Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Old Riesling and Chinese at Jai Yun
For a while, now, a few members of my tasting group have each been meaning to dine at what many consider San Francisco's most serious Chinese restaurant, Jai Yun, a non-descript address in the Financial district with a simple prix fixe menu; the amount one agrees to pay correlates to the quantity and variety of dishes. The menu starts at $55 for dinner, and goes up to $65 (our selected option); $85 (I think) and on up if you really want to sample some extravagant Chinese banquet type dishes. That having been said, for $65 five of us tasted what amounted to at least 30 different dishes. The dishes represented quite the array of colors, textures and flavors, and varied from impeccably prepared familiar favorites to more unusual dishes, many of which showed such a high level of attention to detail and harmony in flavors that I felt as though I had never before really experienced Chinese food as it's meant to be eaten.
Almost immediately after everyone and was seated, our server brought us fourteen cold dishes, each a tiny pyramid shaped mound of food. Bright, tangy cucumber salad; tender, garlicky enoki mushrooms; a few pieces of simply roasted duck; radish salad; smoked fish; marinated tofu skins; barbecued pork; braised meat; sauteed chinese broccoli...plus five more I cannot recall.
At this point, let's discuss the first wine of the evening, a bottle of 1983 Weingut Graf Wiltinger Scharzhoffberger Riesling Kabinett. Delicate, wispy and in this case just a bit past its prime Saar Riesling. After 10 minutes in the glass Mark observed the structure firming up and gaining more intensity, only to peter out again shortly thereafter.
Next up a 1983 Reichsgraf von Kesselstat Josefshofer Riesling Spatlese. The Josefshofer vineyard lies outside of the village of Graach, in between the top sites Graacher Himmelreich and Graacher Domprobst in the middle Mosel. It was as beautiful and profound an older riesling as I've had since tasting a bunch of Prum two years ago. A deeper golder color than the Kabinett, there were intense aromas of apricots and mandarins, and a definite mark of botrytis on the palate. A golden elixir, this, whose sugar was completely resolved, leaving a delicious ripe mature Riesling, with a lot of detail and length. It's worth noting that Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt is serious about only using indigenous yeasts for fermentations, employing extended lees contact, and in their own words from the website, "we categorically reject the so-called new oenological procedures."
Another Spatlese would follow, this time from the terrific 1985 vintage, a Weingut Benedict Loosen Urben Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Spatlese ***. If you thought that I would not be tasting at least one German wine with stars involved, do not not worry, this is the starred wine. More youthful in appearance and flavor than the von Kesselstat, this wine was lighter in weight but more agile, arguably less profound now but still pretty darn good. It was very heavily sulphured, from what I understand, to help encourage long-term aging.
OK, back to the food. There were five spiced morsels of rib accompanied by deep fried taro paste balls; orange beef totally unlike any other I've had, with very gamey and wild tasting (aged?) beef fried to a crisp and redolent of orange peel; spicy kung pao chicken; a wonderfully earthy dish of snails (chewy, but still tasty) with fermented black bean; abalone and egg whites. Butter soft, rich braised pork; fried whole grouper; Sauteed soy beans; and several other vegetable dishes to balance out the fact that we were being served such a wide variety of animal protein, probably more at a single sitting than I had ever eaten. Unlike with other shared dining experiences, each diner always had at least a couple bites of whichever dish was being served. It was quite the culinary display from Chef Chia Ji Nei, living up to all the high praise I had heard prior to dining at Jai Yun.
Rounding out the wines, we had a dull, disappointingly simple bottle of 1997 Schlossgut Diel Burgberger Riesling Kabinett, and a 2004 Albert Mann Pinot Gris Grand Cru which was so out of context that it showed like Rombauer Chardonnay. Well, that is a stretch; there was great depth of flavor, minerals, and rich, succulent pinot gris fruit, just that next to the more delicate, significantly lower in alcohol Riesling we had a tough time drinking it.
Jai Yun is a treasure. Go there with a group of folks and you'll go away not only sated, but with a sense of having been schooled as well.