Folks, please stay focused on the food at Ba Ren or other San Diego restaurants. We removed the tangents discussing MSG because it's inappropriate for the California board.
If you'd like to debate the merits / demerits of MSG, please start a new post on the Not About Food board, here: http://www.chowhound.com/boards/show/29
I can't imagine an authentic Chinese restaurant not using MSG.
I remember going to a real Chinese recipe website (from the People's Republic) a few years ago and almost every dish called for "gourmet powder" as an ingredient. I emailed them asking what that was, and they replied MSG. If it's gourmet powder, it's got to be good!
Speaking of Ba Ren, if anyone is interested in joining a SD Chowhound dinner thursday, check out http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SDChow/ and send an email. Everyone is invited, but please email first.
Anyway - to make this an actual reply, isn't it the case that most chinese food in china uses MSG? It reminds me of a chapter from Steingarten's book where he discusses the strange phenomenon that chinese people don't seem to have reactions to MSG and are quite fond of it, whereas many americans claim to be allergic. I usually find that its from too much salt, not the MSG that can leave a person with that icky feeling.