Finally made it to Kirin last night. Nice neighborhood restaurant: clean, well lit, fairly crowded on a Saturday night without a line out the door, no muss, no fuss.
We had settled on the $386 set menu, which was more than enough for 11 hearty eaters.
RAW FISH SALAD: this was our only substitution. We requested this instead of the appetizer platter because no one had ever had the fish salad. We've all had the various Cantonese appetizers at other restaurants. The fish salad got mixed reviews. I really enjoyed the combination of textures provided by the crunchy deep fried noodles, tendon-like shard, cilantro, pickled slivers of daikon and carrot, and whatever else was in there. If I were making the dish, I would take out some of the deep fried noodles, add a little white pepper, and squeeze some lime on the whole thing. The females seemed to enjoy this a lot more than the guys did.
SHREDDED QUAIL LETTUCE CUPS: a standard rendition of this dish, with plenty of crunchy water chestnuts (for better or for worse--water chestnuts seem to be either loved or hated depending who you talk to). This version was missing the deep fried bean threads that I like in my lettuce cups, and the filling was a little bland. I had to add more sauce than usual to make it savory.
CRAB AND SHARK'S FIN SOUP: this fell far short of my expectations. There were large chunks of crab throughout, but the soup itself was thin and bland. I much prefer a thick (starchy) shark's fin soup with bamboo, mushroom, and carrot slivers throughout, seasoned with vinegar and soy sauce. This soup seemed to me a poor use of something as expensive as shark's fin. Since shark's fin is tasteless, it acts mostly as a unique texture in what needs to be an otherwise fantastic soup. This soup tasted like mediocre seafood stock with some crab and shark's fin added at the last minute.
CHICKEN STUFFED WITH GLUTINOUS RICE: Wow. This was the most impressive thing all evening for me. Depite having it described to me by many people, I was surprised. It looked like someone had hollowed out a chicken, stuffed it with glutinous rice already cooked with mushrooms and sausages, deep fried the bird, cut it into squares, and assembled it on a plate complete with head, wings, and legs. Each piece was a hot and crispy skin with warm chewy rice in the middle. Excellent. I would go back with a smaller group and just order this and some vegetables. I'm not sure if this is an item that needs to be requested a day in advance. I was also surprised that this dish doesn't involve any actual chicken meat, just the hollowed out skin and appendages.
LOBSTER: standard Cantonese preparation. Does anyone know why there's so much Maine lobster in SF restaurants? Pacific lobster is so far superior; I assume it's just that Pacific lobster costs more.
MUSTARD GREENS WITH MUSHROOMS, ABALONE AND GIANT CLAM: generous portions of all seafood.
BROCCOLI AND CARROTS WITH SCALLOPS: large pieces of just-cooked scallops, more than enough for everyone to have one or two. My only complaint was that this and the mustard greens were cooked in the same starchy sauce. That's not unusual, though.
BLACK BASS: steamed with soy sauce and scallions. Tender, not overcooked, fresh.
SEAFOOD FRIED RICE: nothing to write home about, but lightly seasoned, not greasy, with slices of tender asparagus and a little seafood flavor.
dessert was two things: almond jello with fruit cocktail, and a thin tapioca soup with red beans. One bowl of something more exciting would have been nice.
We had a very small amount of leftovers--just enough to signal that everyone was stuffed without having so much that we were forcing boxes on each other.
I promised to compare to South Sea Seafood Village, where we did a banquet for 10 two years ago. Overall, I think the food at SSSV is just as good or better than Kirn. The room at SSSV is of course much fancier and the waiters are more professional. We budgeted about $30 at SSSV, and I didn't feel that this meal (foodwise) packed much more of a wow factor despite being more expensive per person.
My friend said that for the price ($44/pp), a better meal could have been gotten at Gold Mountain (he's a frequent customer, but not frequent enough that he gets special treatment). He did admit the food is good at Kirin, and didn't regret trying somewhere new.
Kirin is somewhere that I wouldn't mind returning for a regular meal. For special occassions, I'll keep hunting for my favorite in SF.