I jokingly chided the server at Gourmet Noodle House for failing to alert me to the spiciness of "N14 House Special Beef Flank Noodle Soup." It was the woman whom I had wowed on my first visit with my smattering of Shanghainese, and she didn't believe me when I told her there was no reference on the menu for the non-Chinese reader to the heat level of this dish. She picked one up and checked herself, and was surprised to find me right. I thought the omission especially odd because Shanghainese cuisine is not known for spiciness.
I knew going in, of course, that this dish was respectably spicy, because poster "Cynsa37" had noted on Hungry Onion that the dish had made her eyes tear and her nose run, and I was looking forward to the same experience. I was obviously not complaining, as I had eagerly drained my bowl, but I could picture the hassle and extra expense to the house of having a spice-averse Yelper (or even a Chowhound or Hungrion) not appreciating the "Shanghai surprise" and sending the dish back. And maybe loudly bitching about the lack of communication later.
To me, the dish was the perfect potion for a gloomy, overcast day between rainstorms. If I had to compare it with anything, it was akin to a good spicy Taiwanese beef noodle soup, though without any medicinal undertones. The flavorful beef flank (the cut of beef one typically finds in "beef stew noodles") sat in an honestly spicy beefy, chili-laden broth, with the only further visible adornment provided by stalks of Shanghai bok choi (qing cai to Shanghainese speakers). The fresh noodles were like thick, straight ramen noodles, but with more snap. In a word, it's a simple, robust and satisfying bowl of noodles for anyone who likes a little spice heat in their life.
My server also confirmed something I had suspected: the restaurant is connected to the fast-growing Shanghai-based chain of the same name (in both English and Chinese), which currently has about 100 outlets in China and plans for 300 by the year 2020, according to this article (I think). "We're part of the same 'group'," she said. I assume it's a franchising arrangement, because the owner of record is the same person who owned the Roadside BBQ that formerly occupied the premises. I also learned from my server that the chef came from Old Shanghai Restaurant (down the road a piece), where he had 20 years of experience.
I promised my server-friend to return to sample more noodly fare, and she promised to offer caveats to future N14 novices.
Where slurped: Gourmet Noodle House, 3751 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco