88 Church Street, Burlington, 862-8828
"How can you guys do a 'soup survey' and not hit Asiana Noodle House?" asked reader Bridget O'Connor in a letter to the editor in Seven Days' January 9 issue. "They will out-soup anyone for miles around!"
While Asiana Noodle Shop — not to be confused with Pearl Street's Asiana House — didn't fit into our December 19 survey of Burlington cafés and bakeries that serve soup, it was clear that it was time to pay the Church Street restaurant its due. Especially with a string of weather that will certainly be necessitating a steaming bowl or two of noodle soup.
One of my favorite things about the cozy restaurant is its space. The slightly cramped surroundings that long held Paradise Burrito feel just as a casual noodle shop should.
As a food critic, I find that one of the most deflating things you can put in front of me is a huge menu. Often the term "jack of all trades, master of none" applies to these kinds of establishments. The same goes for any restaurant that tries to be pan-Asian.There are simply too many different flavors to perfect.
But, darn it, the lengthy bill of fare at Asiana Noodle is just so full of appealing choices. In warmer weather, I might have gone for spicy tuna maki with cold noodles in Korean spicy dressing; or one of the quirky duck specials, including a roll that combines mallard with eel.
But last night was the culinary equivalent of putting on a warm coat and snow pants — it was all about comfort.
I started by assembling my DIY Cargo Noodles bowl.
I was excited that bean thread noodles (called green bean noodles on the menu, though they're actually made of mung beans) were one of the many pasta options. It takes a lot for me to eschew udon or soba, but that did it.
This brought good news and bad news. The good news was that the gleaming, round noodles absorbed the ginger of my tom yum broth beautifully. The bad news was that they were overcooked and tended to fall apart as I grabbed them with my chopsticks.
The soup lacked acid, the key to a good tom yum. Meanwhile, the spice stayed at the tip of my tongue rather than creating the deep, lip-tingling burn I look for. It tasted good, but I would have been disappointed at a Thai restaurant. The vegetables within, including cherry tomatoes, bok choy and a number of different mushrooms, were all cooked to perfection, retaining their natural textures while adding flavor and nutrition. Still, I couldn't help but feel that my pan-Asian prophecy was being fulfilled.
With an extra $3.50, we ordered a palate cleanser of ume-shiso maki. The sweet-sour-salty balance of the plum paste and fresh carrots within was lovely, but I couldn't taste the shiso in the slightly gooey roll.
A key flavor was also lacking in the Five Spice Chicken Noodle Soup. Or rather, five of them. But what I missed most in the comforting chicken broth was the sweet licorice flavor of the anise and fennel seeds. A hint of cinnamon would have made the soup. But I still enjoyed the warm potage.
Tender bone-in chicken thighs were fun to disassemble with my chopsticks. The egg noodles were nicely al dente, and bean sprouts and bok choy lent a pleasant hint of vegetation.
I was certainly warmed by my soups, but I wouldn't agree that they're the best for miles, even compared with other purveyors of Asian noodle bowls. I'll be more likely to hit less expensive and more flavorful Pho Pasteur or Pho Hong for Vietnamese and Sushido or HJ House for Japanese. But if I want it all at once, I might head back to Church Street.
Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.