Well, this is about to get interesting. Crystal Jade Jiang Nan, the $14 million first U.S. outpost of the beloved Asian restaurant chain, has been ripped a new one by none other than Michael Bauer. In a gloriously bitchy 1.5-star review (with only one star for food, an incredible rarity for the usually sanguine critic), Bauer utterly demolishes the Embarcadero Center newbie, which seems to have been more than worthy of his derision.
The issues start with the amateurish staff: "On one visit, servers aimlessly walked through the dining room, trying to figure out where to deliver their plates...we ended up with two dishes we didn't order." After Bauer's party requested a dish of whole shrimp, their server was apparently befuddled: "A manager came to our table to check if we realized the shrimp wouldn't be shelled. We said we did, but he still thought we might be happier with shrimp balls. We assured him we could handle the shells. A few minutes later, our server came out just to be sure we understood that the shrimp would be served whole. When they arrived—one on each plate for the five of us—the manager snapped on rubber gloves like a doctor preparing for a proctology exam and went from person to person to shell the prawns."
This might be forgivable if the food were delicious, but Bauer finds it "syrupy sweet and surprisingly bland," from a cellophane beef that tasted like "candied jerky" to a "timidly flavored" roast duck "about the size of a pigeon." The wine list, characterized by "outrageous markups," is "so pedestrian" that he brought his own by the final visit, and prices as a whole are equally insane, with three slices of roast suckling pig going for $30. "I would have loved rice with several dishes. In fact, we ordered a portion on one visit, but it never arrived. When I got the bill, I realized we had been charged for it, but it took so long to get the tab that I decided it was worth the $2 charge not to complain."
Indeed, pretty much the only things that didn't merit complaint from Bauer were a decent dish of fried rice (running a staggering $19), and the "truly spectacular" design from Ken Fulk, which unfortunately lacks sufficient signage to even find the restaurant. With SF Weekly critic Anna Roth having also slammed the restaurant for being "unremarkable in almost every way except for its astronomical prices," this points to some seriously murky waters for the phenomenally expensive, massively sized Jiang Nan. Bauer sums it up best: "The staff seems inexperienced and tone-deaf to the market, which is surprising, considering that this restaurant group has 22 restaurants in 21 Asian cities...How can a group that sank $14 million into an interior—probably the most ever spent on a restaurant in the Bay Area—come off as an amateur production?"