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Ba Ren, Clairemont - Must Have Dishes?

p
pickypicky Nov 9, 2011 07:53 PM

I've eaten at Ba Ren several times and always wished I'd ordered what the table next to us got. Now, my oldest friend Bill is visit9ng from NYC and wants Chinese (He cooks Chinese superbly.). So, tell me, what dishes are yall's favorites? What must-haves should we order? Help!

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Ba Ren
Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

  1. p
    pickypicky Nov 11, 2011 12:16 PM

    We went to Ba Ren last night. Sad to say, it was less than wonderful. There were six of us, and we ordered many dishes. All (including a few suggestions from above and DanDan noodles, a favorite of my friend Bill) had a sameness, a kind of greasy, sauce-laden spicy "Chinese Food" taste. Not the delicious freshness of Bill's cooking from Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks. While eating the dinner, I kept thinking of the fine meal we'd had at Sab E Lee at few days prior, even though I know comparing Thai and Chinese isn't fair. If I ever go back, I think I'll find a Chinese friend to order for me or I'll join your lunch bunch, mikec.

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    Ba Ren
    Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

    5 Replies
    1. re: pickypicky
      Josh Nov 11, 2011 01:08 PM

      This is why I've fallen out of love with Ba Ren, and prefer Spicy City. The heavy greasiness of Ba Ren's food on our last visits turned me off, big time. Spicy City seems to have a lighter touch with the oil.

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      Spicy City
      4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

      Ba Ren
      Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

      1. re: pickypicky
        cgfan Nov 11, 2011 01:22 PM

        For those of us who haven't dined there in a while, (it's been over a year for me), about what time did this supposed drop in quality occur? Just wondering if it's a very recent phenomenon or something that goes back even further...

        I've had nothing but stellar meals at Ba Ren, so it leaves me puzzled...

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        Ba Ren
        Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

        1. re: pickypicky
          m
          mliew Nov 11, 2011 01:23 PM

          Sorry to hear about your bad experience. Perhaps Ba Ren is just not to your tastes then. Greasy and sauce laden is pretty much what most Chinese food is all about, especially Szechuan food which always contains a good amount of chili oil. I've looked at some of Fuchia Dunlop's recipes before and frankly they seem a little westernized to me. But to each their own.

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          Ba Ren
          Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

          1. re: mliew
            p
            pickypicky Nov 13, 2011 07:20 PM

            I have had Szechuan food in NYC and San Francisco that is not gloopy. Oil I love (I'm a redneck at heart) but greasy (for me) has a different connotation. Some of the dishes that passed us by on their way to other tables looked cleaner and brighter, including the string beans that the server had told us that the kitchen was out of. But you may be right, perhaps Ba Ren is not my cup of tea.

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            Ba Ren
            Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

            1. re: pickypicky
              p
              pickypicky Nov 13, 2011 07:41 PM

              Two other notes from our meal: The Dan Dan Noodles were spaghetti noodles not flat Chinese noodles. The Salt and Pepper Spare Ribs which should have been marinated in rock crystal sugar and rice wine tasted oddly of fake maple syrup. They were not crispy but spongy chewy as if not recently fried. We went to Ba Ren WANTING to like our meal and were deeply disappointed by what we were served. Next time we'll try Spicy City.

              -----
              Spicy City
              4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

              Ba Ren
              Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

        2. m
          mikec Nov 10, 2011 04:11 PM

          Things that are on my lunch groups regular rotation:

          Beef with pickled peppers
          Fish filet with special spicy peppers (not sure about the exact name of this dish, but it's on the specials)
          Twice boiled fish (or Twice boiled fish and tofu)
          Ti-Ann Fish filet
          Fish flavor eggplant casserole
          Smoked Duck
          Savory (Cold) Chicken appetizer (or as one of my Asian lunchmates has to say EVERY time we order it: "Saliva Chicken")
          Sauteed string beans
          Lamb with green peppers
          Lamb ribs with spicy peppers

          The cold appetizer table is usually quite good also.

          Anything with Frog Legs, you're going to get chopped up frog legs bone and all, so be prepared to pick little bones out while you eat. Tasty, but a little to much work for me.

          Things to avoid are anything on the Gringo part of the menu (American Specialties, or something like that). Their hot&sour soup is awful.

          4 Replies
          1. re: mikec
            h
            hye Dec 1, 2011 03:25 PM

            "Twice boiled fish (or Twice boiled fish and tofu)"
            Do you mean twice cooked fish (回锅魚) or water boiled fish (水煮魚)?

            I haven't enjoyed Ba Ren as much as I used to, but only for the last 6 months or so.

            1. re: hye
              m
              mikec Dec 1, 2011 05:05 PM

              I'm pretty sure it's "Boiled fish fillet in hot sauce" (basically a large soup bowl with red chili broth). And the fish and tofu one is "Fish and tofu in spicy sauce".

              1. re: mikec
                h
                hye Dec 1, 2011 07:10 PM

                Ok, that should be 水煮魚 then. It's also commonly made using beef instead of fish.

                The other dish, twice-cooked fish is a stir-fried dish with leeks, and is commonly found with pork (belly) in addition to fish.

                Ba Ren offers both dishes with almost any protein you desire. It makes things a bit more confusing sometimes, but adds a lot of flexibility for people with dietary restrictions.

                1. re: hye
                  m
                  mikec Dec 2, 2011 02:56 PM

                  Actually, I think I conflated "Twice cooked fish", which is breaded deep fried fish fillets which are then sauteed with leeks and other stuff, and "Boiled fish fillet in hot sauce" in my original list. I think both are good.

          2. DiningDiva Nov 9, 2011 10:28 PM

            Fish Flavor Eggplant

            8 Replies
            1. re: DiningDiva
              p
              pickypicky Nov 10, 2011 07:56 AM

              Thanks, DD. Would you recommend Ba Ren? I've read lots of conflicting reports and haven't been personally for a few years. It sounds like we should allow lots of time for dinner.

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              Ba Ren
              Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

              1. re: pickypicky
                Josh Nov 10, 2011 09:06 AM

                These days I like Spicy City.

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                Spicy City
                4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

                1. re: Josh
                  DiningDiva Nov 10, 2011 10:25 AM

                  I was at Ba Ren for lunch last month. It was good, but not as good, I think, as it has been in the past. I went with a friend who had been a Chinese chef many years ago and she was happy with it. Of course, she lives in Mexico City where decent Chinese is a rarity. We had a noodle dish that was okay, not memorable and one of their fish filet specialties that was still very good and made it worth the lunch.

                  Their cold table offerings are usually pretty strong. I know there have been some issues with service and it being rather surly and inattentive. We did not experience that. At lunch they were about 1/3 full and we were the only non-Asians in there.

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                  Ba Ren
                  Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

                  1. re: Josh
                    m
                    mliew Nov 10, 2011 10:30 AM

                    I've never understood why Spicy City is so popular. Very mediocre and definitely not worth the wait.

                    As far as dishes at Ba Ren, I would recommend: Double cooked fish with chili sauce, any of the dried fried dishes (I like beef), sichaun cold noodles, cold appetizers. Stay away from the Mapo Tofu or anything on the "american favorites" menu.

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                    Spicy City
                    4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

                    Ba Ren
                    Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

                    1. re: mliew
                      Josh Nov 10, 2011 01:29 PM

                      Interesting take. I've eaten regularly at Ba Ren, Spicy City, and Spicy House, and generally prefer Spicy City. We typically get the twice-cooked fish, which is my favorite fried anything in San Diego. We also find the food much less greasy than the food at Ba Ren.

                      Can you elaborate on some of your reasons for your antipathy?

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                      Spicy City
                      4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

                      Ba Ren
                      Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

                      1. re: Josh
                        m
                        mliew Nov 10, 2011 01:38 PM

                        Basically none of the dishes I've ever tried at Spicy City has really wowed me. Ba Ren seems to do every dish better. The cold appetizers such as the husband and wife sliced lung are more flavorful and nuanced at Ba Ren, as well as the dishes like fish boiled in chili oil (this was really bland at Spicy City, basically was spicy and that's it). Same thing for Spicy House.

                        I do like the chef's special green beans but not enough to make it worth going there.

                        -----
                        Spicy City
                        4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

                        Ba Ren
                        Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

                        1. re: mliew
                          cgfan Nov 10, 2011 02:01 PM

                          I thought the same as well when I visited Spicy City. Everything that I've had at Spicy City I felt were done better at Ba Ren, though with a caution that I've only been to Spicy City twice but numerous times to Ba Ren. Same with the cold appetizers.

                          Indeed I was particularly blown away by all of the boiled dishes I've tried, perhaps mostly due to the fact that "boiled anything" doesn't by itself sound all that appetizing to me. Wow, was I ever wrong when I started exploring that part of their menu!

                          -----
                          Spicy City
                          4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

                          Ba Ren
                          Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

                          1. re: mliew
                            Josh Nov 10, 2011 02:44 PM

                            Interesting. I don't think I've tried that dish (fish boiled in oil) at Spicy City, and we don't eat meat at these places. Spicy House I'm not crazy about, though I do like their expanded availability of vegetarian options.

                            We'll have to give Ba Ren another try.

                            I remember not caring for Spicy City years ago, under its previous owners, but once they changed a couple of years ago I liked it a lot more.

                            -----
                            Spicy City
                            4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

                            Ba Ren
                            Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

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