Ah, Vichyssoise -- so simple and yet so hard to find.
I called Woodside, Cafe des Artistes, La Cachette, Le Petit Bistro (the one on La Cienega and the one on Colorado in S.M.), Cafe Maurice...no luck. Woodside and La Cachette both said they have the soup occasionally -- no use to someone trying to plan a birthday dinner.
All was not lost: in the end, Chez Mimi came through. While I would not be in a rush to return (the casual bistro style of Le Petit Bistro in Santa Monica, on Colorado by MTV, is much more our style), the soup was incredible. Of course, we have nothing to compare it to, but it certainly lived up to all of our expectations and hopes. Smooth, potato-y, and mmm...creamy.
(Best of all it was a complete surprise to my fiance -- I didn't let her look at the menu, and she only found out when the waiter brought the soup over and said the name out loud.)
Thanks for everyone's help!
Good question, Jeff. I guess my short answer is "I don't know." I could be wrong, but it seems to me that I don't very often see vichyssoise on the menus of Los Angeles restaurants. To verify this impression, the thought occurred to me to do a mini-survey of, say, a dozen or so French restaurants to see if it is on their menus. (Of course, vichyssoise is not limited to French restaurants, but I suspect that the odds may be better of finding it on their menus, even though one source claims that vichyssoise comes not from Vichy, or even from France, but from Louis Diat, the chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City, who allegedly invented it in 1917 from a recipe given him by his mother. I have no idea whether this is correct or not.)
If I'm right, and vichyssoise isn't often offered on menus anymore, I wonder why this is. Vichyssoise is certainly a classic and refreshing summer soup. Perhaps it is considered too "simple" to prepare in this day and age where chefs like to dazzle with technique and elaborate, innovative preparations. It is, after all, a simple soup to prepare--just potatoes and leeks, with the variables being water vs. chicken stock, and cream vs. no cream (or variations in the amount of milk and/or cream). The basic, "bare-bones" recipe for vichyssoise is in Julia Child's "The Way to Cook," and consists of just water, leeks, potatoes, and salt, with the traditional sprinkling of chopped fresh chives. In short, there isn't much technique required, nor a lot of room for creativity, within the confines of the classic preparation. Which should not be taken, in any way, to demean the results.
On the other hand, French onion soup remains a staple item at most French restaurants. So I don't know why vichyssoise isn't offered more often. If I ever get around to doing my "mini-survey," I'll supplement this post with the results.
re: Tom Armitage
Vichyssoise was in fact ``invented'' by Louis Diat (although it is a fairly standard, and not very tasty, variant of potato-leek soup), and is properly a New York dish, not a Los Angeles one. Although the old Chasen's, I think, used to have it on the menu alongside the creme senegalaise.
Thanks. One reason I hedged on the origin of vichyssoise was a tid-bit on Trader Joe's site about vichyssoise originating in feudal times in France. It sounded pretty phony, but I hadn't done enough checking to be sure of the "real" origin.
Ahhhhhh, creme senegalaise. Now we're talking. During my years in Seattle, I always anxiously awaited the days when Senegalese soup was served at Pasta & Co., the downtown branch of which, to my good fortune, was located next to my office building. It's become one of my favorite soups to prepare at home. Is there a good creme senegalaise served at a Los Angeles restaurant, for those times when I'm too busy or too lazy to prepare my own?