My daughter loves matzoh soup. On a recent weekend, before the weather once again shifted gears and sped toward spring, we went out in search of a nice bowl as defense against the chill in the air. Our usual matzoh stop is Kenny and Ziggy's, whose full-flavored stock and fluffy matzoh balls are my definition of the dish. This time, we wound up at Rustika Café and Bakery.
I'd had it on good authority that Rustika is a good stop for Jewish specialties, sometimes with a Mexican twist. While I wasn't expecting any chiles in my matzoh soup, I was certainly expecting a capable version of this most comforting of comfort dishes.
Unfortunately, this was one of the worst matzoh soups I've ever had, leaving me to wonder what all the fuss was about. First, it was over-salted almost to the point of being inedible. The broth was thin and tinny, with the pallid color of canned broth and an utter lack of chicken flavor. There was none of the richness and deep chicken taste that comes from a lovingly made stock and, since the broth comprises 50 percent of the ingredients in matzoh soup, I took this as a harbinger of things to come.
The matzoh ball itself fared both better and worse. As I dug my spoon in to shave off a bite, I was met with little resistance. This was one light, fluffy matzoh ball. The flavor proved equally encouraging, with the rich taste and luxurious texture of schmaltz readily evident. I am firmly convinced that chicken fat is a ridiculously underutilized ingredient, and plan on working it into my cooking more. Chicken lardo, anyone?
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Sadly, that wonderful taste and texture only comprised one layer of the ball. About 1/3 of the way in, it gave way to a dry, mealy texture. Either I got a patch of matzoh meal that had not fully met with that glorious schmaltz, or the center of the ball had not fully hydrated before being dunked into the poaching liquid. I suspect both.
Either way, it was as unpleasant as it sounded, leaving my mouth filled with bland cracker crumbs, and as dried out as a stoner with the flu. I scraped off the outside layer of the matzoh ball and made the most of it. The most of it, however, remained in my bowl as we made our way to the door, deeply disappointed and hoping this was a fluke.