Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Where are the masks you had on on opening day?
A few weeks back, a well-travelled friend was so excited to announce that Crystal Jade, one of her go-to restaurants when in Hong Kong and Singapore, was opening its first Philippine branch in Greenhills soon. She urged me to try it. She was really enthusiastic about its xiao long bao and la mien, items both made part of the restaurant’s name. I also heard that there was usually a one-hour line to get a table and the only way you could get a reservation was if you were with a party of at least 8. So I suggested to my Monday Talk Holes Dinner Club that we try this much-anticipated restaurant out, and I reserved a table for 8. I was told that they take reservations only for 6 pm or 8 pm. I chose the latter.

The best show in Greenhills these days
The restaurant was crowded outside with diners waiting for a table and kibitzers checking out the goings-on in the kitchen, viewable from the sidewalk. It reminded me of the old Shakey’s, where one could watch how his pizza is made. We got a table for 10 and I was told by our friend who got there first that the previous occupants of our table were told that another group was booked for their table at 8. We got our table just before 8 pm.

Diners with no reservation
The restaurant was crammed with people: waiters, busboys, diners milling about and it was not at all a relaxing feeling. I did not even bother going to the bathroom, lest I be rudely bumped into again by the manager (who did so without stopping or apologizing. I guess he felt he was too busy running a busy restaurant to be bothered).
The famed xiao long bao came. And we ate our share right away. Our common verdict? Where’s the broth? Xiao long bao (or siaolongpao in the Binondo restaurant where I first tasted this amazing delicacy) ought to have broth in it. We thought it was just this batch. We ordered a total of 3 baskets, and none of the baos served us had broth. And the wrapper was undercooked.

Going out with a big group is a great help when assessing restaurants because you have the convenience of ordering a lot of dishes. Here’s what our party had:

• Sauteed String Bean & Minced Pork With Olive (P249) – My Lola Tacia used to cook this and it is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I liked Crystal Jade’s version. Without olive. Like Crystal Jade's.
• Noodle with Beef in Spicy Soup (forgot the price) – This one was a real winner. I don’t know why we Filipinos love soup so much even if we’re in a tropical country. Great broth, great noodles. What’s not to like. The broth was especially rich and I would go back for more of this delight.
• Poached Beef in Spicy Sauce (P290) – another good choice. Unthinkable that we finished this without having any rice with it. This dish is really more of a soup, rather than beef with some sauce.
The really bad order of salted duck that we got
• Nanjing Salted Duck (P198) – Really, really disappointing. This is a chilled dish that was tough and rancid. I removed the skin from my second piece, but the fishy/rancid taste prevailed.
• Crispy Eel in Wu Xi Style (P288) – I can imagine eating bowl after bowl of this scrumptiously crunchy dish with lots of ice-cold beer. Really good. Dangerous for those who are on a low-carb diet as this one calls for an equal quantity of rice. But we held fast to our no-rice vow.
• Braised Pork Knuckle with Pancakes (P888) – Crystal Jade’s take on hong ma and pata tim. A bit small for a big group, and can be consumed by 3 PG guys. Comes with small white buns with an unusual shape. The sauce calls for rice. Again, we did not succumb. Despite it being so good and fatty and sheeny and…
• Xiao long bao (P158) for 5 pieces – as mentioned, a great big fat disappointment
• Radish pastry (P98) – I think this restaurant has a good pastry chef. Except for one of our desserts, all the other dishes that required fried crusts turned out good. This one was very savory, with a filling that was redolent of that sweet, pungent smell characteristic of friend scallion.
Bean curd skin shrimp roll, part nang: bad compared to part chit.
• Deep-fried bean curd skin roll with shrimp (P135) – another favorite of mine is bean curd skin. Our first order was so good we asked for two more plates. After all, who could resist perfectly fried bean curd skin with a perfect filling of shrimp paste? Perfectly fried food should not have a greasy mouth-feel. If fried food comes out like this, it means the oil was at the right temperature when the food was fried. Sadly, our second orders were just the opposite: greasy, flat and limp.
• Fried pancake with scallion (P98) – this reminded us of fried Malaysian flat bread. Really savory but must be eaten when hot. Once this cools down, the flakiness disappears and is replaced with an unpleasant tough texture.
One of the saving graces: good pata tim
• Deep-Fried Souffle Ball with Red Bean Paste (P128) – this was also good. A filling of mongo paste with some mashed ripe banana, enveloped in a golden flaky crust.
• Red Bean Paste Pancake (P128) – this one was sad. Really sad. The pancake (more like a crepe, really) was overcooked and dry. The filling suffered as well.

Our group gave an 8/10 rating. I liked it that save for the dessert, Crystal Jade’s food did not have a sweet tinge to it, as in some Manila restaurants. The braised pork had just the right balance of sour and salty. I did not like it that our waiter forgot to place our dessert order, twice. Or that the air conditioning conked out.  And that the food quality varied from order to order.

Crispy Wu Xi-style eel. Yum!

Will I give it a second visit? Probably, when my friend arrives from her trip. Would I recommend it? For its la mien and pata tim, yes. But definitely not its brothless xiao long bao. If you must go, go early and get a reservation (5706910 and 5706912). If your party is small and are told that you’d have to wait for an hour for a table, don’t bother. It’s not that great of a deal. As one friend of mine said, “We should have just gone to Gloria Maris.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't agree with it.


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