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Jai Yun

Shanghainese Sensations

Restaurants in Shanghai serve food from different parts of China including seafood from coastal regions such as Jiangsu, Zhejian and spicy dishes from Hunan. Shanghai cooking is said to require the most skill and diners eat many small courses of refined dishes in one sitting. Often one ingredient plays the starring role in balanced, clean tasting dishes, as opposed to the one-pot style stir-fry served with a sauce over rice. Knowing all of this will help you to appreciate your Shanghai-style meal at Jai Yun, because eating at Jai Yun is an adventure.

Jai Yun is not a restaurant that you stumble into from the street. It sits a few blocks above the bustle of Stockton Street on Pacific Avenue. The restaurant serves only prix fixe menus, and reservations are required. No walk-ins. A prix fixe menu is one thing, but at Jai Yun there is no menu. Something approaching a menu is on the web site, but the number of dishes and exactly what you will be served, is decided upon by the chef, based in part on the number of diners as well as prix fixe price. The prices range from $45 to $150 per person.

Whichever price you choose, you will be surprised and probably delighted with most of the seemingly never-ending courses of meticulously prepared dishes at Jai Yun. Some of the dishes are familiar such as Kung Pao Chicken or Orange Beef, but most are more unusual such as Foo Yung Abalone or Celery with Five Spices and Dry Tofu or Cilantro Salad.

Jai Yun is certainly a restaurant to try with a group. For the $65 per person prix fixe our table of six received eleven cold appetizers and a progression of fourteen main dishes that began with mild dishes and ended with spicier ones and lasted two full hours. The cold appetizers are each small portions, but intensely flavored so you really only want a couple of bites of each. The flavors and texture range from spicy, juicy, preserved radish green to starchy, crisp, sweet lacy lotus root. In each dish the knife work is astounding. Thin tiny slivers of vegetables and meats are not just impressive to look at but perfectly cooked. Ingredients are enhanced rather than overwhelmed.

Some of the most outstanding dishes we enjoyed included the aforementioned Foo Yung Abalone. If you've ever thought cotton candy tasted like a cloud, wait till you try this dish. Fluffy puffs of egg white are mixed with thin slivers of abalone. The mild sweet mollusk is heavenly light and delicate. We also had a whole grouper deep-fried and served with a perfectly balanced sweet and sour sauce. Not the typical cornstarch thickened sauce but a thin, tangy accompaniment to the crunchy and yet tender fish. The sweet Crispy Eggplant with Scallions was soft and sweet, almost like candy and about as addictive. Very few dishes were disappointing, though one was marred by the addition of starchy frozen peas.

While most of the food will impress, much of the rest of the experience may be confounding. For a restaurant serving elegant meals, the decor is terribly drab. Though the restaurant was recently closed for renovations, it's hard to tell exactly what improvements have been made. Disco lights and tacky ribbons sadly serve as a distraction from the main event, the food. The dishes are complex and sophisticated, and yet the server sometimes clueless about them. But find a group of adventurous eaters, and go anyway.


Reservations Essential? Yes