923 Pacific Avenue (at Powell)
Thank you to Han for organizing the lunch, to Lambert for translating, and to the chef for graciously opening his entire restaurant to us.
The many dishes we enjoyed arrived from the kitchen at a leisurely pace...
Red Peanuts Sweet and celebratory
Rice Wine Chicken Tender pieces of chicken infused with rice wine
Salty Duck Confit Chinese-style, not too salty, not too fatty
Mock Chicken Layers of tofu, on the light and airy side
Jellyfish Salad With threads of lily buds for silkiness, daikon for bite, and surimi for a touch of color
Lotus Root Sliced paper thin and sprinkled with aromatic osmanthus blossoms, unexpected and intriguing.
Cilantro Salad Wilted cilantro with tiny brunoise of tofu (smoked? marinated?) and toasted Chinese pine nuts.
Beef Tendon Cold Cut Thin slices of beef infused with five-spice.
Sliced Pork Leg - The hoof version of headcheese.
Pickled Cucumber Slices - Straightforward, lightly vinegared.
Abalone in Egg Whites Thin slices of abalone floating in clouds of savory egg whites.
Tofu with Tree Ear Mushrooms All about texture: tofu frozen for chewy firmness and soaked in juicy sauce, delicately crunchy tree mushrooms.
Bean Curd Sheets with Mustard Greens Sheets cut into noodles and then stir-fried with shredded mustard greens and whole edamame. A sprinkle of wolfberries added color and sweetness.
Orange Beef Crispy fried morsels of beef with zing from fresh garlic and candied orange peel.
Chinese Celery with Yellow Chives A light stir-fry with tofu and red pepper strips
Braised Pork Hocks Thick cuts from top of trotters, fall-off-the-bone tender with a gooey sauce redolent of star anise and burnt sugar.
Mustard Greens with Yellow Chives and Sharks Fin Finely shredded vegetables, crystal clear fibers from the fin.
Sweet Corn Soup Kernels of corn floating in a thick, warm broth of cream and egg white. Not too sweet and welcome even with the afternoons heat blowing in from the street.
Fortune Cookies Imported from Chicago
This menu was for a $30 prix fixe lunch.
Jai Yun's food has subtle flavors, playful textures, light sauces. The chef is skilled, and he cooks, amazingly, all by himself. Anyone who has ever worked in restaurants will know the incredible feat this is. The food is spare in its presentation--the chef knows how to let each ingredient shine purely while melding elegantly with the others on each plate.
Dont go for the décor or the service, or for rice, even. Don't expect an epiphany. Just relax and enjoy the high notes.
First tip: If you're not familiar with the food of Shanghai or Nanjing, bring along a friend who speaks Mandarin. Or just be able to enjoy a meal knowing very little about it--entirely possible.
Second tip: Four to six seems to be the right number of folks to have at your table. Two people should be prepared for leftovers; ten should expect to go home hungry.
Third tip: Plan on eating for at least two hours.
Fourth tip: Make it there for lunch, then stroll around the corner to the Imperial Tea Court, where you can linger over a pot of monkey-picked oolong or jasmine pearl.
Much has already been written on Jai Yun, more will certainly follow....