Ba Ren - Closing Day - Flash

>> Thursday, March 1, 2012

Date of Dining: 2/29/2012
Price: ~$10-15 per dish
Location: 4957 Diane Ave, San Diego, CA 92117

The Quick Bit:
+ Decent Chinese food in San Diego
+ Authentic Szechwan food
Δ Service could be speedier
Δ Service could be more attentive
Note: Shortly after posting this story I guess I got a scoop on the real issues with the restaurant.
I'm not good at goodbyes.
Hearing that Ba Ren was closing, I decided that I would try to visit one last time. For me, Ba Ren was the one (pre-Liang's Kitchen) Chinese Restaurant in San Diego worth a visit. I can thank Kirk at mmm-yoso for getting Ba Ren on my radar, but I enjoyed the cuisine there on several occasions.
Unfortunately, for anyone who visited Ba Ren in about the previous 6+ months, it was easy to tell that something had changed. According to some other customers of the restaurant, the chef had lost his passion and was no longer producing the food that made Ba Ren a cult foodie favorite. Therefore, I guess it wasn't a huge surprise to those in the know that the chef would be retiring at the end of February. The story goes that the main chef had a really advanced case of diabetes. He tried to stay cooking as long as he could, but was not able to cook on a daily basis. He started by first cutting back to cooking on the weekends only before he couldn't cook at all. Without the main chef, the assistant chef also lost his passion at maintaining the restaurant.
Since I wasn't a frequent visitor to the restaurant, the news of the closing came as a big surprise to me. After ordering, I was able to converse with the waitress a little to get some more information. It turns out that Ba Ren isn't closing, but the restaurant was sold to a new group of owners. They also plan to serve Szechwan cuisine (and perhaps keep the Ba Ren name).
While I didn't visit the restaurant enough times to develop a bunch of personal favorites to get a last taste of, I decided to adopt a different tactic. I named a protein and asked the waitress for a recommended preparation of that protein, figuring she would know which preparations were the best.
Ordering was a little interesting because I was asked if I wanted "small spicy or medium spicy" to which I responded "spiciest."
teppan yaki lamb
Although this dish was ordered at the highest spice level and there was a liberal use of jalapenos, the peppers did not seem to be fresh so the spice didn't really carry through. Still, the lamb was well seasoned and tender. The dish was an overall success even though it was probably missing something from its prime.
twice cooked fish
The twice cooked fish recipe is usually a preparation where the fish is first steamed and then a hot szechwan oil is poured on top to cook it a second time. This preparation featured fish fillets and didn't seem to revolve around the philosophy of pouring really hot oil over the fish. The fish was very flavorful, but again the vegetables seemed to lack some flavor.
chong qing hot pot
The hot pot featured slices of beef, fish, chicken, tofu, bean sprouts, glass noddles, napa cabbage, and other ingredients. This was easily the best dish of the meal. The soup was very flavorful and contained a depth of flavor for all the ingredients. While there looks to be an overload of peppers, the dish was not that spicy and was actually very edible.
frogs legs with pickled szechwan peppers
My dining companion insisted that we try a dish with frogs legs, and this was the preparation that was suggested. Of all the styles of cooking, the sauce for this style seemed to be the most flavorful. The sauce contained an additional element of both acidity and sourness (from the pickling liquid) that really elevated the flavors of the preparation. While I am normally a big fan of frog, the frog in has definitely seen its better days. Part of the pleasure in eating frog is the texture of the meat, but this preparation was missing that texture.

While I didn't have an amazing goodbye sendoff meal at Ba Ren, I will still remember it for delivering great food in its prime. I remember a fish dish that was part of a special menu at one point which I thought was a one-star michelin dish. I wish the best of luck to the owners of Ba Ren and thank them for all the great meals I enjoyed. I will certainly miss the restaurant, and now am in need of a second Chinese restaurant in San Diego to eat at.


Robert March 2, 2012 at 1:45 AM  

Don't you like "Spicy City" ?

James March 2, 2012 at 7:58 AM  

Personally, I'm not a fan of Spicy City. I guess my "next" Chinese place if you twisted my arm would be Dumpling Inn

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gastro bits is a blog that juxtaposes the geeky with the foodie; it is an attempt to be educational about food, yet entertaining at the same time.
None of the reviews are meant to dissuade you from trying anything by yourself, but simply to provide information for you to make a more informed choice.
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