Critic pans Crystal Jade outlet in US

Critic pans Crystal Jade outlet in US

A veteran American food critic has given Crystal Jade's new flagship restaurant in the United States a scathing review.

Rating it 1 and a half stars out of five, Michael Bauer lamented at the start of his review published on Monday in the San Francisco Chronicle: "How can a group that sank US$14 million (S$18.6 million) into an interior - probably the most ever spent on a restaurant in the Bay Area - come off as an amateur production?"

He concluded that the restaurant "at least for now, has little to recommend beyond its glitzy facade".

In response, the Singapore-based Chinese restaurant group said in a statement to The Straits Times that it "appreciates" the feedback given.

It said a team had been put together before the review was published to improve service and quality at the restaurant.

The 20,000 sq ft Crystal Jade Jiang Nan, which can seat 200, opened in San Francisco's financial district to great fanfare in November last year.

It serves dishes from the Sichuan, Jiangsu, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces, as well as Cantonese roast meats and dim sum on weekends.

It is the group's first foray outside Asia and is also its first outlet since Crystal Jade was acquired in May last year by L Capital, the equity arm of French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH.

Crystal Jade has more than 120 restaurants in 21 cities and 10 countries.

Bauer, the executive food and wine editor of San Francisco Chronicle, has worked at the newspaper for 25 years.

According to the paper's website, he has won multiple national awards for his reviews.

He criticised the restaurant for apparently pandering to Western tastes by making the sauces sweeter and less spicy.

Crystal Jade admitted that further tweaks may be needed to meet the expectations of its American customers, this being its first restaurant in the United States.

"We would need to work on meeting the taste profile of the local diners. This will continue till our products are acceptable to the local palate," the statement said.

Bauer also panned the inconsistent service at the fine-dining establishment.

He described an incident in which the restaurant staff asked his group twice if they were aware the prawns they ordered would be served in their shells.

"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," he said, adding that the "pattern of superciliousness alternating with clueless service was repeated on each visit".

Bauer ate at the restaurant three times before reviewing it. He found that some dishes "simply weren't well prepared", but added that there may be "hidden gems" on the 85-item menu that he did not try.

He praised some of the dishes, including the scallops with special Crystal Jade XO sauce, beef brisket in clear soup and the fried rice. His favourite was the deep-fried tofu stuffed with shrimp paste, which he said had a "crispy exterior and a custard- like centre". But these were not enough to sway him.

The restaurant is more favourably rated on Yelp, a user-generated review site. It earned three stars out of a possible five, from an average derived from 178 reviews. Users who gave it good ratings praised the stunning views, luxe interiors and the fresh seafood.

A Singapore team will be travelling to the US to work with Crystal Jade's San Francisco partner by the end of the month and will be stationed there until the restaurant "delivers the expected fine-dining standards", Crystal Jade's statement said.

This article was first published on January 25, 2015.
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