I have long bemoaned the dearth of excellent, authentic Chinese food on the North Shore. Tasty Japanese cuisine, certainly, we have that. We have decent Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, even Malaysian.
Although there are a few small restaurateurs dishing up fresh, delicious Chinese food, most of what you'll find in this community is of the over-seasoned, MSGheavy American Chinese variety - the kind you can't actually find anywhere in China.
One dish that you will find there is beef noodles. First created in Taiwan and often served as fast food throughout China, the long-simmered beef broth is loaded with noodles, veggies and slices of beef. It's such a key piece of Taiwan's culinary identity that a beef noodle festival is held each year in Taipei.
So it was big news for North Shore lovers of Chinese cuisine when we got our own outlet of Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle restaurant in Ambleside in November. Chef Hung has been racking up the awards in Taiwan, and is now out to conquer the rest of the world. The chain opened its first international location in Richmond in late 2009, under the management of B.C.'s Fairchild Group. Last year, as well as the West Van location, more stores opened in Los Angeles and Beijing.
Given the hype, enlisting Big J to meet me in Ambleside for a helping of the savoury noodles was not a difficult endeavor.
The space, formerly home to a series of Greek restaurants, is now all new with a mix of tiles and textures: chocolate brown tiled floors, a bar clad in glass tile, brown banquettes and a punch of colour provided by orange chairs. Although currently obscured by the "Grand Opening" sign, the giant chopsticks raising and lowering a tangle of noodles from an equally giant bowl in the window is a highlight.
When we arrived we were surprised to see that almost every table in the generously sized room was taken - and that most of the customers were Asian, which I took as a good sign. Service was speedy; we were greeted, seated and had water, tea and menus on the table in a flash. The list of dishes is intimidating, both in size and because some of the ingredients are unusual for a western palate. While you might not be interested in spicy beef tendons or marinated pork intestine, hang in there . . . there's lots that is familiar.
Side dishes range from chicken nuggets or wings, deep fried pork chop and braised beef shank to cold mixed cucumbers.
Our pan fried stuffed tofu came in fat, pillowy cubes, stuffed with fish paste and then fried until they had a crisp, golden crust.
Boiled Shanghai bok choy arrived arranged in a perfect circle, cooked until just tender and easily spiced up with the chili sauce on the table.
Then we were on to the soup, and it's just as good as advertised. Order it plain or
with your choice of noodles (flat, thin, rice or vermicelli), and with all manner of beef cuts: shank, brisket, tripe or tendon. The broth is made with premium beef (you can order it "fire chili" if you like some heat), and there is no MSG added.
We opted for Champion Beef Brisket with thin noodles in clear soup, and like other patrons in the restaurant used the spoon to ladle soup with our left hand and chopsticks in our right to manage the noodles.
They were perfectly cooked; when overdone they're soft and mushy, but these still have the slightest hint of test to the teeth. Along with tender slices of brisket they add substance to the deeply beefy broth.
Had we been there for dinner, we would have gone on to dessert - perhaps a smoothie, green tea shaved ice or mango ice cream - but this was lunch time and we we'd made perfect time to return to work in under an hour.
The bill for our efficient and delicious lunch came to about $25, including HST.
Next time (and there will be a next time) we're going all out. I might even try the tripe.
Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle is located at 1560 Marine Dr., West Vancouver. Call 7782798822.