Just What the Doctor Ordered

It's that time of year. Your sinuses are stopped up, your taste buds dulled by Robitussin. What you need is soup -- specifically a fire-breathing potage that'll clear your head.

Gumbo isn't quite strong enough, even if you lace it with Tabasco. But if you're in a gumbo mood, try a big bowl of Sopa Tomas at Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen [1962 West Gray, (713)528-3474]. It's a Tex-meets-Mex-meets-"guffcoast" agglomeration, with an aromatic shrimp stock, peppers, onions, tomatoes and rice providing a piquant context for shrimp. Fresh, perfectly ripe avocado pieces blend with chopped cilantro; cayenne pepper and what appears to be a pepper oil mean you can postpone that trip to the ENT specialist one more day.

You might also consider what Thai Pepper [2049 West Alabama, (713)520-8225] calls "milky chicken soup," a variant of the tom kha gai served at any number of Thai restaurants. Like its brethren, Thai Pepper's soup boasts lemongrass, coconut milk and chicken, but its head-clearing wallop sets it apart from its peers. I have been brave enough to order it at the "medium" spice level, which is transfixing. If you have the courage to order it "hot," be sure to designate a driver for the trip home.

Last, Lido [3200 Main, (713)523-9295] offers a little intra-Asian bowl of fusion that still has me buzzing; they lace their classic Chinese hot and sour soup with Vietnamese chili oil then add touches of whimsy such as fresh green peas and sliced elephant-ear mushrooms. It's a bowl of fire and surprises, just the thing to cure what ails you.

-- Gardner Landry

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