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Finally ate at Ba Ren for the first time


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#1 mizducky

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Posted 10 December 2005 - 12:50 AM

Finally went to Ba Ren Szechuan and had me a little carnivore feast.

The entree I got was pretty fine: braised duck with taro. The taro turned out to be slices of that gray-speckled type of konnyaku (I'm not remembering the Chinese term for konnyaku at the moment...). Is the tuber-like vegetable from which they make konnyaku the same thing as or related to taro? I confess I'm ignorant here. Anyway, the konnyaku turned out to be a nice contrast with the chunks of duck meat and a nice soother against the heat of the sauce. And there was a whole bunch of freshly chopped cilantro and scallion greens on top, that kept changing the dish as they fell into and got cooked in it. A really comforting and tasty dish.

But the stars of the show were the cold appetizers. I'm tempted next time to get a bunch of the appetizers for takeout and make a meal out of just them. I got a sampling of three: smoked tongue, dried beef, and tripe. What a terrific assortment of different meat textures, different levels of spiciness--different kinds of spiciness too.

Terrific meal.

(Edited to add: erm, this is a place in San Diego, I forgot to say ... Diane Street just north of Clairemont Mesa Blvd.)

Edited by mizducky, 10 December 2005 - 12:55 AM.


#2 eje

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Posted 10 December 2005 - 01:42 PM

Finally went to Ba Ren Szechuan and had me a little carnivore feast.

The entree I got was pretty fine: braised duck with taro. The taro turned out to be slices of that gray-speckled type of konnyaku (I'm not remembering the Chinese term for konnyaku at the moment...). Is the tuber-like vegetable from which they make konnyaku the same thing as or related to taro?

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Konnyaku is made from the tuber of a voodoo lily. Same plant family as taro, which is usually Colocasia esculenta, but not very closely related.

Here are some pictures of the voodoo lily, Amorphophallus konjac, tubers and plants in bloom. They're spectacular to grow; but, the flowers can be very stinky.

The most famous of the Amorphophallus is the Titan Arum, whose bloom can be 4 feet tall, and whose odor is often described variously as rotting meat, dung or rancid cheese.

Edited by eje, 10 December 2005 - 01:49 PM.

---
Erik Ellestad
If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...
Bernal Heights, SF, CA

#3 mmm-yoso

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Posted 12 December 2005 - 10:53 AM

miz - Ba Ren is an excellent restaurant. One of the few that IMHO would survive in the San Gabriel Valley. The Chef at Ba Ren used to be the Chef at ChungKing restaurant in Monterey Park. The cold dishes are very good - I love the FuiQiFeinPein(Husband and Wives). If you have any questions one of the Owners, her name is Wendy is very helpful.

They are starting to get alot of business since the review in CityBeat:

http://www.sdcitybea...?id=3824&atype=

The food is very good and not "dumbed-down", we've been going there since it opened. And it's really funny that I was one of the first Non-Chinese customers.

Kirk(yes, I'm the kirk mentioned in the review)

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#4 mizducky

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Posted 12 December 2005 - 12:42 PM

miz - Ba Ren is an excellent restaurant. One of the few that IMHO would survive in the San Gabriel Valley. The Chef at Ba Ren used to be the Chef at ChungKing restaurant in Monterey Park. The cold dishes are very good - I love the FuiQiFeinPein(Husband and Wives). If you have any questions one of the Owners, her name is Wendy is very helpful.

They are starting to get alot of business since the review in CityBeat:

http://www.sdcitybea...?id=3824&atype=

The food is very good and not "dumbed-down", we've been going there since it opened. And it's really funny that I was one of the first Non-Chinese customers.

Kirk(yes, I'm the kirk mentioned in the review)

http://www.mmm-yoso.typepad.com

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Hi, Kirk--Forgive me for forgetting to mention in my original post that it was in fact your blog that helped clue me in on Ba Ren. Many thanks!

#5 JustWokAway

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Posted 30 December 2005 - 06:26 PM

I went to Ba Ren based on this post and i was very excited by what i ate, i hope i get to go often and try more things.

I had Ma Po Tofu and Dan Dan noodles.

Ma Po Tofu is a very famous dish, and i though if this restaurant was as good as you said i should take the opportunity to try their version. I often had bland and/or greasy versions. The actual dish was delicious, very tangy and spicy, but mainly carrying a banner of roasted chili oil before it. I treated it as a pungent accompaniment to steamed rice.

I got the Dan Dan Mian noodles beccause I cooked this recipe once out of Ken Hom's Taste Of China, and liked them, so i figured these guys could probably do a much better job. Again, superb taste. And quality! you can really tell above average chinese food by looking at it. The colors are richer, the greens are green, not overcooked, and it doesn't shine like they just dumped half a bottle of vegetable oil all over it. The noodles were a nice toothy 3/8" round--possibly rice noodle but maybe wheat--witha a vinegary brown sauce with bits of scallion and chile.

Can't wait to go again and try twice cooked fish, husbandandwife, and other recs i noticed.

matt

#6 ed davis

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Posted 31 December 2005 - 11:09 AM

Ba Ren is an awesome restaurant, and a lot of us have to thank Kirk and his missus for finding it and trying it in the first place.

What amazes me is the range of great dishes there. You have to try the 3 treasures rice crisp. Just incredible tastes and textures and usually a nice milder contrast to the spicier dishes. And Tong-Nan Tai-An fish fillet which is actually several fish fillets served in a spicy sauce full of bright scarlet chilies. Chong Qing Hot Pot which is crammed with meats and veggies with tons of chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Or frog legs with pickled peppers, or braised fish flavored eggplant casserole, or dry cooked lamb, or boiled fish fillet in hot sauce . . . the range of dishes that I have had there that have been tasty and memorable is wonderful. In addition to the appetizers already mentioned, the pig's ear, and the seaweed (I've actually had two different seaweed apps) are also good. Ummm pig's ear.

OK, enough salivating before lunch. If you are in San Diego or even near San Diego, this place with not just worth trying but worth eating at again and again.
One point . . . was his ability to recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne "The Custom House"

#7 Octaveman

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Posted 31 December 2005 - 08:37 PM

We're going to try this place. I'm assuming we can request to go light on the fire, right? My wife doesn't have the same level of tolerance as I do in this regard. Thanks for the rec.

Bob

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#8 mizducky

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Posted 31 December 2005 - 09:05 PM

We're going to try this place.  I'm assuming we can request to go light on the fire, right?  My wife doesn't have the same level of tolerance as I do in this regard.  Thanks for the rec.

Bob

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I haven't tried asking them to tone anything down, but the staff seemed pretty accommodating in general. Plus they offer a number of dishes that are milder to start with (no little tell-tale chile graphics next to their listings on the menu). It would seem that even those who grew up with this fire-breathing cuisine like a little contrast now and then.

There's also a page of standard American-Chinese restaurant dishes at the back of the very long menu, if it would help to pick one more familiar item along with the more exotic stuff. In fact, I was tempted to pick one of those myself just to see what their version was like ... except the more exotic stuff was way more tempting. :biggrin:

Since that last visit, I've been back for takeout--tried the chicken gizzard and Husband-and-Wife cold appetizers, the fish fillets "boiled" (probably more like simmered) in hot sauce, and a braised pork kidney dish. All excellent again, even if my system kinda complained about the spiciness the next day. Ahhhh, but it did hurt so good!

For still more descriptions of Ba Ren's menu offerings, check out this entry from mmm-yoso's excellent blog.

#9 ed davis

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Posted 03 January 2006 - 08:52 AM

I don't know if they would/could reduce the heat in their hot dishes. Often times, chefs working in particular cuisines will feel that a dish should be made this way, so I usually try not to make special requests. But some of their best dishes - the crispy rice crust dishes, for example - are not hot at all. There are some others that are mildly hot (fish flavored eggplant). If I were there sharing with someone who didn't like hot, I would order the milder dishes rather than trying to get the kitchen to change how a particular dish is flavored.

Plus, I would hate for them to think that non-Chinese customers can't stand the heat. That leads to the "Oh, you no like this" syndrome, which fortunately Ba Ren does not engage in. We need to make sure that they don't start dumbing down the cuisine for those of us who do not speak Mandarin.
One point . . . was his ability to recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne "The Custom House"

#10 esperanza

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Posted 04 January 2006 - 03:16 PM

Amen to what Ed said.
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#11 Octaveman

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 11:14 AM

Plus, I would hate for them to think that non-Chinese customers can't stand the heat.
...We need to make sure that they don't start dumbing down the cuisine for those of us who do not speak Mandarin.

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If I walked into a joint where they said they will not be accomodating to the customer, I would never go back. I've honestly never been to a place that did this and can't imagine Ba Ren would either. Thai restaurants always ask how hot we want our food. I've been to other Chinese places that say they can do whatever I'd like to a dish heat wise.

I'm just guessing here but I'm sure there are many Chinese that can't stand the heat as well. One person asking to lower the heat a bit is not dumbing down the cuisine for all who don't speak Mandarin. They're probably smarter than that to know the sporadic requests they get does not represent the masses. This is allowing a particular customer to experience their food and enjoy it too. Sure, there are dishes that are not hot on the menu but if there is one dish that sounds awesome but it's got that little red pepper next to it, I see no reason why we can't ask for 1/2 the heat. I also can't beleive they wouldn't want non-Chinese customers to visit their restaurant and try their food. The "you no like" syndrome that you say is a result of making heat level changes I'm sure doesn't exist and is not a good argument for not asking to lighten up on the heat. That's implying they would mess with our food and I don't think that would happen in a respectable place. If I owned a restaurant I would be thrilled that people from all walks of life came in to eat. I'm assuming they would be just as thrilled.

I'm sure Ba Ren has way many non-hot dishes for my wife to try so I'm not worried about a thing. She likes heat just not super heat. Thai is one of her favorite foods. I just asked if they would be willing to adjust the levels just in case of that one special dish that she would love to try but there's that damn pepper.

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#12 ed davis

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Posted 08 January 2006 - 02:13 PM

Let me try to explain my position a bit more. The hot spice flavors are meant to integrate with the other flavors of the dish. The dishes are whole entities, not assemblages of interchangable parts. The chillies (and Sichuan peppercorns) in the cuisine are not there just for heat; they are there for flavor. In some dishes the flavor comes from white pepper, in some from dried chillies, in some from pickled chillies, in some from fresh chilies, in some from Sichuan peppercorns, and in some from various combinations of spices etc.

Let me also add that most of the dishes there are not burningly hot. I certainly have eaten Thai food that was much hotter. But I have never eaten Thai food in which the chillies were so much a part of the flavor of the dish. In other words, if you order Chong Qing Hot Pot with little heat, you are not getting Chong Qing Hot Pot. You would be missing essential components of the taste. It would be like a vegetarian ordering lamb stew without the lamb. :huh:

The people at Ba Ren are very friendly and accommodating. If you go there, I am sure that you and the wife will enjoy. I would only suggest that you just make sure that the dishes you are ordering are not the hottest dishes on the menu. Many items on the menu are not hot at all and even among the dishes marked as spicy, many are no hotter than much Mexican food. Ask for Wendy (she's there every day except Thursday) and when you order explain that you do not want to order dishes that are overwhelmingly hot. I think this is a better approach than to ask them to change the way they prepare the food.


good eating,

ed

Edited by ed davis, 09 January 2006 - 11:00 AM.

One point . . . was his ability to recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne "The Custom House"

#13 hzrt8w

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 12:19 PM

Vacationing in San Diego. We came to eat at Ba Ren for the first time too.

The menu contains what seems to be mostly hot/spicy dishes... perhaps as one should expect in a Sichuan restaurant. We only sampled two dishes. My impression was a mix - but the sample size is too small to come to any conclusion.

Be mindful of what you order, perhaps. We tried a dish of "Kung Pao Shrimp", which was good. $12.95. Quite tasty. Taste seemed right, unlike many places who make Kung Pao overly sweet.

The other dish was "Beer Duck". $15.95. DON'T ORDER THIS ONE! (Listed under House Specialties). I don't see any value in it. A big pot of broth, which is the typical Sichuan hot pot kind of broth with heavy doze of dried chilies and hua jiao. Where's the DUCK??? About 10 small chopped pieces of boney duck, together weighing less than 6 oz probably. Bone and fatty skin. That's about it. And the rest was bamboo shoots, woodear fungi. Absolutely not worth the money.

The service was bad. Not bad-bad. It's lacking. The waiter came by, took the order. 5 minutes later, brought out the food. That was the last time we saw him. No seeing how you are doing. No Can I Get You Anything Else. No dinner check. The staff was chatting and eating their dinner at the quiet corner of the dining room. That is not the level of Chinese restaurant service that I am used to, or delivered when I worked as a Chinese restaurant waiter in San Diego.

I will come back to taste more items from their menu. But be mindful of what to order, and don't bring much expectation on their service (or decor either). I think I would spend my dinner budget on Panda Inn at Horton Plaza and be happier.

Edited by hzrt8w, 29 April 2008 - 12:22 PM.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"

#14 eje

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 12:28 PM

[...]
The other dish was "Beer Duck".  $15.95.  DON'T ORDER THIS ONE!  (Listed under House Specialties).  I don't see any value in it.  A big pot of broth, which is the typical Sichuan hot pot kind of broth with heavy doze of dried chilies and hua jiao.  Where's the DUCK???  About 10 small chopped pieces of boney duck, together weighing less than 6 oz probably.  Bone and fatty skin.  That's about it.  And the rest was bamboo shoots, woodear fungi.  Absolutely not worth the money.
[...]

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"Beer Duck" is real?

Oh my gosh, I thought I imagined it.

My wife and I were watching some travel or cooking show and the host mentioned some dish that he coveted. I thought he said "Beer Duck" and my wife thought something else. We could never come to an agreement. I've sort of adopted it as a ridiculous exclamation or rallying cry.

Any ideas on a Chinese name or a good recipe for it? Is the idea that it is good with beer or that it actually contains beer?
---
Erik Ellestad
If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...
Bernal Heights, SF, CA

#15 hzrt8w

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 12:40 PM

Any ideas on a Chinese name or a good recipe for it?  Is the idea that it is good with beer or that it actually contains beer?

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Hi Erik:

Their "Beer Duck" name was directly translated from the Chinese dish name "Pei Jiu Ya" [Mandarin dialect]. I don't doubt the authenticity. That's probably how this dish was made in Chung King. But it's just not a good value IMO. I think they do use beer to cook the duck or broth. There are a few Chinese dishes that use beer (e.g. braised mutton).

Edited by hzrt8w, 30 April 2008 - 09:55 AM.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"

#16 mizducky

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Posted 30 April 2008 - 01:50 AM

Hi Ah Leung-- Sorry I didn't get a chance to connect with you while you were in San Diego! And sorry you had such a mixed experience at Ba Ren. I confess I have never had either the Kung Pao Shrimp or any dish named "Beer Duck" there. If I had known you were heading there, I would have probably recommended other dishes--and a sampling of cold appetizers such as the Fuqi Feipian, which have been among my personal favorites there.

As to the service--oh dear. It has admittedly been a long time since last I ate there, so maybe there has been some change in the service since last I went. Or maybe it was just an off night. But at least when I used to go the service was excellent. One thing that has always been true, though, is that Ba Ren has never been about the decor--it's always been a modest-looking little place inside and out.

I do hope you give Ba Ren another chance -- and if you do, I heartily recommend mmm-yoso's blog posts on Ba Ren for recommended dishes, as well as ones to avoid--with as huge a menu as this place has, there inevitably will be a few clunkers, and Kirk is not shy about noting them as well as all the winners.