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Jai Yun -- yea or nay? [San Francisco]

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We have lived in Taipei, have visited the mainland several times over the past 20 years, eat various Chinese cuisines every week in NYC, and particularly love Jiangzhe food (Suzhou/Shanghai/Hangzhou area).
Have looked at threads here and reviews on Yelp of Jai Yun, and have seen everything from the most amazing Chinese food ever to might as well be airplane food. Not wanting to waste a meal in SF, should this place be on our list, or not? Any guidance would be appreciated.

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  1. My wife and I have been to China 15 or 16 times; we stay several weeks each visit. Hence we have eaten a lot of Chinese food. We think eating at Jai Yun is almost as good as eating in China.

    1. I'd like to know which airline serves food like Jai Yun. I haven't been to China but it's the best Shanghai food I've had.

      1. I think it would be wise to order the lower cost menu the first time and to reserve at least a day in advance. I think we went the same day as our reservation and opted for the costlier menu but to no appreciable effect. Reportedly he shops the same day so I don't think you get the full benefit unless he knows you're coming. I remember really enjoying the delicacy of the initial courses but we were a little disappointed in repeat ingredients and techniques in the later dishes.

        3 Replies
        1. re: rubadubgdub

          We reserved well in advance, so all should be well.
          And to Mr Lauriston, it was apparently someone very misinformed, to be unnecessarily kind.

          1. re: buttertart

            I AM SO EXCITED!!!

            1. re: mariacarmen

              :)

        2. definitely go. and please please report back what you thought, and how it compares to other meals you've had in china.

          i've been to china a couple times, and jai yun meals are still in the top 10 chinese meals i've ever had. maybe top 5.

          the main downside to jai yun is the price (and you generally aren't served rare / luxury ingredients for this price), and the service can be weird / frustrating at times. but the food is fantastic.

          21 Replies
          1. re: Dustin_E

            Forr fantastic food price is not a concern. Thanks for the encouragement, really looking forward to it!

            1. re: Dustin_E

              I've never ordered the top-priced menu, I was afraid that might mean Chinese luxury ingredients like shark's fin that are more rare than delicious. I've read reports of abalone. The price is not low but few places have a better price:value ratio.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                i also haven't tried their higher-priced menus.

                the meals i've had have had a very small smount of shark fin in their enokitake mushroom dish, and very small some slices of abalone in the egg white dish. but these seemed to be more of supplementary than primary ingredients.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I've only been once, with a large group and the higher priced menu included whole fish and whole duck, but I don't recall shark's fin (which I avoid), a small amount of abalone and so many courses I couldn't eat as many as I wished :(
                  The main problem for me is that it is not a great place (and often not even possible) for a single.

                  1. re: estnet

                    >> not a great place (and often not even possible) for a single.

                    that is my problem as well. so sad.

                    1. re: estnet

                      how large was your group, and what price was the menu?

                      did anyone else notice that the menu price doubled over the course of like 3 years?

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        What is the entry-level menu price these days? Three years ago it was $45 and the max was $100. Their Web site is offline.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          iirc, for two people it is $80. for 3-4 people it is $65. max i've seen listed on the site was $165.

                          1. re: Dustin_E

                            Sort of makes sense, given that when I've gone with two people we got more food per person than when I've gone with larger groups.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              we did the $98 per person. it was perfect for 4 of us. One was a vegetarian, but she found plenty of things to eat.

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                Your post was so inspiring that I'm trying to gather a group together for a visit! One of the people I've mentioned it to is vegetarian.A few questions regarding that--- did they feel their $100 was well spent? Did you let them know ahead of time that you were going to have a vegetarian diner, and how many of the dishes were fully vegetarian friendly (i.e., no fish and not animal broths)?

                                1. re: hyperbowler

                                  as far as i know, the restaurant wasn't informed that we would have a vegetarian diner with us. as far as value goes, the vegetarian diner was hosted by another member of our party (old friends.) i would say up to 40% of the dishes were vegetarian? there were a fare amount of dishes with tofu in them, or just vegetables. buttertart will have to confirm/deny all of this, however, as she has a much better memory of the dishes and knowledge of their ingredients, and she's also the one that made the reservation.

                                  but i hope you enjoy! i don't see how one cannot....

                        2. re: Dustin_E

                          I think there were 16-20 of us, anyway 2 large tables. Cost was around $80 and it was 3 or 4 years ago. The servings seemed so small in the beginning - like around a teaspoon each of the multiple appetizers, but if I had any idea how many courses were to follow and that some of the last ones were the most spectacular I might (but might not since everything was so good) have restrained myself a bit more early on :)

                        3. re: estnet

                          I'm sure you could easily round up dining companions by posting a note to the SF chowdown group.

                        4. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Are they accommodating of vegetarians?

                          1. re: Josh

                            I'm guessing not since you don't choose what you order and the menu varies depending on what' ingredients are available.

                            1. re: Chandavkl

                              if you read all the reports, there are many vegetarian options. we had a vegetarian dining with us and she found no problem being satisfied. she didn't get to sub out veggie dishes, but again, there was more than enough that she said she didn't feel slighted in the least.

                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                Good point. Depends if you have a mixed group or are only vegetarians.

                            2. re: Josh

                              They'll do a vegetarian menu with advance notice.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                They'll do an anything your heart desires menu with advance notice. I want to celebrate my next birthday there with an all-Jiangsu menu, chef is from Nanjing...

                              2. re: Josh

                                Yes. I've eaten several fantastic vegan meals there.

                          2. Anybody who cares about Chinese food must, must go to this restaurant. This man is a genius. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the cuisines. We had the best meal since Fu 1088 in Shanghai here. There is nothing like this in New York. Photos to follow.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: buttertart

                              Oooh, do tell!!!!

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                we will, we will!

                              2. re: buttertart

                                damn it, i only found out about this place after i had left SF...i really would've liked to have tried it and i dont go to SF very often

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  Glad I had a chance to meet/chat with you, if much too briefly.

                                  Maybe you could convince the New Yorkers in this thread on the Food Media board to stop beating up David Chan "Chandavkl" for not naming a NY restaurant among his top 10 in the US. They can't seem to fathom that NY Chinese restaurants do not compare to Jai Yun though none of them seem to have eaten in SF or LA to compare for themselves. FWIW, Jai Yun was #10 of 10 on the list.
                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854984

                                2. words cannot describe... but i will attempt to do so, with BT's help, and photos to follow, soon, but not tonight. fabulous dinner, even better company..

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                    :) we're still high on it. Only comparable ever food at the Sui Yuan i(many years ago) and the Xiang Yuan in Taipei and Fu 1088 in Shanghai.

                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      really glad you liked it. i actually like jai yun even more than fu 1088.

                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                        Sacrilege! Kidding. The food was at least as good. There's something about the boudoir we were put in at Fu 1088. Himself teaches Chinese history so found the setting very interesting.
                                        But as they say, you can't eat the decorations.

                                  2. Ok, here are my pics. I cannot do the food justice as I am not well-versed in Chinese food, but from all accounts, this is the real deal. I do know everything was exquisitely fresh, prepared with care and precision, and most dishes wowed, even though I did not know a lot of the time exactly what i was eating (I'm sorry - i was distracted by wine and excellent company!) My favorites were an early dish of beef (tongue, maybe?) with sichuan seasoning, another of bean curd and cilantro, a later dish of paper thin slices of abalone, i believe, gently cooked with soft scrambled egg whites, which was like eating buttery clouds. another of pressed tofu and edamame..... I'm bungling this for sure, but i enjoyed every bite. I found the service to be very pleasant and efficient. we were 4, and i noticed only 2 or 3 other parties there the whole evening. I left completely sated but not stuffed, after approximately 27 dishes. I'll have to let buttertart fill in the gaps. a wonderful, wonderful meal that I will never forget, and probably never see the likes of again. Thanks to buttertart and her hubby and friend for a completely enjoyable and delicious evening.

                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                     
                                    20 Replies
                                    1. re: mariacarmen

                                      Wow; looks wonderful--and lucky you to have expert guides.

                                      1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                        You don't need a guide at Jai Yun, the only choice is how much to spend. Then you just get whatever the chef sends out.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Oh, I was only commenting on buttertart's well-documented expertise in this kind of food.

                                          1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                            i understood what you meant NCW, and you are absolutely correct.

                                            1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                              It is the kind of place where you might be happy to be with someone who can identify what you're eating.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                absolutely, and i was.

                                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              How DOES the pricing work please?

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                They give you a choice of prices when you make the reservation and you pick the one you want. I haven't ordered the top tier as I'm afraid it might include luxury items I find more rare than delicious.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  We didn't have to pick when we reserved, they gave us a card with the rates per person, which went down slightly in inverse relationship to the number of people in the party. For four, it started at $80.00, then $95.00, then up. We had the $95 pp dinner. The waitress said that if you have special interests they will make menus accordingly (all veg, seafood, whatever). If so, best to indicate it on Open Table when reserving.
                                                  Do reserve, they turned away a walk-in party of 3 who tried to let on they had called beforehand.

                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                    Wow, I think that's a heckuva good price. The pix and descriptions were wonderful. I know they serve lunch. Do you know if it's the same format? I GOTTA get back to SF SOON :)

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      I'm not sure if they still serve lunch, but I ubnderstand it is/was same format.

                                                      1. re: buttertart

                                                        I looked into lunch there not too long ago and it was a no go, more's the pity -- our two lunches there are still highlights of our trips to SF. Their website doesn't seem to be working at the moment but you can't book lunch via open table, and their fb face says 6:30-9:30 pm.

                                                        1. re: grayelf

                                                          Opentable says " Lunch: Daily: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm (group order only, 10 people and up."

                                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                            @grayelf: their website looked WAY out of date by looking at the prices so who know?
                                                            @Robert: Oh, shoot. Since our granddaughter was born last winter, our kids' guest room is now a nursery. So we're generally staying these days in Marin and Sonoma so city lunches work so much better. I don't blame them. It's an expensive operation, I'm sure, to do lunch without a minimum guarantee.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              When I search OT by restaurant name, it tells me I can't book lunch for any number of people (tried 2, 10, 14) within 2.5 hours of noon for the next eight weeks. Perhaps they only take group lunch resos by phone?

                                                              I do remember reading on their website recently (when it was working) that there was a group order option which I should have mentioned, wouldn't be a natural/easy fit for most visitors.

                                                              At one time there was a $9 pp option, then the entry level went up to $18 as a starting point and then $25 as of our lunches there in 2009 and 2010. We did the $18 the first time and the $25 the second, FWIW. Both times there were three of us.

                                                              1. re: grayelf

                                                                I presume lunch reservations are only by phone.

                                            3. re: mariacarmen

                                              Excellent report. Thanks.
                                              Jai Yun is now on the radar.

                                              1. re: mariacarmen

                                                Thanks for the gorgeous photos!

                                                1. re: mariacarmen

                                                  I think I am one among many when I say JEALOUS!!!

                                                  1. re: mariacarmen

                                                    Take me too!!!.....On my list when I am in Berkley, with my brother.....

                                                  2. M took pics too, and I will post with commentary. There is nothing that even scratches the surface of this in NYC. I just want to immerse myself in this and the other places in CA and never come up for air.
                                                    MW, same here, and your point is welll taken re Chandavikl. (Plane was earlier than I thought so no dian xin, dammit.)

                                                    10 Replies
                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                      >> want to immerse myself in this and the other places in CA

                                                      what other places in CA do you plan on visiting? please keep us updated on what you find.

                                                      1. re: Dustin_E

                                                        It's want to, not can, unfortunately...I wish I could, I live in NJ just outside of NYC. Bay Area trip every couple of years (lived in Berkeley at one time), would love to hit the SGV.
                                                        I can tell you one thing, there is absolutely nothing like Jai Yun in NYC. Would that there were.

                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                          in my experience, jai yun is very unique for the bay area as well.

                                                          only on a couple trips to china have i had food that is similar in quality ("jesse" in shanghai, tin heung lau and sheung hing and maybe crystal jade in hong kong spring to mind, etc.)

                                                          As an aside, "The Gourmet Club" is a short but interesting fictional story of a group of gourmets in tokyo who become tired of japanese cuisine and so start pursuing chinese cuisine. people intrigued by jai yun might find that story worth a read.

                                                          1. re: Dustin_E

                                                            Who wrote it?
                                                            The shizitou in perfect consommé at Fu 1088 were comparable in quality to the food here. Also the xiaolong tang bao at the Sui Yuan in Taipei ages ago, the diameter of quarters, with impossibly thin skins, and full of soup.

                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                              Junichiro Tanizaki. It's in Lucky Peach #1, among other places.

                                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                Tanizaki, probably have that about the house somewhere.

                                                          2. re: buttertart

                                                            This may be desparately off topic, but the San Francisco Bay area has, as far as I know, no biang mian restaurants. While NYC may lack anything like Jai Yun, the Bay Area lacks anything like Biang! Those noodles were terrific, at least the version I ate in Xi'an. I wish I were there for lunch tomorrow.. See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/15/din...

                                                            1. re: Michael Rodriguez

                                                              That's a terrific restaurant but a whole different ball of wax from Jai Yun. I hope you get a Xi'an style place there soon.

                                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                                I can only hope... I used to love going to the Xi'an stall at Flushing Mall and now I just read reviews like the one for Biang and suffer silently.

                                                              2. re: Michael Rodriguez

                                                                Come on down to Southern California--Shaanxi Gourmet in Rosemead.

                                                        2. No way to go solo? Neither lunch nor dinner? I wouldn't mind paying for two if lunch can be had for $20 per person. I'd even pay for two for dinner if it could be had for say $60 . No way I'm going to get husband to go, even though I go to PF Chang with only 30 minutes of complaining. I went to the one in Sacto and asked for the "secret menu".

                                                          13 Replies
                                                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                            I'm sure you could ask. Via email as I gather English isn't universally understood there. But I'm curious, why wouldn't your husband go? Obviously "Asian" food isn't a turnoff to him so what's the hang up?

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              Well first of all, I will be in SF alone, for a conference. We don't live far from SF, and go for dinner often, but husband is not too adventurous. (We have been to Boulevard about 50 times. Called in favors to get him to Aziza and Slanted Door. But he liked it.) I figured I'd take advantage and go to some chowish places. I did not think Jai Yun was basic " Asian".

                                                              I also have a res at AQ and Gitane. Couldn't get Canteen, but I may call. If solo at Jail Yun is not to be, I will survive.

                                                              1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                Ah, didn't realize you were going to be in the city alone. Sorry. I didn't mean that Jai Yun was "basic." Just figured if your husband ate some Asian he'd find plenty at Jai Yun that suited him.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  Well that sounds promising! He usually likes to check out the menu in advance, and see plenty of familiar items (i.e. general tso's chicken and pot stickers). I could not find a menu online. Maybe I will just wait.

                                                                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                    Never a menu at Jai Yun. Read reports online for an idea of typical meals.

                                                                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                      Shrinkrap, I really doubt your hubby will find familiar items at Jai Yun if he likes PF Chang for Chinese. I'm not such a sophisticated Chinese cuisine eater myself, and most of what we had was totally new and different for me (i went again with 3 others - report above) - in a really exciting and delicious way.

                                                                      1. re: mariacarmen

                                                                        We are laughing about it. Loving your report and sharing your pictures.

                                                                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                          thanks! glad you are enjoying.

                                                                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                            Ah, now that you've given examples, others are probably right that it might not be his cup of jasmine tea :) buttertart/maria carmen's reports have moved it to the top of my list.

                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                              Cancelled ongoing to A.Q. Sigh.

                                                                          2. re: mariacarmen

                                                                            I still have to get the dang photos off our camera...next big birthday we are there, if it still is.

                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                              awesome!

                                                                  2. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                    i had lunch there solo, but that was about 2-1/2 years ago. it was $18 and wonderful.