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Jan 20, 2010 12:36 PM

Jai Yun Gripe

In general I absolutely love the food at Jai Yun and find it very exciting, but aside from the obvious service gripes there's one thing I just don't get about the food.

Both times I've been, we've been served a diced white fish dish accented by frozen peas and frozen corn. The fish was exceptionally well-seasoned with a delicate and nuanced hand, so much so that I had to focus very carefully only on large pieces to detect that it is probably catfish, but the frozen veggies are just a big turn off. What gives?

One of the later dishes in our recent meal also featured some squash slices, which were far from fresh and actually tasted a bit of rot.

There's also a lot of not very interesting bell pepper pieces here and there in the meal.

What is so strange to me about this is the many small cold plates that open the meal include vibrantly fresh vegetable matter, but some of the stand-bys the chef has been putting out for years that fill in the middle of the progression of dishes have a lot of vegetable junk I would rather do without.

Humorous anecdote about how bad the service is, even by non-Western standards: we were one of two parties in the restaurant and they had already locked the door, yet as I politely held up my teacup to be refilled by the waiter, he turned and gazed out the door, in the process nearly pouring hot tea all over me. No apology.

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  1. I took some cooking classes from the chef and was also surprised by the use of some canned or frozen items. The chef pointed out that in some cases, eg enoki mushroom appetizer, the texture is better when canned mushrooms are used rather than fresh. The only other conclusion I've reached about the use of canned/frozen items is: The chef is very traditional and chinese cooking emphasizes freshness in specific ingredients, but not all of them, particularly those that are not plentiful in China. While the local/organic/fresh food mantra has been adopted by most of the best restaurants in the bay area, I'm not sure that the chef at Jai Yun (who speaks no English) has caught on to this trend.

    1. Just came back from a great dinner at Jai Yun. Used a $100 GC, and only opted for the $55 selection for our group of five. Service was the usual, but food was excellent. A crispy Japanese mushroom dish really stood out, as did the pork w/ taro balls, the mung bean noodles w/ bacon and leeks, tofu skin with soy beans, and the usual crispy beef and eggplant dishes.

      Brought a friend from a couple of hours outside of Shanghai and he said it was the second best Chinese meal he's had in his several years in the US. Introduced him to the chef, who was excited to chat with someone in his home dialect. Our entire party was excited about doing a more elaborate meal in the future.

      As to the corn, I think felice has it right. I would prefer fresh corn, but this reminds me of the corn soups commonly found in Chinese restos. They always remind me of canned creamed corn. I think it's a flavor some have grown up with and enjoy. Kind of like all the Brits who have a taste for Heinz beans on toast, or folks from Hawaii who like Spam musubi.

      5 Replies
      1. re: lexdevil

        The only explanation for using canned and frozen veggies is laziness of the chef. Don't try to justify it with statements like "they liked it in their home country." please. And if people continue to patronize such places, esp with the price they pay, gives the chef no incentive to change.

        1. re: PeterL

          That's just silly. I would have preferred fresh corn in a single dish (where it was a minor element). I enjoyed the entire meal and I have not experienced Chinese food of this caliber anywhere else. Why would I give up enjoying the other 20 sublime dishes because I take issue with an ingredient choice in a single dish?

          I was not trying to "justify" the chef's choice, but to offer a possible explanation for it. And I only offered it as a possible explanation, rather than a definitive one. Someone with far more experience with Chinese food could probably correct me or give more insight. That said, I doubt that the "chicken with cream corn" soup at Great Eastern is made with fresh corn, and I doubt that it is anywhere else locally.

          I think "lazy" is a pretty harsh word, and I have a hard time seeing it applied to someone who clearly takes such great care with the food he prepares. His knife work alone should clear him of accusations of laziness.

          A question -- Would you walk out of a tapas bar that served Espinaler tinned shellfish?

          1. re: lexdevil

            Are you comparing Jai Yun with Great Eastern? No one will ever think of Great Eastern as one of the best Chinese restaurants anywhere.

            1. re: PeterL

              No, I'm just saying that to the extent that I see corn on Chinese menus in the Bay Area (not often, and then mostly in soup), I don't think I've EVER seen fresh corn. And I think you're a bit harsh on Great Eastern. It is a solid Cantonese restaurant and among the best in San Francisco Chinatown (I know that may be seen as damning it with faint praise).

          2. re: PeterL

            The chef is anything but lazy. It's important to note that "lazy" means different things in different cultures.

        2. I am puzzled by this love of Jai Yun. I have never been, and have no intention to. But why would anyone pay such prices for frozen vegetables and bad service? The place locks it's door during business hours?

          5 Replies
          1. re: PeterL

            and I am puzzled as to how, if you haven't been, and thus haven't tasted the food, you could be puzzled by the love for Jai Yun. For me, the food and overall experience completely outweigh any service issues (which were very minor on my visit).

            1. re: PeterL

              Use of frozen vegetables in a handful of dishes notwithstanding, the restaurant still serves some of the best, most skillfully prepared Chinese food I've had anywhere in the U.S. The price point prevents it from being a place I frequent regularly--but, barring the opening of other comparable restaurants in the area, I think it's worth a once-a-year splurge.

              I didn't have any complaints about the service, though it's certainly not warm by any stretch. I think it helps if you speak Chinese, but that's true at many Chinese restaurants.

              1. re: abstractpoet

                We have only been for lunch in Nov 2009 and FWIW had excellent service and delicious, thoughtful food: "The SO deemed it in his top two Chinese meals ever (the other was a dinner at Sea Harbour in Richmond, BC), saying “I didn’t know Chinese food could be like this”: light, succulent, perfectly sauced with no gloopiness, fresh ingredients, myriad flavours, lovely presentation – really top drawer. We went for the $18 menu and enjoyed every dish, though for me the standouts were the enoki mushrooms and the stir fried shrimp. The SO was particularly captivated by the cold plates in the first course." This was the best $18 I've spent on food of any kind in a long time, and if anything wasn't fresh I either didn't notice it or didn't care :-). To be fair, we didn't have any dishes with corn or peas...

              2. re: PeterL

                Eh, it's a unique animal. For $65 per person, we were served a set of 16-20 cold plates to start, all of which were unique, delicious, and enjoyable to taste through. Then we enjoyed a thoughtful progression of something like 10+ more courses, all of which were very good or great. The ones that were very good were dropped down in my mind due to the frozen peas/corn, and the over the hill squash, but they were merely supporting components in otherwise very good dishes. Still, I'm confused as to why the chef doesn't apply the same high standards to all ingredients uniformly.

                And the place doesn't arbitrarily lock its doors during business hours. They serve a lot of unique and perishable food, so they require reservations for dinner, and once everybody who had a reservation for the evening had arrived and the clock ticked past 9 PM, they closed the doors. I don't fault them for that, I only mentioned it because the waiter's attention should not have wandered while he was pouring my tea.

                1. re: PeterL

                  It's January now--if one were to serve corn and peas, one would most likely be better off serving frozen than fresh.

                2. 1. corn is very much seasonal. so if great eastern is using fresh corn in the winter, that doesn't give me much reason to trust their sourcing of ingredients.

                  2. while it may be heresy to prefer frozen something over non-frozen something, let's not forget that arguably the most respected chef in the bay area, thomas keller, insists on using frozen potatoes to create his pommes frites. while i wouldn't go quite as far to call jai yun the chinese version of the french laundry, as some have, chef keller and chef nei are both very talented chefs, and just because jai yun isn't as refined a setting as bouchon or the french laundry (or even great eastern), it seems like people are more willing to criticize the chef's decisions.

                  1. speaking of jai yun and service, on their "about the business section" on their yelp page, they recommend Gary Danko for its excellent service