly short list of things you'd like to find in your freezer: chef Georges Guy's soulful onion and snapper soups. They're just two of the frozen French dishes in a new product line from the proprietor of the popular far-west-Houston bistro Chez Georges. The rich duck stock that underpins his onion soup makes other versions seem beside the point: this is a tonic that could drastically improve a bad day. If you saute your own slice of sourdough or French bread in olive oil, then pile on some Swiss cheese, the effect is even more gratifying.

Guy's russet-colored snapper soup (billed rather... er... fancifully as bouillabaisse) is a heady oceanic brew with a peppery undercurrent. It's sensational enough that its cargo of mealy little shrimp, innocuous bay scallops and chunks of much-cooked fish -- complete with the occasional bone fragment -- seems irrelevant. So do the accompanying croutons and grated Swiss. But a garlicky saffron aioli that's part of the bargain performs miracles when it's smeared on a crouton and cast adrift in your bowl.

The entrees I sampled showed promise, although a couple were wildly oversalted: a winy rabbit stew with the character of a coq au vin; and an original Texas-style cassoulet featuring a kaleidoscope of Southwestern beans. Along with a duck leg and a hunk of streaky bacon, this dish sported a scary amount of fat and an objectionable little Jimmy Dean-esque pork sausage. Needs work! Duck breast a l'orange, however, boasted a refreshingly tart, brothy sauce that brought credit to an oft-abused genre.

All these dishes are packaged in vacuum-sealed plastic pouches that can be microwaved, or simmered on the stove for 15 to 20 minutes. Until Guy opens a planned storefront, the line can be ordered by phone (937-7409 or 589-7336); delivery charge is $10, free with an order of $50 or more. Knowing I had 50 bucks' worth of Guy's soup stashed away would certainly enhance my sense of security.

Weird wrinkle: you can request one of Guy's employees to stage a Tupperware-style tasting party at which the host -- so help me -- gets a 10 percent discount, and everybody gets free delivery if the combined orders exceed $50.

-- Alison Cook


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