Souper Bowl I: One Shining Pho-mentRembert Browne
After a riotous first day of the Souper Bowl — complete with buzzer-beaters, shocking upsets, and rampant allegations of MSG abuse — Day 2 of the Souper Bowl was a relatively staid affair. Which isn’t to say it was dull! Riding a dominant performance from its star player, Star Anise, top-seed Pho handily devoured its weak first-round opponent, Manhattan Clam Chowder (truly the Gerald Wilkins to New England’s delicious Dominique). And, in a matchup both Jay Bilas and Alton Brown found “appetizing,” 3-seed Wonton earned its pre-tourney (and pre-meal) hype by delivering a surprisingly decisive smackdown to Butternut Squash. (Despite being known as a cold-weather team, experts report that Butternut Squash “looked a little heavy” out there.)
Taken together, these two victories gave me hope that the Souper Bowl, once a strictly American affair, is finally embracing the international game. It may well be that yesterday’s performance by Ramen — in which it calmly embraced its surprise top seeding and, instead of noodling around and playing down to the competition, easily defeated an anonymous Vegetable squad — was our sport’s Dirk Nowitzki moment. (So good was Ramen that people might one day buy tickets just to see it in action. In Japan, they already do.) It could and should be a wake-up call for a hidebound domestic soup culture too taken with tradition and slowed down by a plodding, outdated series of designed plays — starch plus cheese, vegetable plus cream — and an inherent fear of spice and the zone defense. It was heartening to see Miso — a soup so profoundly focused and Zen that Phil Jackson asks it for book recommendations — overcome a last-minute smear campaign that originated within the Grantland office (Miso is a staple food of an entire culture — not merely a broth!) and vanquish the talented but chaotic Italian Wedding gang. (Pasta and chicken and meatballs and sausage? Relax, Italian Wedding Soup! It’s a marathon, not a sprint.) And how could an iso-oriented team like Potato Leek (a group with less depth than the Carmelo/Amar’e Knicks) stand a chance against the blanketing flavor attack of Tom Yum?
Except, of course, it can and did: Slow, steady and profoundly unmemorable, Potato Leek gutted out a victory over the flashy Thai import. So maybe the Souper Bowl isn’t quite as worldly as I’d like it to be. At least not yet. And let’s be honest: Just because it’s foreign doesn’t necessarily make it better. In an all-American matchup even Andy Warhol would love, Chicken Noodle, the most complete player on the floor, annihilated that gluey casserole thickener, Cream of Mushoom. And Clam Chowder, a Boston-based juggernaut more fearsome than the Belichick-led Pats, easily beet (sorry) Borscht, and rightly so. (I admire my Eastern European ancestors for their pluck and survival skills, not their lack of seasoning and seasonal ingredients.) And quirky Gazpacho, the most hyped undersized Spaniard since Ricky Rubio, went cold when it could least afford it, falling meekly to that government-subsidized powerhouse, Corn Chowder.
Which brings me to the most frustrating matchup of the round, the Eurozone slap-fest between French Onion and Minestrone. I’m on record (or at least I am on Twitter) as disliking cheese-heavy soups. It strikes me as the lowest form of pandering, an unhealthy way to get people to eat their greens that even Jessica Seinfeld would dismiss as gauche. It was especially gaul-ing (really, sorry) to see French Onion, with its impossibly dense Gruyère chapeau, take down the delightful Minestrone, which is what all vegetable-based soups aspire to be. The battle was the Pat Riley-era Knicks, all ugly elbows and punishing shards of Oakley-esque onion, against the Mike D’Antoni-led Suns, a harmonious blend of various colorful veggies. But as D’Antoni eventually learned (though the GMs who hire him never seem to), one can’t win on style points alone. In the end, it was French Onion whose coach/chef was doused with a scalding tureen of beef broth as the final seconds clicked away. You may have won this round, French Onion! But know this: To advance further in the Souper Bowl, one needs to be made of hardier stock.
DAY 2 RESULTS
- (2) Chicken Noodle over (7) Cream of Mushroom — 6,543 votes to 1,011
- (3) Miso over (6) Italian Wedding — 3,669 votes to 3,311
- (4) Potato Leek over (5) Tom Yum — 4,550 votes to 1,801
- (1) Clam Chowder over (8) Borscht — 6,135 votes to 860
- (2) Corn Chowder over (7) Gazpacho — 4,360 votes to 1,892
- (3) Wonton over (6) Butternut Squash — 5,050 votes to 1,865
- (4) French Onion over (5) Minestrone — 4,976 votes to 2,077
- (1) Pho over (8) Manhattan Clam Chowder — 4,734 votes to 2,031
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