Jai Yun: Luxuriating in Chinese Banquet Cuisine [MOVED]

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Chinese Restaurant San Francisco

A humble exterior belies Jai Yun's grand Chinese dining experience indoors.

Jai Yun resides on the western fringes of Chinatown and only has six tables. Nanjing native Nei Chia Ji opened the restaurant in 2000, specializing in Chinese banquet dining. The name translates into English as “home.” Jai Yun is only open for dinner and doesn’t have a printed menu. Nei Chia Ji prefers to prepare whatever he finds on his daily strolls through neighborhood markets, and what he finds constantly changes. Diners who reserve tables understand that their stomachs are in his hands. We were all first-timers, and interested to see what that meant.

The space is “decorated” with Christmas lights year-round, a still-life painting of fruit, and colorful ribbons. That’s about it. Thankfully, we weren’t eating at Jai Yun for high-design.

Placards hung on the wall above our table. We tried to decipher if it was the menu or not. We figured the bottom level was lower-priced, and the top row was high-end. Turns out the cards have been there for five years. It’s a menu frozen in time. Though a few dishes that appeared on our table sure resembled dishes advertised on the cards.

Our waitress offered us meals with price points ranging from $45 to $150 per person. Our waitress recommended the $55 option, but my father is all about trying things, so he upped the ante to $65. It was unclear whether the extra $10 per person made a difference.

Minutes after we ordered, the cold courses started arriving in four-plate waves. Our waitress announced each dish succinctly. “Cucumber, “Smoked Fish,” Jellyfish” and “Tofu.” Since she didn’t speak English, we couldn’t ask follow-up questions, and were left to extrapolate possible ingredients and preparations.

ROUND ONE


Chinese Food San Francisco

Razor-thin cucumber slices came capped with half a Maraschino cherry.

Chinese Food San Francisco

Luscious slabs of smoked fish arrived in a stack.

Chinese Food San Francisco

Wispy jellyfish strands were ethereal, nothing like the chewy rubber bands I’ve eaten at other Chinese restaurants.

Chinese Food San Francisco

I’ve always been an opponent of tofu, but Nei Chia Ji may have changed my perspective with these pull-apart sheets of fried tofu.

ROUND TWO

Our waitress announced our second round selections as “Tofu,” “Beef,” “Mushrooms” and “Lotus Root.”

Chinese Food San Francisco

Finely diced tofu was simply tossed with cilantro and a little oil.

Chinese Food San Francisco

Thin-sliced beef hid a base of al dente baked beans.

Chinese Food San Francisco

Enoki mushrooms arrived in a heap and had a nice crunch.

Chinese Food San Francisco

Marinated lotus root was thin-sliced and snap-fresh.

REVIEW CONTINUED ON THE NEXT PAGE

Jai Yun: Luxuriating in Chinese Banquet Cuisine [MOVED]

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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