Chef Chin (Convoy)

>> Monday, September 24, 2012

Date of Dining: 9/21/2012
Price: ~$6-9 for veggies an appetizers, $10-15 for entrees, market price for seafood
Location: 4433 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

The Quick Bit

+ outstanding Shanghai style preparation
+ diverse menu with many great options
+ well balanced Chinese dishes
+ low corkage fee
Δ seafood shells could have been pre-cracked better
Δ service could be more attentive
Δ menu items could reflect real names instead of coming up with cute pseudonyms

After showing what San Diego has been missing in the Chinese food scene, I thought it only fitting to show what San Diego has recently come into in comparison.  Chef Chin (formerly Chin's on Convoy) came about as a result of a schism in the ownership group of Chin's. One side of the group wanted to expand the restaurants out past San Diego while the other side wanted to stay focused in one area. As a result, Chef Chin was born as it was bought out launched as a pilot restaurant for the new imperialist owners.
Perhaps the most important change the new regime made was to import an accomplished chef from Shanghai to run the restaurant. While the menu ranges to many Szechwan cuisine as well, Chef Chin really specializes in Shanghai style cuisine. The essence of Chinese cuisine is to create very balanced and well-rounded dishes; each dish must achieve great balance on its own and stand on its own. This is what allows several courses to be set in the middle of the table at once for a family style meal as each dish has its own distinct flavors that sets it apart from others.
In order to get a good sense of the menu and lay some dining plans for the next months, fellow writers Rodzilla and Yao from {insert-food} joined me for this meal. Somehow we were branded the "ultra secret dinner club" from this. One interesting tidbit from this Shanghai restaurant is that the water is served iced instead of boiled - traditionally Shanghai restaurants serve hot water only to show it has been boiled.


pickled spicy cucumber
The cucumber was pickled in the Chinese style so that it had an tremendous balance between sour, sweet, and spicy. All the elements came together with the underlying sourness to really open up the palate and serve as a great amuse.
pickled jellyfish head
While there is some inherent flavor in the jellyfish, this dish is really all about the texture. The crunchy yet spongy texture of the jellyfish has a fun interplay on the textural senses in the mouth and served as a nice starting point for the meal. 
roast beef and ox stomach mix
This appetizer was more of a Szechwan style appetizer. With an underlying but light sense of heat along with some light Sichuan peppercorn oil, this dish laid a base for the future spicer dishes to come. The hearty proteins were also indicative of the future protein courses.
smoked fish
To round out the appetizers, the smoked fish really brought the progression to a point where the meal could be eaten and enjoyed. The fish had the great depth of flavor from the smokiness, the sweet glaze really complemented all the flavors. While there are bones in the fish that can be eaten, this should still be done with caution and only after much chewing.
green jade fish soup - fish, egg, chinese mustard greens
The green jade fish soup rounded out our appetizers. While all the appetizers were good, this dish really brought everything together; it was almost like it signaled an end to the first meal so that a second meal could begin. With most of the appetizers being cold, the soup really warmed the up the core of the body and brought an immense satisfaction to the palate.


Bi Feng Tang Crab - crab with golden garlic
Shanghai is known for crab dishes. Moreover, Shanghai restaurants are known specifically for Bi Feng Tang style crab. In this style,the crab is fried along with a lot garlic so that everything is a nice golden color. The garlic and sugar impart a deeply rich and complex flavor that permeates through all of the crab.
While this particular preparation of the crab was slightly overcooked, all of the elements in the flavor were still present. The garlic really imparted a large amount of flavor into the crab, which made it especially enjoyable to eat. Most surprisingly, despite the frying technique there was very little remaining oil in the preparation.
zhao pai lobster 
While this lobster doesn't really compare with the one from last week, its preparation was still the best I have seen in San Diego. An integral part of a Chinese restaurant's success is being able to order high quality live seafood dishes as these dishes are celebratory in nature. This dish fulfills that need, making Chef Chin a great destination for a Chinese meal.


braised pork with preserved vegetables
This dish is perhaps the signature dish at Chef Chin as it is featured prominently in all the marketing. This dish also delivers as it was my favorite dish of the evening. The pork belly is braised until it is fork tender and smothered in a sweet yet complex sauce that really complements the flavor of the pork. While this dish looks intensely rich, it maintained a great sense of balance and was still easy to eat.
Szechwan spicy intestine hot pot
While I am a fan of intestines, I generally prefer the dry style. This was probably the least favorite dish of the evening as the wet style of hot pot required a large amount of garlic to neutralize the resulting flavors.
chinese squash with preserved shrimp
In contrast to the intestines, the Chinese squash was beloved by all. This was definitely in the top three dishes of the night as the Chinese squash contained an intense depth of flavor. Almost every person at the table who tried this for the first time had a verbal explanation of surprise when tasting the squash flavor.
braised tofu in spicy bean sauce
The braised tofu was also a favorite at the table. The tofu was really seasoned well and the sauce made the dish very tasty. The accompanying mushrooms really enhanced the flavors of the dish to give it a meaty flavor even though this dish was entirely vegetarian.
sauteed lamb slices with cumin and scallions
This was another favorite at the table. The lamb was cooked incredibly tender and the cumin imparted a nice complement to the gamey flavor in the lamb. This also served as the "red meat" of the meal as there was very little otherwise.
ma la fragrant pot - chili, shrimp, pork, tripe, celery, lotus root
While this dish is one of the signature dishes at Chef Chin, this time I did not agree with the outcome. The flavors of dish suggested that it had been prepared previously and left at the hot plate to die. The shrimp was egregiously overcooked and the dish lacked an overall vibrant zing. While our table did not have the space for the dish, I would have preferred that they brought out the plate and allowed for people to decide how to consolidate dishes and make space.


black sesame soup rounds with fermented rice soup
To finish off the meal, we got the Shanghai rendition of a classic Chinese dessert - soup rounds. The soup rounds are small rice dumplings that were filled with a sweet black sesame filling. What made this dish particular to Shanghai was the use of the fermented rice in the soup, as fermented rice is a key ingredient to Shanghai cuisine. I really enjoyed the soup rounds and thought that it really rounded out the meal well.


Chef Chin is the best Chinese restaurant I've eaten at in San Diego. With the authentic flavors and diverse menu selection that is generally prepared well, this new restaurant venture is poised for success. If you want a taste of real Shanghai cuisine, do not miss Chef Chin. While there are still some kinks to work out, mainly with the service, the restaurant is poised for success.
Until Chef Chin works out some of the service issues (which turned into food issues), I can only award it the megabyte award.


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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.
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