$9 no menu lunch at Jai Yun

by foodhoe on July 26, 2009

680 Clay Street, SF, CA 94111 | 415.981.7438 | website | cash only
6:30 – 9:30pm by Reservation Only | open for lunch too – hours unknown
*closed Thursdays*

Jennifer 8 Lee, who wrote the Fortune Cookie Chronicles, places Jai Yun in her list of the best Chinese restaurants in the world, of which only 5 are from North America.  The reservations only and expensive chef’s menu format has proved to be a hard hurdle to overcome when there are so many bargains to be had in nearby Chinatown slinging huge platters of greasy chow mein and sticky sweet lemon chicken.  People expect big portions in this land of supersize me and with prices ranging from $45 to $150 per person for a multicourse dinner, the portions served at Jai Yun seem ridiculously small although you may be served 29 plates.  Chef Nei’ has had to fend off criticism of his unusual format and includes this statement on their un-menu and website in his defense.

Ten reasons for not having a menu:

  1. All ingredients are hand picked every morning to ensure the highest quality
  2. Your dining experience will be unique and full of surprises
  3. Menu items change accordingly to meet the best nutritional benefit and blanace
  4. Wide variety of dishes.
  5. Quick and convenient to meet your lunch hour need
  6. Selections change according to market availability and seasonal changes
  7. Efficient way of lowering operation cost in order of maintain low price for customers
  8. Specialty Chinese regional cuisine
  9. Creative dish planning and preparation
  10. No menu will be offered due to the above reasons.  Thank you.

I was at a training class last month and stopped in my tracks when I saw that the new location of Jai Yun was literally just around the corner.  And it had a sign out that it is open for lunch!  It’s hard to believe it’s already been two years since the Single Guy and I had been for Chef Nei’s famous and epic tasting menu.  They accept walk-in diners at lunch but still only serve the chef’s multi-course meals.

Last year, chef Nei’ opened a less expensive place called Flying Pan Bistro at this location on Clay Street, but he ended up closing it and relocating Jai Yun there. The new location is much larger with wood accents and red wainscotting but still looks like any other Chinese restaurant.  I like that it’s closer to my work and especially that it is open for lunch.  The decor is typical of a Chinese restaurant, full of symbols of good fortune and luck.  The modern white tableware is very cool, but the paper place mats with the bric-a-brac trim and paper napkins make it look a little frumpy.

The feng shui fountain with the dry ice kept me occupied trying to capture the odd tendrils of fog while I waited for my food.

The un-menu had a price range of 18/25/35 with a hand written 9 added in the front.  I was open to suggestions and my server recommended the $9 course since this was my first visit for lunch.  She returned with two small plates of cold appetizers.  One was a pile of enoki mushrooms, whisper thin slices of red pepper, a few strands of chewy tripe tossed with a light savory dressing and fresh cilantro.  It is very satisfying and refreshing.

The other plate held a stack of folded layers of bean curd in a silky smooth sauce.  This had a nice chew and tasted of star anise.

Next she brought out a plate of their famous Crispy Eggplant with Scallions (#65 on the The Big Eat SF list).  This really was good.  You can see the edges are slightly charred, the flat edges were crispy but the inside was creamy and firm.  It had a light coating of a garlic-chili glaze.  Yes the reputation of this dish is valid.  Even a small little lunchtime taste.  This was worth the trip alone!

My entree arrived.  A bowl of noodles piled with chopped meat, green scallions, bean sprouts and red chilies. It smelled delicious.

I mixed it up and proceeded to inhale the bowl.  There was just enough of the spicy sauce to lightly coat the noodles which had an addictive bouncy texture.  The spice level had my lips tingling and I sought out little twiggy bits that had a compelling chewy texture.

Upon close inspection, I saw little beady eyes – they were tiny dried fish.  Mmmm, extra protein.

I finished off each plate and can’t wait to go back to try some of the other more elaborate offerings.  I hope they keep the lunchtime service and especially the $9 option on the non-menu, since I was only one of a few diners eating there at noon (but wasn’t it like that at night too?).

Jai Yun on Urbanspoon

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

cocochanelella July 26, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Fantastic! I wondering about the lunch menu and especially with the eggplant I’m so there. Do you happen to know the estimate lunch hours here?
.-= cocochanelella´s last blog ..Carb Overload Grubbing on the SF Big Eats list =-.

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Su-Lin July 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Only $9?! I am in awe that you got a multi course lunch for that! And it all looks so delicious!
.-= Su-Lin´s last blog ..Pseudo Refried Beans and Eggs =-.

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hungry dog July 26, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Wow, sounds incredible. I need to check it out myself!
.-= hungry dog´s last blog ..Fire and Smoke Chicken =-.

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grace July 27, 2009 at 6:30 am

crispy eggplant? that sounds unique and wonderful, especially with a spicy glaze. methinks i like this no-menu thing.
.-= grace´s last blog ..the phoenicians =-.

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The Single Guy July 27, 2009 at 10:47 am

Jai Yun, ahh the memories. I remember how that dinner felt like we were intruding on a private party for that bigger table of 12-plus dinners there that night! The new location looks better and the lunch option seems like a better value. I’m still wary of going to dinner because after awhile all the dishes seem to be the same flavoring but with different ingredients. But with the lunch option, looks like there’s enough diversity in the stylings to keep it interesting.
.-= The Single Guy´s last blog ..Pigging Out in Berkeley =-.

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Gastronomer July 27, 2009 at 11:30 am

Only 9 dollars! So cheap! So unique! I must go here the next time I’m up in The Bay. Btw, I can’t believe Jen 8 Lee ignored Los Angeles in her rankings.
.-= Gastronomer´s last blog ..Churros Rellenos – Tijuana =-.

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Cookie July 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

What a great deal!
.-= Cookie´s last blog ..Frank’s BBQ Pizza =-.

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Kirk July 27, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Hi FH – I remember reading about Jai Yun in Jennifer 8 Lee’s book, so I found this post fascinating.
.-= Kirk´s last blog ..Laylah’s Patties & Jerk – Just the Patties =-.

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Rosa July 28, 2009 at 12:21 am

Great food! Nicely presented and delicious looking!

Cheers,

Rosa

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foodhoe July 28, 2009 at 8:15 am

coco, I don’t know but will try to check the hours and let you know
su-lin, me too!
hungry dog you should
grace, it’s fun to just let the chef feed you
single guy, I loved the lunch way better. the low price made it even better
gastronomer, it’s true! she admits that her list is very incomplete, but that’s what’s up there now…
cookie, totally
kirk, I haven’t read it yet, hoping it comes out in audiobook soon!
rosa, it was a great find

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Carolyn Jung July 28, 2009 at 8:29 pm

That’s a pretty good deal for $9. Hmmm, I know Single Guy Chef doesn’t like eggplant. Maybe I should take him there so then I’d end up with TWO helpings. heehee.
.-= Carolyn Jung´s last blog ..Love’s Cupcakes — Finally =-.

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foodhoe July 30, 2009 at 9:20 am

carolyn, that’s a brilliant strategy

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