This is a bowl of albondigas. I had one rather like it today, at Lily's "homestyle Mexican restaurant" on South Kingshighway, St. Louis. They only serve this very special soup on Thursdays--one of the first things I checked on the menu when I first visited the place about three weeks ago. It's a mildly spiced broth with tender, but not mushy, chunks of potato and carrot, barley, perhaps some very little pieces of tomato and onion. The main attractions are the savory, spicy meatballs.
Two weeks ago, when I first ordered Lily's albondigas, I made the mistake of asking for a "large bowl," thinking that the "small bowl" was a cup of soup like those served in many American restaurants. Now I know enough to order the small bowl which, along with a big fat bean-and-cheese burrito (we're talking stretchy, white cheese here), is as much as a big fat epicure like myself can get down in one sitting. The large bowl, as I found out two weeks ago, is big enough to bathe in. You should only order it when you're serving the whole family out of it. Or, perhaps, when you have just crossed the Sonoran Desert on foot.
I came to love, really love, Mexican food while living for several years in southern Arizona. It was difficult to move back to the Midwest, where everyone's idea of chili is tomato paste with kidney beans and enough pepper to stun an ox. Even in St. Louis I had found nothing between two extremes of quasi-Mex badness: cheap, uninspired swill served out of a drive-through window at Del Taco or Taco Bell on the one hand; and overpriced, overblown fantasies upon a Mexican theme, garnished with unnecessary ingredients and drowned in inappropriate sauces on the other hand. All I wanted was good-quality, homestyle Mexican food, the kind that Mexican people stand in line for...and at last, at Lily's, I've found it.
TONIGHT'S SOUNDTRACK: Josef Suk's Asrael Symphony, composed in 1904-05 in an outpouring of grief upon the deaths, within little more than a year, of Suk's father-in-law (fellow composer Antonin Dvorak) and wife (27-year-old Otilka). Fans of "The Smurfs" may remember Asrael as the cat familiar of the evil wizard Gargamel. Muslims may know Asrael as the Angel of Death. It's five movements, running about an hour in all, and it's pretty grim stuff. It gives you an idea of what Dvorak might have sounded like if he had ever been truly unhappy. The high price of art: it was probably the first work of genius Suk achieved. He lived until 1935 and never remarried.