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Jai Yun overpriced, overhyped [San Francisco]

I listened to you folks and booked a reservation for 2 for Jai Yun. When
associates wanted to join in we increased the reservation to 8. When we walked into the empty restaurant at 7 PM on a Wednesday the young lady at the desk rudely demanded to know if we had a reservation. We said yes. As the rest of the party trickled in, they in turn were again rudely interrogated as to whether they had a reservation. No one else came to the restaurant the whole night. We were there in an empty place. The host chose the highest price $120 per person and the meal started. All repetitious and boring. Had the famed abalone mixed with egg white, couldn't tell which was which. The same ingredients were used over and over in different preparations, but the taste buds were not excited. For $120 a head I really expected some fireworks. We like Chinese food from all regions and this was a disappointment on all counts. The decor was really kitchy and the lightening glaring. Shame on you all for recommending this dive!! Was this a case of Chinese restaurant schadenfreude or are all you relatives of the chef?

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  1. How far before the meal did you change the reservation?

    I think the price range these days is $80 to $168.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      News of the price hike is saddening. I love this restaurant, but at these prices I can't afford it.

    2. Changed reservation from 2 to 8 2 days before coming. Dined there just this month. The highest range on the sheet she passed around was $120. It was highway robbery.

      3 Replies
      1. re: meinNYC

        Interesting. The price range must vary with the size of the group. I've seen recent reports of it topping out at $168.

        Personally with a group that size I'd go elsewhere and pre-order a banquet. The unique thing about Jai Yun is that you can have a banquet-style meal without a big group.

        I've had a bunch of meals there and never found significant repetition of ingredients.

        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          May belong in its own thread. But where else would you go w/ a large group and pre-order a banquet?

          1. re: sundeck sue

            Great China, Yum's Bistro.

            For Shanghainese, other than Jai Yun, I'm not sure. Lots of places have closed. Maybe North China in SF or Shanghai in Cupertino?

      2. I haven't been to Jai Yun, but I've done my reading from the reports people have posted on Chowhound... Given all that information, I know Jai Yun is "divey" in that Chinatown sense - you're definitely not going for a fine dining experience. I've also seen the photo reports of the dishes people have had and think the cost isn't worth the size or "exoticness" of the dishes. I'd much prefer a banquet at "normal" Chinese restaurants.
        Given all the info, I've decided I never need to try Jai Yun.

        So perhaps this was a simple case of doing a bit more research to align your expectations with the reality. Most visitors either love or hate it and you definitely fell on the latter end of the scale :)

        1. Uh, ok, you need to vent and blame someone else for making a recommendation that you feel bad about. But I have to agree with bobabear and ask, did you really read much about Jai Yun on this board, or do your homework elsewhere?

          I can't check every post here about Jai Yun, but I'm pretty sure all of them, including the ones I have written, are all clear about the fact that the decor and service are bare bones at best. I think others have also written about the fact that the longest tasting menu does include some duplication of flavors and sauces. I know I have stated that while it is some of the highest quality Chinese food, Jai Yun may struggle in comparison to the competition of the high-end places in the Bay Area.

          I also have to wonder whether your bad experience with the food was biased by your initial interaction with the hostess and your shock at the decor. There are plenty of psychology studies that go into how a bad mood can change your perceptions, and I know I've had several meals ruined by what was going through my head beforehand or at the start (if anything my first meal at Alinea was even more impressive given the argument I had been having with my guests all day).

          Again, for $120 I know I might recommend other places before Jai Yun, but I certainly remember a lot of the dishes for being savory with sauces and combinations that are a class above other well-known Chinese places in the Bay Area (and yes, I've been to Hong Kong, Singapore etc. and my grandfather was a Chinese chef and the investor behind the first high-end Chinese place in Manhattan). While I wouldn't say Jai Yun's abalone was the best preparation in memory, but given the portion size and raw cost of abalone, it goes a long way to explaining the total price tag. Robert Lauriston is right about the price—$120 is definitely not the most expensive menu—so I'm guessing you went on a Monday-Wednesday, when they don't offer their longest menus (and arguably some of the better dishes, though, there is some confusion about what is offered when you pay more).

          And yes, there is a reason why it is important to know if you have a reservation at Jai Yun even if the rest of the tables are empty: Chef Nei is a one man show so he only does prep work all day for just the people who have reservations.

          Finally, I'm also going to go out on a limb and guess that you and probably most of your associates don't speak Mandarin, or even Cantonese. Unfortunately, as at many ethnic cheap eats and also really high end places in France and Japan, I do think that interactions with staff are at least friendlier, and that you can get overall better treatment when there is no language barrier. When I started speaking Mandarin to Chef Nei over the phone, he quickly suggested to me that I come on another day when he could do something more special and later took $100 off my bill. Not saying this is right or anything, but it's been discussed here before, and I think about Jai Yun in particular.

          1 Reply
          1. re: W42

            I'd really like to get a detailed rundown on the current prices. I've read in recent reports of an $80 minimum and a $168 maximum, but also of a $98 minimum per person for a party of two.

          2. >> rudely demanded to know if we had a reservation.
            >> We like Chinese food from all regions and this was a disappointment on all counts.

            I suspect if you aren't used to rude waitresses your experience with chinese food is pretty limited.

            >> No one else came to the restaurant the whole night. We were there in an empty place.

            That's how it usually is. sort of a private banquet type place. some high-end places in hong kong are almost like this as well (tien heung lau, yung kee 4th floor), though admittedly at jai yun it is an extreme.

            >> The decor was really kitchy and the lightening glaring.

            yep, decor is kitchy. i've never noticed the lighting being too bright, and this is something i'm pretty sensitive to (and is very common in chinese restaurants in china.)

            also, "lightening" means "the descent of the uterus into the pelvic cavity, occurring toward the end of pregnancy."

            >> Shame on you all for recommending this dive!!

            You clearly have no idea how high-end dining works. at least not in the "expensive, tiny, weird" category where jai yun falls. if that's how you felt about jai yun, i'd pretty strongly recommend you avoid high-end food in tokyo, where most of the authentic local restaurants are 2x the price, half the number courses, and all some variation on raw white fish, or gently flavored vegetables. but there is brilliance and deep complexity in the subtle differences.... which clearly did nothing for you.

            >> want great meals and good value, but price not really
            >> a consideration . let's just say we get grumpy if it's
            >> all show and snoot.

            if you ask an online source for advice again, you may want to think of something that describes your tastes a little better than this -- which tells us almost nothing.

            until then, i'd suggest aiming for house of nanking with the rest of the tourists.

            i must add, though, that i do appreciate you posting back. i think meals that are board favorites but that visitors don't like are too often simply not mentioned again by the visitor.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Dustin_E

              "
              >> Shame on you all for recommending this dive!!

              You clearly have no idea how high-end dining works. at least not in the "expensive, tiny, weird" category where jai yun falls. if that's how you felt about jai yun, i'd pretty strongly recommend you avoid high-end food in tokyo, where most of the authentic local restaurants are 2x the price, "

              Although slightly bombastically stated, and I have not been to Jai Yun, I can emphatically agree with that statement about Tokyo. I was taken to dinner in a place that looked like a hollowed out log or possibly an abandoned squatter's shack, the only seating was perched at the bar, there were exactly 3 people in the place all night (myself, my host, and another guy), there were no prices mentioned up front and we were simply told how much to pay at the end - no negotiation, no itemization - and about 2x what was described by the OP. The food was delectable and uncomplicated, the evening sublime, and I now have a much treasured namecard (given only at the end of the meal when they decided I deserved it) that will allow me to dine there again - the place is invitation only - if I can ever find the place, since the card has only caligraphy and no obvious address.

              That being said, sending someone to the house of nanking is a bit much. You should apologize for that. Not the rest, just that.

              1. re: bbulkow

                BB -- the place in Tokyo you have the card for -- it is likely the address is in the calligraphy. Have someone who reads Japanese decipher it for you. Or, send a scan of it to the address on my profile and I'll translate it for you. Sounds like you had the evening of a lifetime there. Tokyo is a lot like that.

                1. re: Tripeler

                  Thank you for the offer. My host who took me the first time can either translate or explain. There's also the language barrier of making a reservation there, and the fact that I'm doing less business travel to tokyo (even though they have that nice non-stop from SJ to Tokyo now).

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    One of my enduring impressions of Tokyo - amazing eateries hidden in back alleys. It's almost as if they are challenging would-be diners to find them.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      Being essentially a pedestrian scale city, people will always find them. But the places that deliberately stay hidden and keep their signage minimal want to remain places which are publicized by word of mouth.