Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hanlin Tea Room (II): Vetting The Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup

After my first visit to Hanlin Tea Room I couldn't let more than a week go by without returning to try the Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup. TWBNS is a noodle soup genre with a cult following that I'm always looking to collect more data points on; I've never been to Taiwan (or Monterey Park, for that matter) and I would like some day to have confidence in my ability to recognize a "good" Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup when I see (and taste) one.  Since Hanlin Tea Room is a Taiwan-based chain of some note, it was reasonable to assume it might provide a clue or two.

On a quiet Sunday mid-afternoon, far from the madding crowd at the Pride Parade, I settled into a chair at a two-top in the side dining room and ordered my Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup. Eschewing an appetizer on this occasion, I instead splurged on a pot of one of the more pricey "Taiwan Scholar's Teas." My choice was a nutty Biluochun. Biluochun happens to be my second favorite tea after Dragonwell, and is generally harder to find.

When my soup arrived, I was surprised (but not disappointed) to discover that it came with the same Iron Goddess Tea-infused noodles that I went the previous week to investigate; a discussion with my then server had left me with the impression that the TWBNS came with conventional (wheat only) noodles. The noodles rested in a dark, tomato-less and beefy broth that inched toward the spicy, rather than the medicinal end of the Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup broth spectrum, but not so much as to cause discomfort for any but the most spice-averse slurpers.  The cushion of noodles supported a full meal's worth of meltingly tender chunks of beef brisket with just enough fat on them, as well as some slices of carrots and daikon radish.

If my bowl of soup had one fault, it was that the noodles were slightly over-cooked and  tended toward mushiness as I got close to the bottom of the bowl; hopefully this was a one-off thing -- I know from my previous visit that they do know how to cook these noodles. The unctuous yet slightly sassy broth, beef chunks and robust noodles put this soup squarely in the comfort food category, which, I suppose, has something to do with what classic Taiwan Beef Noodle Soup is all about. I'll gladly return for this soup; it and a small appetizer or two will do nicely as a meal, even dinner. Now just wait until they are licensed to sell beer!

Where slurped: Hanlin Tea Room, 809 Kearny St., San Francisco

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