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Jai Yun conundrum

So I finally went to Jai Yun for dinner after two years of yearning. It was a party of four, including both my parents. To clarify, all of us are Chinese, and more specifically, were born and grew up in Shanghai. I had some reservation about taking the parents to Jai Yun since I never quite got a good sense about the background of people who raved about Jai Yun and wonder if the "excitement" will transcends culture backgrounds. I am posting this simply to help anyone else who is in my shoes.

Simply put, the food was excellent, but nothing earth shattering. There were 11 cold appetizers, tasty but familiar to anyone who has been exposed to Jiangsu cuisine, i.e. Shanghai or food from the lower Yangtze region. Of the 11 hot dishes, the highlights, for me, were the white fish, shrimp, crispy beef and house special eggplant, maybe the pork shank. Again, top notch technique but not mind-blowing or revolutionary. If you've been to Shanghai or Nanjing, you probably had them, maybe just not quite as good.

For prix fix, I feel like if I go to some place like Quince or Danko, with each additional person, I can actually try more dishes. But at Jai Yun, it's still the same dishes more or less. I am wondering "out loud" on the hound board, "does my background, having been exposed to the cuisine, made the Jai Yun experience seems less special?" Perhaps if I am Italian, I would be less impressed by Quince or La Ciccia, and more with Jai Yun. In short, I am glad that I tried it, but probably won't be back.

Just wonder what others think.

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La Ciccia
291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

Jai Yun
680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

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  1. part of jai yun's appeal definitely is how radically different it is from not only the surrounding chinese restaurants in chinatown, but most of the chinese restaurants in the bay area. and while it's certainly not the only authentic chinese restaurant in the bay area, as far as i know, it's the only one serving this particular style of cuisine; as most people have not been exposed to it .

    1 Reply
    1. re: vulber

      Don't stop at the Bay Area--there's nothing like this anywhere else in the US. Part of the appeal of Jai Yun lies in the quirkiness of the owner/chef, so if that quirkiness creates some negative elements too, it's all part of the package.

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      Jai Yun
      680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

    2. I haven't been to Jai Yun, but your review has pushed me much more in the direction of wanting to go. Your description of the food as well-executed, normal Jiangsu cuisine may seem unexciting to you, but to me it is quite interesting. It seems like something quite difficult for me to track down, even if I were to travel to Shanghai, as a tourist, especially one who does not speak the language, it can often be difficult to find the right experience.
      It is interesting that you mention a couple of Italian places, as I think that it shows exactly the same issue from a different side. Italian food is notoriously "traditional", meaning that the emphasis is great execution of traditional dishes and showcasing great products like cheeses, cured meats, and produce. La Ciccia's menu is full of dishes Sardinians would recognize, executed extraordinarily well.
      And I agree that familiarity makes me less excited. In fact, it took me a while to try some of the great Italian dishes at La Ciccia and Incanto because I can easily execute a lot of rustic Italian cuisine--slow cooked bolognese or sugo, wonderful salads, even a passable pizza, but it's great to see what the experts are doing once in a while, in case there is that regional dish you haven't heard of, or that shaved tuna heart you can't seem to source.

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      La Ciccia
      291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

      Jai Yun
      680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

      1. For me, the only problem with Jai Yun is the price point. I loved the one meal I had there, which compared favorably to, say, any number of formal banquet type meals I had when I lived in and visited Taiwan. But in spite of that positive experience, the steep price (at least for dinner) has kept me from rushing back.

        If the cost were $15 or $20 less per person, would you still feel underwhelmed?

        (My impression, too, is that the place is always struggling to attract customers. I wonder if it'd actually be a more profitable enterprise if they set the prices so the profit margin is a little less, but then turned a lot more tables than they do presently.)

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        Jai Yun
        680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

        2 Replies
        1. re: abstractpoet

          i would agree; or, the other option would be to improve the decor, people are more willing to pay more money for the same food when the surroundings are nicer; even gary danko would have a hard time pushing his $100 tasting menu if he were serving it at jai yun

          1. re: abstractpoet

            Prices are definitely a disincentive and raise expectataions considerable, but the site Restaurant.com frequently has coupons for Jai Yun, anywhere from $3-10 (depending upon proximity to the end of the month) for coupon worth $25.

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            Jai Yun
            680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111

          2. I really must say that I don't understand this point of view, at least without more information. Are you fortunate enough to be able to travel frequently to Shanghai or Nanjing? When was the last time you were in one of those places? Can you execute the dishes as well at home? Is there somewhere else in the bay area that you think does them better? (If yes, please report!)

            If the answer to the above questions (or even to a few of them) is 'no', than if I were in your shoes, I'd be *more* excited because I recognize that they do a 'top-notch' job, and with being able to get the cuisine done well even though far from home, not less. I might not feel that way if I were just visiting San Francisco for a month or so from one of those regions of China, but as resident far from home, I'd be there regularly, for my 'fix' as it were.

            By the way, though I've never been to Sardinia or anywhere in Italy for that matter (a shameful omission I hope to rectify one of these days) my love for La Ciccia has made me very eager to go see it for myself. When hubby asks me where I'd like to go on our first trip to Italy together, the answer is always, "Sardinia, of course!".

            Restaurants of that caliber can transport one, and that is a good thing.

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            La Ciccia
            291 30th Street, San Francisco, CA 94131

            1 Reply
            1. re: susancinsf

              I'm not sure you can get Sardinian food that good in Sardinia unless you get invited to someone's house.

            2. What, do you go back to Shanghai several times a year? I always assumed there was better food of that style in Shanghai.

              To me the appeal of Jai Yun is that the food's delicious and the best in that style around here. (The two other really good Shanghai places I knew, Fountain Court closed and Shanghai in Oakland went downhill after a chef change.) I also like that you don't have to have a crowd to have a banquet-like series of courses. Plus the entry-level menu is a great value. I haven't found it worthwhile to spend more.

              I lived in Rome for several years. If i found a place here that made Roman food as well as an average good restaurant there, I wouldn't say, oh, this rigatoni alla carbonara is no better than we had at Pyramide. I'd say, damn, this is our lucky day.

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              Jai Yun
              680 Clay St, San Francisco, CA 94111