Jai Yun - Hands down the best Chinese food in US
This is a long overdue review. We’ve been going to Jai Yun since 2002. Chef Nei is nothing short of an artist and genius when it comes to Chinese cuisine. I am Chinese and I have never had better Chinese food in US anywhere. His style is unique, similar to Omakase in Japan which means “entrust” in Japanese, roughly translates to “chef choice.” As with Omakase, chef Nei will serve different multiple courses based on the type of Omakase that customer has chosen, and each course is carefully selected and prepared by him.
Most people equate Chinese food to large quantity of cheap food; mostly breaded and deep fried, and mixed with some sort of gooey sauce that’s loaded with soy and sugar. People don’t think of quality in Chinese food, but they do with Japanese food. What’s with that? I think it’s time that we look at Chinese cuisine in a different light. Chef Nei picks out the freshest ingredients daily and creates his multi-course feasts with his heart and soul. As with any great Western chefs, chef Nei’s creation represents him and his passions for food. I have never had a meal there where I didn’t leave happy and completely satisfied. Everyone that I have ever brought to Jai Yun is always amazed how Chinese food can be so refined, varied and delicious. It doesn’t have to be greasy, saucy, sweet and loaded with MSG.
Depending on which price fixed you select, the number of courses and types of main ingredients would vary. The feast always starts with cold dishes like house-smoked fish, thinly sliced braised beef shank, Jelly fish salad, Enoki mushroom salad, spicy shredded Napa cabbage, 5-spiced bean curd with cilantro and pine nuts, thinly sliced crunchy lotus roots, cucumber salad, etc. The first course of hot dishes is usually the Abalone Foo Young. It’s not the Americanized Egg Foo Young that looks and an overcooked omelet with gooey sauce all over it. This is the real deal. Foo Young means velvet in Chinese. The texture of the egg white in the Abalone Foo Young is velvety, delicate, and the flavor is and out of this world. The thinly sliced Abalone is the most tender abalone we’ve ever had. We always fight to lick the serving spoon at the end, so that every bit is devoured.
Depending on the amount that you want to spend, season and freshness of the ingredients, he may serve Shanghainese crystal shrimp, sauté Chinese celery with tofu and Chinese yellow chives, tofu skin (yuba in Japanese) stir fried with fresh soy beans and tiger lily flower buds (it’s suppose to make you smart, so they say…it hasn’t worked for me yet), orange peel beef (unlike any orange peel beef you’ve ever had), the real-deal spicy Kung Pao chicken (NOT breaded & deep fried), stir fried mung bean noodle sheets with house-cured Chinese-style ham and baby leeks, steamed winter melon topped with spiced pork ragu, braised Shanghainese pork ribs and taro root. All wonderful, but don’t expect detailed descriptions, as English may be limited. The list can go on and on if you are willing to pay the price, just like the high-end restaurants in Northern California like Michael Mina, Cyrus, French Laundry, Gary Danko, Ame, Koi, etc. You get to choose how much you want to spend and chef Nei will serve you a meal that you won’t forget. The only difference is his price will be a lot less than the fore mentioned restaurants. Because, you won’t be paying for the high rent, fancy décor, professional wait staff, highly compensated maître d’ and sommelier, fancy crystals and silverware, high stocking costs of premium spirits and wines. What you pay for is the amazing food; course after course.
I’m so glad that he now opens for lunch during the week with less expensive price fixed menu. Reservations for lunch is highly recommended, and it's required for dinner. I still prefer dinner there, it’s more expensive, but what can I say, I want to have all of the courses. Lunch is a great compromise though, because not all of my friends can afford to go there for dinner every time. I can’t wait to go again next week, it’s making me hungry just thinking about it. If Jai Yun were right down the street from us, I’d go there at least once a week. Oink! Oink!
I went this past Saturday night and found the food seem to have lost its freshness. I went years ago when they were still at the Pacific Street location and found that the main courses were more refined and original. The cold dishes are still good- I love the sheer number of them and that they all taste wonderful. I problem I had this past Saturday was that each dish the came out after the cold dishes and the nice abalone dish were very mediocre and contained very ordinary Chinese ingredients. None of the dishes were outright bad (but we did send the cuttlefish back because it was not fresh.) but nothing was spectacular. We spent $65/person + tax and didn't feel the worth of it this time. Maybe because it was a busy night. The front room was empty but the side room was full. I will have to give it one more chance before giving up all together.