August 7, 2010

The $100 bowl of noodle

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It had to be done.  I'd been going to 688 Beef Bowl (牛爸爸牛肉麵) for my beef noodles (牛肉麵) for the last few years, and had always been curious about the exorbitantly priced noodles on the menu.  Granted, nothing on the menu here is "cheap", but paying NT$ 1,000, NT$ 3,000 or even NT$ 10,000 for a bowl of noodles?  That's simply unheard of elsewhere.

A couple of years ago I had tried a bowl of the NT$ 1,000 beef noodle, and went back to getting my regular bowls of noodles priced at a more modest - but still expensive by local standards - NT$ 300.  Stepping up to the next level has been an itch I've been wanting to scratch, and today was the perfect opportunity to do so.

We put our bags down and I immediately asked to see the kitchen, as I knew that would be on top of the elves' agenda.  Mr. Wang the owner claims his is the "cleanest restaurant in the country", and judging by the kitchen I'd say he's not wrong.  I had previously had a conversation with Mr. Wang, where he clearly stated the philosophy behind the restaurant. I got to find out a lot more on this visit.

There are numerous different pots of beef stock, one for each type of noodle on the menu.    The stocks are made with a minimal amount of spices so all the flavors come from cooking the beef for a long time, and any chili powder is added just prior to serving.

The peanuts - which I love so much for their sweetness and flavors - are cooked for a short time at low temperature in the stock from the braised pig trotters, chilled in the fridge overnight in the stock, and the process is repeated for 3 days.  The end result speaks for itself... just about melts in your mouth like candy.  There's passion in 'em peanuts!

Mr. Wang said that the NT$ 3,000 price would be worth it after I've drunk the soup and had a piece of the marbled beef.  Well... I'm not sure about that, but he probably meant that the rest of the ingredients cost next to nothing...  The soup was good. I didn't ask him about the time it took to get this, or the amount of beef that was consumed in the process to get it tasting like this.  The elves and I joked about needing to finish the whole bowl of soup, and even one drop spilled onto the table is "worth NT$ 1".

Was the beef good?  Yes.  Most certainly the best bowl of beef noodle I've ever had.  The two different cuts of Japanese beef were well-marbled and melted in my mouth.  You could see the strands of muscle fiber and the pockets of half-melted fat.  Definitely good stuff.

The Canadian beef was yummy, too.  There were interesting cuts such as where the shank meets the tendon near the hoof.  Very tender all lots of collagen goodness.

The noodles in the bowl were also different from the cheaper bowls, and they were thicker, hand-pulled noodles (拉麵) with a lot more bite. 

The elves ordered different versions of noodles so they could dissect/analyze them.  I think they had fun. 

So, was the bowl of noodle worth the price?  I'm still debating about this one...  I've already said it was the best bowl of beef noodle I've ever had, and I really did enjoy it.  There were certainly chunks of expensive Japanese beef, and I believe Mr. Wang actually gave me extra chunks of them.  Judging by the cost of the ingredients alone?  Well, it's kinda like the Apple iPhone... the sum total of the material parts is a fraction of the actual selling price, and the rest of the price is what you pay for R&D/design/branding...etc.  I see Mr. Wang's passion very clearly, and I guess I don't mind paying the premium.

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