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Jul 23, 2009 08:51 PM

Lunch at Jai Yun

My wife and I ate lunch at Jai Yun yesterday. We asked for the $18/person menu and received six cold dishes and six hot dishes. The food was mainly Shanghainese, with one off-course excursion (kong bao chicken). As we tasted the first few dishes we looked up to say to each other, "As good as being in China." A cold dish as simple as thinly sliced cucumbers dressed with a little vinegar was bright, flavorful, and rich. The abalone slices with scrambled egg whites were really good. There was a cold dish of Shanghai "smoked" fish, another of layers of dried and rehydrated dofu--both were distinctively flavored and reminded us of eating in China (I wish I could be more precise). Another hot dish was a tangle of tiny wild mushrooms deep-fried and luscious--I thought I was back in Yunnan.

This meal ranks with the best we have eaten at China Village a couple of years ago as the best Chinese food we have eaten on this side of the Pacific.

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  1. What is the price range of lunch options of Jai Yun? I've been hearing good things about if for years but always leery of the pricetag associated with the multi-course dinners. But I'm more than happy to pay $18 per person for 12 different dishes! I assume the dishes are dim sum sized?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Pei

      Sounds like OP was there the same day three of my co-workers and I went for lunch. Say hi next time :)

      The options were: $9, $18, $24?, $35

      We got 10 dishes (where dish #1 was 6 smaller plates) on the $18 option. Having never been to China, I can only compare to other Chinese food I've had in the US. This was the single best chinese meal I've ever eaten, hands down. The flaky tofu, the incredible spicy fried mushrooms (no batter, just perfectly crispy), the tender abalone, the flavorful tofu, the crispy eggplant. I work very close to the restaurant. It's going to be a regular visit.

      1. re: beerandpork

        Thanks! The meal looks and sounds great.

        1. re: beerandpork

          cold plates: cucumber in sesame; enoki mushrooms, tofu skins, lotus root, red radish, ginger & daikon radish
          hot plates: abalone with egg whites, crispy fried spicy eggplant, shrimp with red and green peppers
          The six cold plates were a refreshing collection of tastes and texture; with varied seasonings, piquant, sweet, spicy.
          The abalone with softly poached egg white is a dish to savor; it's richness rewards your tongue with a soft melting silkiness. The crispy fried eggplant is lapped with a hit of heat that will intrigue and delight. The sweetness of the shrimp will jump into your mouth with a crunch of red and green peppers. The $18 pp lunch offers an array of bright flavors.

          1. re: Cynsa

            hot plates: wheat gluten, fish with fresh corn & peas, fresh soy bean & tofu skin, pork belly - The texture of the gluten was surprisingly light, slightly spongy-slightly sweet (all four of us enjoyed this dish). The perfectly cooked fish with corn and peas was very pleasing with its fresh and contrasting flavors. The soy beans and tofu brought color to the table with the familiar edamame and the ribbons of tofu skin - a savory crunch! We finished with the umami of the braised red cooked pork shank. This was a lunch that delighted each of us; we were satisfied and contented.

      2. My friend and I went to Jai Yun for lunch last week. She is of Shanghai descent from Hong Kong and I am originally from Hong Kong but have been living here for over twenty years and we have very different takes on the meal. We had the $18 prix fixe lunch consisting of 5 cold appetizers and 5 hot dishes. The appetizers were: marinated cucumber, lotus root, cabbage, some kind of greens and the vegetarian goose (tofu skins). The hot dishes were: stir fried bacon with leek, conch with egg white, stir fried eggplant, stir fried shrimps and stir fried tofu (kofu???).

        My friend thinks it is not worth $18 for the quality and quantity of food. I appreciate the variety and am glad that I tried it but I am not tempted to try their dinner anymore ($55 and up). I think they should be commended for packaging but I also don't think the value is there. I woiuld likely take my mother there for lunch because we would not be able to order the number of dishes for the same amount of money in a regular restaurant but then in a regular restaurant, we would have leftover for dinner for the same amount of money.

        7 Replies
        1. re: shu0912

          This is not a regular restaurant. It deserves to be a destination place. We were there yesterday for lunch, a party of 5. The server recommended the $18 per person menu, which is equivalent to the $55 dinner menu. We had 7 cold dishes and 7 hot dishes. We felt that it was a fair price for the amount, quality and variety of food we received. Caveats: our group consisted of one male and 4 females, one of whom is not able to eat seafood. We actually had some food left over, though not enough to merit taking away. The optimal number of diners per table is 4 or 5, as the chef adjusts his dish portioning by table size. His food is still consistently delicious and the knife work lovely. Our appetizers were: marinated cucumbers, marinated radishes, seaweed, enoki mushrooms, napa cabbage with young ginger, five spice beef and jellyfish. The hot dishes were: kaofu (wheat gluten, not tofu), abalone with egg whites, Shanghai style shrimp, ti pang(red cooked pork shank), kung pao chicken, fresh soybeans with pressed tofu sheets and salted greens, and spicy fried mushrooms (my favorite). I've had dinner at the former location, and the ambience at this location is ten times better, as the restaurant is spacious and nicely decorated. (And the unisex bathroom is very clean).

          We were there at 1 pm and there were only 4 other tables occupied. This place is a gem, especially at lunch and deserves more patrons.

          1. re: anli

            I've been itiching to try this place. Are they opened for lunch on the weekend? Can you show up without a rsvp for lunch?

            1. re: PAHound

              I asked recently. They are not open for lunch on the weekend. They did say that if you wanted to bring a large party in for a weekend lunch, they might consider it.

            2. re: anli

              If your table had requested no seafood at all, do you think they would have accommodated you easily? Just curious as I am allergic to shellfish.

            3. re: shu0912

              Two reports, two different answers. Worth it, not worth it. Anli says "lovely knife work", emphasizing the quality. shu0912 complains of the size.

              Shu0912 - do you think the quality of your meal is equivalent to many of the surrounding restaurants? If so, which? All?

              Anli - Did you take away left overs? Did you expect to at this price?

              1. re: bbulkow

                I should have elaborated more on the food. Of the 5 appetizers, the vegetarian goose was the best, delicate and flavorful. The other 4 marinated vegetables were simple and all tasted about the same. The hot dishes were better, we liked the leek with bacon and the kaofu. The clear noodle in the leek with bacon dish was a great addition, it absorbed all the essence of the leek and bacon. The kaofu had good texture and was not overly sweet but I think this is one dish that the knife work was a disadvantage. The sharp cut edge added an odd touch, it would have been better torn. We didn’t care for the abalone and egg white, the abalone was mushy.

                I still like the concept, but the dishes are not extraordinary that you can't get somewhere else. It's homey food of good execution. Also maybe two person is just not optimal, you don't get the variety of cooking, for instance I would have liked a braised/stewed dish or something spicy. We also didn’t get any bread that I've seen in other reports.

                I do agree you can't go in treating it as a regular restaurant, it's more like dim sum but you don't get to pick from the cart. I think the price is okay for the variety, particularly if you compare it to dim sum. My friend's complaint is that the ingredients are very ordinary and the portion is small so the price/quality seems low.

                As for other Shanghai restaurants, I like Shanghai in Oakland Chinatown. Shanghai Gourmet in Walnut Creek and Lily's House in Lafayette were good but I haven't been for a while.


              2. re: shu0912

                "My friend thinks it is not worth $18 for the quality and quantity of food." Is there another Shanghai place around here that she thinks makes better-quality food?

                Shanghai in Oakland is cheaper, but overall I don't think the food's as good, though their best dishes are.

              3. Tried out Jai Yun for lunch, the $18/pp option. Food was very good, but the burning question I have is -- why was it so empty? At 12:30pm, there was only one more table full of patrons, besides us.

                While we were having lunch, we saw quite a few (obviously tourist looking) persons who walked in but then walked right out when the waitress explained, rather brusquely, about the prix-fixe lunch. ("How many dishes come with the $9 option? I don't know, its the chef's decision, I am just a waitress." -- swear to god, was her response.)

                I wish she'd done a better job of explaining things ... if she had done that, at least one group would have stayed back.

                If it's like this, I don't think we will have Jai Yun open for lunch for very long...

                15 Replies
                1. re: bong

                  Jai Yun's usually had only one or no other tables when I've had dinner there, too.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    True, but considering that lunch prices are SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper, not sure how it can be viable for them to stay open for lunch with so few patrons...

                  2. re: bong

                    I think most/many people associate Chinese food with cheap. For example, Bruce Cost tried to run a restaurant in Opera Plaza years ago and failed. His prices were in the Jai Yun class. As I recall, he attributed the restaurant's failing to customers' unwillingess to pay for fine food. The people you refer to who looked in and walked out may have been expecting cheap food, not great food. In a similar vein I was in a teahouse in Beijing years ago, enjoying Long Jing and chatting with the proprietor, when an American couple walked in. They balked at paying the price of tea service.
                    I hope Jai Yun prospers, but I fear it may not.

                    1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                      China Moon and the Mandarin were both successful for many years, so I don't think prices were Monsoon's problem. I don't think any restaurant has ever succeeded in that awful location.

                      1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                        I agree. I think the chef at Jai Yun is exceptionally skilled, in particular with deft knife work and a very light hand at seasoning. If you want to experience the heights Chinese cuisine can attain, this is the place to visit. However, I've never taken my Chinese parents there because they would feel that he is "overcharging" and never let me hear the end of it. (I find it annoying that they would not balk at similar prices from say, your average French restaurant.)

                        I think another problem is that he's just not that interested in marketing and ambience ala Slanted Door or Yank Sing, but he's charging those kinds of prices. So people walk into this empty kind of average looking place, are told the prices, and are shocked. Although, thankfully, he's got some people who speak English now, which helps a lot. (Before, it was like you were participating in a mime performance.)

                        Also, I think his food is great, but you can't go there and eat more than occasionally because it is pretty much the same menu served day in and day out. It would be nice to have a few options, but he pretty much does what he wants when he wants. He used to have placards on the wall with interesting Chinese dishes, but if you could read Chinese and ask about them, they would say, "He's not making that... like ever."

                        1. re: sfbing

                          He's not charging Slanted Door prices. $18 at Slanted Door at lunch will get you a papaya salad and spring rolls. $40 at dinner will get you shaking beef and green beans.

                          1. re: sfbing

                            I fear that when one thinks of Chinese food one thinks of a lot and cheap. This a way of thinking developed here in the States, my Father use to say that in China formal dining has many many small dishes and takes hours and hours. Here we want cheap , good and a lot.

                            Last year while in Beijing I attended a Manchuian/Han lunch. It took three hours and we had forty five dishes along with tea, bottled water, Chinese red wine and other harder drinks. Many of the dishes were just one or two bites and the knife work was out of this world.

                            I have not the chance to go to Jai Yun for lunch but will give it a try. I have passed invited to attend because it pricing was too high and portions have been to small for a party of six. I know the chef is skilled but I am not sure he is a good business man.

                            But for 18 dollars I would give it a try soon. I have paid also that much for a burger, fries and a drink.

                            Yes, sfbing my parents would complain to me if they were still here by said do you think money grow on tree. Or when my son was very young "just go to the machine and get some".

                            He may be high for Chinatown but he is in line for other eateries of high end food.
                            It is hard to go there when you could most anywhere else and get a plate rice for six bucks. I read when rice plate were under a buck.

                            1. re: yimster

                              I will only one-half disagree with your assessment. It's not just americans (by which I think you mean chinese americans). Older Chinese women, in China particularly, have a keen nose for value, and compete stiffly on value. While they might agree that an expensive banquet might be OK, I think they would compete to find the cheapest expensive banquet house! I might equate this to depression-era Americans - China has been through a lot within the last few generations.

                              1. re: yimster

                                My parents would say " I could buy this cucumber for 10 cents. And the egg for 20 cents. And...." in an unintentional parody of an Amex commercial.

                                That being said, if I could somehow hide how much it costs, they would enjoy themselves tremendously. And everyone else who I've sent there who has wondered "what's the big deal with Chinese food" has loved the place.

                                1. re: sfbing

                                  To answer you and bbulkow it does not matter what the ingredient cost but can you do it for yourself. Did you enjoy yourself. If the answer yes what does it matter if the ingredients are cheap.

                                  This has been a topic of discussion at many family dinner, when the family get a set menu for about 12 per person and we get 12 courses with fish, duck, chicken and fish. This is problem Chinese eateries made themselves but pricing themselves so low.

                                  I for one would like better prepared dishes that are reasonable prices.

                                  There have been discussion about the Cantonese stuffed boneless chicken cost 60 dollars at the few eateries in the City. Net cost less then 10 dollars but here is the catch very few chefs can make it. So does that mean no one order's it?

                                  Yes, bbulkow my MIL wants the very cheapest meal unless I am paying for it. :>)

                          2. re: bong

                            Why is it empty? Anywhere that charges $18 for lunch plus tax and tip is empty these days.

                            1. re: Windy

                              There is a $9 option as well.

                              1. re: Windy

                                Jai Yun has been close to empty almost every time I've eaten there.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  There were four other tables there today for lunch. Many of the same dishes as on my 7/23 visit, with a few new ones. Spicy cold beef was a standout of the mini-starters. The hot, gelatinous summer melon salad was a bit too weird for me, though. Still, I'll be back in another month or so. Those crispy muchrooms weren't quite as crispy this time around (more sauce after frying?) but they still tasted incredible.

                                  1. re: beerandpork

                                    I came here here for lunch and had the $18 option and thought it was an incredible value. The many dishes with the effort and time is well worth the price. The place had 2 other tables at noon but I don't think Jai Yun relies on lunch.

                                    I agree with others who complaint about the price since my chinese parents would do the same which is a bad mentally for chinese cuisine, I believe this mentally hurts chinese businesses who compete with each other for the lowest price. I spent $20 at Nick's for 3 tacos and a drink so Jai Yun's banquet lunch is a steal.

                                    From reading the boards I expected the service to be curtly and unaccommodating I felt it was partly true. When we told the waitress we wanted the $18 option her first response was "I'm a waitress I don't know anything it's the chef" I think she throws this line at everyone despite the question.

                                    The dishes were simple, elegant for $18/person with abalone is an amazing offer. I especially like the fried mushroom, veggie goose, chinese broccoli steams (lots of prep work for this dish), beancurd and edamame and the glass noodle and belly bacon. I wish he had the eggplant but I will be back and often too.


                            2. link

                              Jai Yun
                              680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

                              1. Can you just pop in here for lunch? or is it group 10 or more people only?

                                I have seen conflicting posts so i wasn't sure what the situation was currently (and posts about their website either being down or not updated)

                                My understading is 18 bucks for a bunch of courses of whatever he wants to send out? Is Monday possible for this?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Dapuma

                                  you could a couple years ago (i did), but reports on CH seem to say not any longer. it was more than a couple of courses, and it was well worth the $18. i've only been back at dinner, with a group of 4.

                                  some suggest sending an email is the best way to get an answer to questions.