What defines Chinese haute cuisine in the US?


Huh, this article grabbed my attention after an update about the closing of Crystal Jade in SF. I recall another discussion by David Chan on that topic, but was wondering what are some thoughts on this.

Is it more of a calibration on ingredients to what one would deem as haute? The overall decor of the restaurant? Service?

My focus on a restaurant is mainly towards the food but I can appreciate that service and decor has the ability to improve upon the overall feel of the place.

It might be the case that San Francisco is a market that cannot support haute cuisine in the style of Lung King Heen and its Hong Kong peers that are haute in our book. Haute extends beyond skilled technique and some ingredients. As they say, the promise of the menu draws you in, but you return for the hospitality.

Well in regards to Crystal Jade in SF, I went to the restaurant relatively early when it opened. I thought some of the food items were decent, however, the service was a little scattered and the price was very high for the quality (I thought there were similar places that executed the food at lesser prices). So not sure if I can consider it haute in that standard.

Not even trying to reach for Lung King Heen, but there are few Cantonese restaurants in the Bay Area that can match Vancouver or Toronto’s Cantonese restaurants. So I don’t think I would opt for that comparison.

The author of the article mentioned they really enjoyed Flower Drum in Melbourne, but I recently dined there (well… three months or so ago) and thought they did a good job on the food (didn’t think it was out of this world), but maybe the things I ordered weren’t their forte? I really don’t know. Would it be best if they all had prix fixe menus? Better yet, are we comparing lunch or dinner service? Most of the time they do dim sum for lunch and dinner would be an entirely different affair.

I will share some thoughts tomorrow when I got more time to type. But Crystal Jade, Hakkasan are not haute. They like people to think they are. But they aren’t, period.

This was a complex issue when I wrote about it four years ago and probably is more so today. The starting point is the backdrop of Chinese food in America having been considered to be economical, if not downright cheap. Before you get to haute cuisine, i think you need to get to the point where at least some people will be able to pay for more expensive Chinese cuisine. That by itself has been a tough slog and at times involves Chinese food that is not especially authentic. i think the Bay Area has been ahead of the curve on that with restaurants like Yank Sing, Mr. Jiu, China Live, Hakkasan and Crystal Jade. And Eight Tables certainly pushes that bar higher. The other issue is where are the next Chinese restaurants coming from? They’re mostly non-Cantonese restaurants coming from Mainland China, whether actual branches of existing Mainland Chinese chains or not. And while many of them are certainly pushing the price point higher (Bistro Na’s, Hai Di Lao and Chengdu Impression in the LA area), I don’t know if these qualify as haute cuisine.

I don’t have any opinion on Hakkasan since I never went but you’re certainly on point in regards to how the SF Crystal Jade tried to portray itself. I’ve been to two or three in Singapore/Hong Kong and the Crystal Jades were pretty on point with a good cleanliness but definitely not what I consider high end/haute.

I wonder if there’s some definite perception biases. I’ve seen a few people balk at the price of fresh steamed fishes in restaurants where they were roughly 20ish a pound. Some ingredients by itself would be extremely expensive (e.g. bird’s nest, abalone, and other dried seafood), but to most people the ingredients would just seem odd and not something that you would consider expensive. I can see why 8 tables would try to introduce caviar, wagyu beef, and other ingredients to explain an expensive menu; but at the same time, it just seems a little forced.

How are those places compared to well uhm… lesser priced alternatives?

Chinese people generally don’t pay good money for bad food so at places like BisTro Na’s the fact that they are doing well validates that they are providing a better product. But is honey pepper beef or crispy whole shrimp haute?