CONFESSIONS OF A                                                                  
A San Francisco Girl's Down and Dirty Adventures in the Culinary Playground

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Shanghai Surprise (Jai Yun -- San Francisco, CA)

Chef Chia-Ji Nei isn't from Shanghai, he's from Nanjing, but it's pretty damn close, hence the title.

His restaurant, Jai Yun is in Chinatown, in a little non-descript hole in the wall. Getting there is half the battle, but once you do, you'll be glad you did.

First, you need to call for a reservation. They are open for lunch and dinner Fri. - Wed. The restaurant is run by Chef Nei, his wife and his son. And that's the entire staff. They all speak very little English, so count on your reservation taking about twenty minutes to make and resembling the drive through scene in "Dude, Where's My Car?". Then when you arrive at the restaurant, count on them not really being sure if you are on the books. But it's all good, I promise.

It's a pretty small dining room, seats about 30 peeps, total. Decor consists of some Christmas lights, a calendar and a drink cooler. You get handed a menu. This is not a menu with food on it, however. That wouldn't make any sense. It is a menu that explains the chef's heritage and philosophy. You then tell the server (his son) how much you want to pay ranging from $35-$150 (cash only). We've never done more than $45 and with what you get, I can't imagine what the $150 meal looks like. They must need a stretcher to get you out. After you tell them how much you want to pay, the food starts coming. And coming. And coming.

You start with some cold bits. These include but are not limited to: a delicate little cucumber salad, vegetarian chicken (cold layered tofu that really *does* taste like chicken), lotus root salad, cold duck tasties, braised beef slices with spicy peanuts, cold fish, spicy cabbage and many, many more. Then the entrees start coming.

One of his signature dishes is foo yung abalone. This is egg whites and abalone and it's fucking delicious. You just can't believe it. Then comes shrimpies with veggies and gingko nuts and then some tofu noodles with edamame and more veggies and it's crazy good. Crispy spicy beef and crispy spicy mushrooms. Winter melon with finely minced pork in another spicy sauce. Pig's leg. Chinese sausage with sticky, chewy delicious noodles (I have no idea what they are made of, but who cares? They are amazing). Whole fish with citrus and herbs. And more and more and more and more and more and more. And the fucked up thing? It's all so friggin' good that as each dish comes, you can't possibly believe it's better than the last, but it is.

They send out the perfect amount of each dish for the number of people in your party. And by the end of the night, all the tables are somewhat in sync, receiving many of the same dishes and leaning over to each other to say "oh-my-God-can-you-believe-how-fucking-good-this-is?"

The crazy thing is that we've never been there when it's been full. This place should be filled to capacity all the time. It's extraordinary. The food is so unique and so tasty that there should be blood in the streets from people fighting each other to get in. But hey, I don't mind -- more room for me.

Get your ass there, because like Cafe Jaqueline, this an experience that is so specific and rare that you need to take advantage of it while you can. Chef Nei is the restaurant, plain and simple. When he decides to call it quits, you will not be able to find another thing like it. And that's what makes it so great. He is kind, he is gracious, he is humble. He is special (and by that I mean rare and wonderful, not mentally challenged).

We've been there twice. Each time, Jon and I went to thank Chef Nei for the incredible meal. Each time, he, smiling from ear to ear, came out from the kitchen into the dining room. Each time, the entire dining room erupted into applause. Now that's fucking good food.



"To eat is a necessity. To eat intelligently is an art."
--La Rochefoucauld


Anonymous Anonymous said...


6/22/2006 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought the food was overpriced. I left there still extremely hungry.

I admit, the food was good, but only thanks to the msg. I left the place feeling like I was robbed; hungry and head achy from the msg.

Go there to experience it, but I can hardly recommend it.

6/01/2007 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jai Yun is now at 680 Clay Street, San Francisco, 2 blocks away from the former location. My wife and I had the $65 / person dinner. We had a total of 18 different S to M size fine dishes one L size final dish. Since I lived in Hong Kong for over 16 years, this particular branch of Chinese cuisine brought back a lot of fond memories, as dishes like these were only served in private supper clubs, such as club houses established in Hong Kong for people from the same root far away in mainland China, aka word-by-word in Chinese "same-village-society". Everything that was served to us at Jai Yun was as fresh as it could be, perfectly executed, served at a temperature that was supposed to be consumed right away, which also explains why the size of the dishes was best kept S to M so that you would not have to eat a lot of the same thing over a long period of time while the temperature drops and texture changes. It is like a banquet without having to invite 15 friends to share. If you love food, this would be a TRUE fine dining experience. Suggestion: make reservation early, be on time, be ready for a 2 straight hours of well planned dining experience, bring cash as credit card is not accepted, and very important, listen to your server's valuable suggestion(s). 5 Stars for quality of food, 5 Stars for quality of service, 5 Stars for dinning experience, 5 Stars for being clean, 3 Star for interior decor (not my priority as a food lover), hence Overall 4.5 Stars.

4/16/2008 4:29 PM  

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