San Francisco

Are you lucky enough to be visiting the Bay Area or perhaps even to live there? If so, hurry to book a meal at Jai Yun. Believe it or not, this exceptional restaurant is located in Chinatown — from which, as afficionados love to point out, the best Chinese food fled some time ago to other sectors of the city. Not in this case. Chef Nei Chia Ji, from Nanjing, is a true artist and a one-man show. Jai Yun’s not a regular restaurant. There is no menu. You call ahead to book and select the per-person price level, then simply arrive. You better be hungry and relaxed about time because a parade of exquisite dishes will follow. Some of Nei’s creations are unforgettable (the abalone, the tangerine beef, the eggplant) and the rest range from merely good to great. Pace yourself–the meal is long and elaborate, and best approached as a tasting menu. The atmosphere is 100% generic, formica and fluorescents all the way. The prices, which start at $40-$50 a head, are high for a Chinese restaurant, but a meal at Jai Yun is an absolute steal compared with Eurocentric food of similar quality. Arguably one of the best Chinese restaurant experiences in North America and without question one of the most unique. Jai Yun, 680 Clay St., San Francisco, CA, 415-981-7438. Reservations essential. Beer and a hodgepodge of wines available (you can bring your own wine.)