Been a huge fan of Ba Ren in the past but lately have been unimpressed. The last two times the service has been atrocious and the cooked food so/so. Last night I went and asked for the pigs ear cold dish and the guy did not know what I was talking about. A lady also waiting and I had to show him. The last time I went we ended up leaving after 45 minutes and not getting our food.
Has anyone else had similar experiences? Are they under new management. Can some one recommend a better place to go?
I went on the purported closing day (2/29). My comments are below, but the full review with photos can be found at:
I'm not good at goodbyes.
Hearing that Ba Ren was closing, I decided that I would try to visit one last time. For me, Ba Ren was the one (pre-Liang's Kitchen) Chinese Restaurant in San Diego worth a visit. I can thank Kirk at mmm-yoso for getting Ba Ren on my radar, but I enjoyed the cuisine there on several occasions.
Unfortunately, for anyone who visited Ba Ren in about the previous 6+ months, it was easy to tell that something had changed. According to some other customers of the restaurant, the chef had lost his passion and was no longer producing the food that made Ba Ren a cult foodie favorite. Therefore, I guess it wasn't a huge surprise to those in the know that the chef would be retiring at the end of February.
Since I wasn't a frequent visitor to the restaurant, this news came as a big surprise to me. After ordering, I was able to converse with the waitress a little to get some more information. It turns out that Ba Ren isn't closing, but the restaurant was sold to a new group of owners. They also plan to serve Szechwan cuisine (and perhaps keep the Ba Ren name).
While I didn't visit the restaurant enough times to develop a bunch of personal favorites to get a last taste of, I decided to adopt a different tactic. I named a protein and asked the waitress for a recommended preparation of that protein, figuring she would know which preparations were the best.
Ordering was a little interesting because I was asked if I wanted "small spicy or medium spicy" to which I responded "spiciest."
teppan yaki lamb
Although this dish was ordered at the highest spice level and there was a liberal use of jalapenos, the peppers did not seem to be fresh so the spice didn't really carry through. Still, the lamb was well seasoned and tender. The dish was an overall success even though it was probably missing something from its prime.
twice cooked fish
The twice cooked fish recipe is usually a preparation where the fish is first steamed and then a hot szechwan oil is poured on top to cook it a second time. This preparation featured fish fillets and didn't seem to revolve around the philosophy of pouring really hot oil over the fish. The fish was very flavorful, but again the vegetables seemed to lack some flavor.
chong qing hot pot
The hot pot featured slices of beef, fish, chicken, tofu, bean sprouts, glass noddles, napa cabbage, and other ingredients. This was easily the best dish of the meal. The soup was very flavorful and contained a depth of flavor for all the ingredients. While there looks to be an overload of peppers, the dish was not that spicy and was actually very edible.
frogs legs with pickled szechwan peppers
My dining companion insisted that we try a dish with frogs legs, and this was the preparation that was suggested. Of all the styles of cooking, the sauce for this style seemed to be the most flavorful. The sauce contained an additional element of both acidity and sourness (from the pickling liquid) that really elevated the flavors of the preparation. While I am normally a big fan of frog, the frog in has definitely seen its better days. Part of the pleasure in eating frog is the texture of the meat, but this preparation was missing that texture.
While I didn't have an amazing goodbye sendoff meal at Ba Ren, I will still remember it for delivering great food in its prime. I remember a fish dish that was part of a special menu at one point which I thought was a one-star michelin dish. I wish the best of luck to the owners of Ba Ren and thank them for all the great meals I enjoyed. I will certainly miss the restaurant, and now am in need of a second Chinese restaurant in San Diego to eat at.
Their service has always been terrible by normal standards. Friendly, but never prompt or attentive by any measure. But hey, I've never gone there for the service. I gotta say that I'm pretty devastated with the news they're closing up. I had never had Sichuan chinese before Ba Ren. I had ordered Szechuan this and that. Gone to Szechuan "whatever". I never knew what Sichuan food really was or what it should be. Heck, I don't even know if Ba Ren was authentic or not. I just know that when I first tried them, the food was new to me, delicious, and made my head sweat like no chinese food before. Those chili symbols next to the item actually indicated "heat"! They'll always hold a special place for me and will be the Sichuan restaurant I'll always measure others against. Not because they were necessarily the best, but because they were my first. San Diego can't afford to lose these places. Its not like there are many on deck. Sure we've got Spicy City or China Chef 2 or 8 or whatever. But 2 sichuan joints is less than 3. And now we have one less "favorite sichuan" thread, albeit debated to death, on this beloved space.
Thank you Ba Ren. I'll miss you.
I was there for lunch today (and pretty much once a week for the last several years) and didn't have a problem. They're closing March 1st , and it wouldn't surprise me they lost focus. And no, there's not really any place better. I guess it's time to revisit Dede's, Spicy City and Spicy House, but none of them have been nearly as good in the recent past in my experience.