Beyond the pleasures of eating very well prepared xiao long bao (XLB) which established its reputation in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung does offer other things on its menu. Sandwiched between two movies at Lincoln Square Cinemas today, we were able to squeeze in an early dinner here. Sitting in the bar area is a way to avoid sometimes long waits to get a table in the dining room. Often, you can walk right up and get seated, the niceties of dining at a table replaced by a bar stool, counter and a good view of the bartender preparing cocktails. He will also take orders for anything from the menu.
We were in the mood for noodle soups tonight.
It’s a sure sign that beef noodle soup is a national obsession in Taiwan when Niu Ba Ba in Taipei City will let you buy a bowl for about TW $10,000 (over US $300). That kind of excessive pricing doesn’t tend to do well here in the U.S., no matter how good the product. Locally, we’ve tasted a very good version at Facing East. I ordered the Braised Beef Soup (☆☆☆☆) on the Din Tai Fung menu. When I tasted the first spoonful of broth, the first thing I do when judging noodle soup, I knew immediately that the soup was going to be an extraordinary experience. Its excellence was not diminished by exquisitely tender beef shanks that fell apart in the mouth. It was also obvious that the wheat noodles, thin and straight, slippery and firm, were freshly made and held their qualities throughout most of the meal. The broth was clearly the result of long hours of simmering with a pronounced beefy flavor that I honestly have to say I’ve tasted only with this kind of Taiwanese soup. I literally savored every bite. A bit of a spicy kick was provided by, I believe, doubanjiang chile paste. Here at Din Tai Fung, I will likely order this dish from now on, rather than XLB.
My wife’s Noodle Soup with Pickled Mustard Green & Shredded Pork (☆☆☆) was itself a revelation. The best adjective to describe it is pure. The broth had a clean, intensely chicken flavor. The pork was very tender, what there was of it, and the subtle pickled mustard greens obviously made from scratch rather than scooped from a can. If there is any shortcoming at all, it is the paucity of pork slivers, flavorful though they may be. Other soups I’ve had of its kind had broths that were more seasoned and contained other additions that, while very good, tasted more “elaborate” than tonight’s. My first impression was that the soup lacked something, more an absence of familiarity, but it later dawned on me that other versions perhaps added flavors that weren’t really necessary. It was an unexpected surprise.
Update (dinner, 9-28-14): The same austerity that characterized the above held true for Pork Chop Noodle Soup. Again, there were the superior, clean tasting, intense broth (though not quite as flavorful as the pork noodle soup’s, both of them a chicken-based stock) and the same excellent housemade noodles. The soup was topped with thick slices of pork chops whose complex, delicious spicing defies identification, some slices with bone still attached. This is yet another winner for Din Tai Fung (☆☆☆).