Pearl House –
Saturday means Mandarin school for my daughter and Mandarin school means lunch in Burnaby. We were hungry and pressed for time today so we wanted to go somewhere quick and reliable for lunch. Off the top of my head, I could only think of one restaurant that was quick and reliable in the vicinity of my daughter’s Mandarin school and that restaurant was Pearl House.
Pearl House was one of the first Taiwanese restaurants that we visited when we moved here. Although the food it served wasn’t the best Taiwanese we’ve had, the food that we received on our previous visits was pretty good compared to other Taiwanese places we have frequented in both the U.S. and Canada.
The only actual concern I had before visiting Pearl House today was whether or not we would be able to get a table without a wait. I think we have had to wait for a table every single time that we tried to eat there on Saturday for lunch.
Fortunately, we were able to secure a table for four as soon as we arrived at the restaurant. There were actually many empty tables in the restaurant when we arrived. I was encouraged by the sight of the many empty tables because it meant that we would probably have to wait even shorter than usual for our food to arrive. I was right. The food usually comes out without much of a wait at Pearl House, but today it practically flew out the kitchen. Around 5 minutes after we placed our order, all of our food started arriving at our table.
The first dishes we got were the marinated chicken gizzards, marinated bean curd, and marinated seaweed.
These dishes are normally ones that people in Taiwan have as accompaniments when they eat minced pork rice, dry noodle, or noodle soup bowls. Since my wife and I were both having variations of the beef noodle soup, it was natural for us to order these marinated dishes. All three marinated items perfectly mimicked the textures and flavours of their counterparts in Taiwan. All three had the familiar aromas of the five spice, soy, sugar, ginger, and Chinese medicine (all Taiwanese marinades claim to have some special blend of Chinese medicinal herbs) marinade. The gizzard was chewy like it should be and so was the seaweed. The tofu was dense and firm, exactly the way we liked marinated tofu to be. Eating these three marinated items brought us back to our neighborhood noodle shop in Taiwan.
Our beef noodle soups were also good enough to be served in neighbourhood beef noodle shops in Taiwan. My wife had the straight beef noodle soup and I had the beef and tendon noodle soup. They both came with the same soup, noodles, and garnishes.
I have to say that even though I’ve been to Pearl House several times, I’ve never tried their beef noodle soup. And I avoided ordering their beef noodle soup on purpose. I have no faith in any North American version of the Taiwanese beef noodle soup. I have never had a decent bowl of beef noodle soup anywhere in North America…O.K., maybe I did have one acceptable bowl in San Gabriel, CA….But generally speaking, I have found all Taiwanese beef noodle soups to suck in North America.
When I moved here and witnesses the numerous Taiwanese beef noodle joints, I thought it would be different. But after trying several of them and being disappointed by all of them, I regained my belief that good Taiwanese beef noodles are nowhere to be found in North America. Case in point: the best Taiwanese beef noodle soup that I’ve had locally is Master Hung’s. I would never set foot in a Master Hung’s in Taiwan unless I had a gun pointed to my head.
So I was more than a little surprised when I tasted the soup of my beef noodles today. It was full of flavour. I not only tasted the soy sauce. For the first time, I tasted the beef; I tasted the spices; and I tasted the length of time it took for the soup to evolve from merely a pot of hot water and a bunch of soaked ingredients. Through their fall-apart and tender textures, I could also appreciate the amount of time Pearl House took to fully braise the meat and the tendons. Not only did they take care to braise the beef for an adequate amount of time, they also chose the right cut of meat. There were tiny pockets of fat and connective tissue interspersed throughout each piece of meat, giving the meat a more tender and gelatinous texture. Of all the pieces of meat that my wife and I received in both of our bowls, not one piece of meat felt even the tiniest bit dry.
I felt that the noodles in my beef noodle soup were not as good as the soup and meat. They were overcooked and had a texture that was too soft for my liking because I usually like to have noodles that are slightly undercooked. The noodles should have a firmer texture that does not succumb immediately to the bite of the teeth. I like it when the noodles have a bit of a resistance when bitten into. The noodle that I got today were so soft that they could’ve be broken apart by my lips.
Unlike the noodles, I liked the textures of the deep fried blood rice cake.
Call it what you like: dark rice cake or black rice cake. No matter what you call it, I believe that the main ingredient that makes the rice cake black is either coagulated duck’s blood or coagulated pig’s blood. Anyhow, it is a popular snack item -whether steamed or deep fried- in Taiwan. This deep fried version at Pearl House was nicely executed. The outer skin of the blood rice cake had a nice crisp while it’s inside wasn’t too hard to bite through. The included sweet-gingery-garlicky tasting thick soy sauce was straight out of a Taiwanese night market. It went well with the blood rice cake and I bet it would go well with a dozen other Taiwanese snacks on their menu.
The other deep fried item we had was their deep fried chicken nuggets. We had a regular a la carte order of it to share and my daughter ordered the deep fried chicken nuggets with rice.
They were nicely fried. The outer skin of each nugget was crispy while the inside was not too dry. Although the insides of the nuggets could not be called juicy, they were nonetheless tender enough that I didn’t feel the individual fibers of the chicken meat while I was biting through each nugget. I liked the flavours and textures of their deep fried nuggets, but they were a little different from Taiwanese snack they were supposed to represent. The salt crispy chicken is supposed to have an outer skin that is not as smooth as the version served by Pearl House. It is supposed to almost resemble sand paper in appearance. You are supposed to feel a graininess when you bite into the breaded skin. I guess the breading technique had to be difference because Pearl House used big, boneless pieces of meat instead of the smaller pieces with bone that salt crispy chicken is usually made with in Taiwan.
At the end of our meals, we got some milk tea (with and without pearls) to counteract some of the saltiness and oiliness of the deep fried items.
As I’ve mentioned in one (or two) of my other posts, I think that Pearl House serves a very good version of Taiwanese milk tea (with pearls). Their tea-to-creamer-to-sugar-to-ice ratio is controlled perfectly. Unlike other pearl milk tea places, when you request the sweetness to be cut by 50% at Pearl House, they really do put 50% less syrup in the beverage. I have found that other places either eliminate too little or too much of the syrup when I request the sweetness to be cut in half.
I came to Pearl House today looking for a quick and reliable meal. I walked away with a quick meal which included very good Taiwanese milk tea, very good deep fried snacks, and the best Taiwanese beef noodle I’ve tasted so far in North America. My perception of Pearl House has totally changed after my meal there today. Instead it being a restaurant I visit because of convenience, it will become a restaurant destination for me. I will visit it whenever I get a craving for Taiwanese beef noodles in the future…I just need to time my beef noodle cravings so that they occur every Saturday. That way, I won’t go broke by driving all the way from West Van to Burnaby each time I crave beef noodle soup.