Following on a fairly terrible review by SF Weekly critic Anna Roth, the massive new multi-million-dollar Crystal Jade at Embarcadero Center gets an even worse and snarkier review from the Chron's Michael Bauer, who calls it "an amateur production" and even throws in "Nearby Yank Sing has nothing to worry about."
The huge, 200-seat restaurant with waterfront views, debuted in November in a space in Embarcadero 4 that had not housed a restaurant in over a decade. They probably should have had time to work out some opening kinks by now, and with $14 million to spend on the build-out and 100 locations across Asia, you'd think the chain would be a bit more polished with their operation, but Bauer declares it's not so. After his customary three visits he says the grand entrance by local designer Ken Fulk is "truly spectacular," but the food falls short at nearly every turn including a "syrupy sweet and surprisingly bland" version of kung pao chicken, some disgusting-sounding fried "roast chicken," and some "strangely Westernized" ma po tofu.
The service is even worse, he says, with a "pattern of superciliousness alternating with clueless[ness]," the cocktails are terrible, and there's "a wine list that’s so pedestrian that on the last visit I brought my own." His verdict: a very rare one-and-a-half stars, with one star for food.
Big, well-to-do restaurant groups arriving from out of town to open SF outposts have not always fared so well in the last couple of years, at least with critics and the foodinista set. Hakkasan made a splashy debut in late 2012 after successfully opening branches of their upscale Chinese concept in places like London, Dubai, and New York, but the general consensus about the place has been pretty lackluster from the start with Bauer giving them a two-star review and most everyone complaining about how expensive it is for fairly mediocre, if fancily presented food. Rosa Mexicano, which similarly gives an upscale, corporate spin to a cuisine that is indigenous to SF culture and usually much cheaper, is similarly dismissed for its price, currently holds a ho-hum three stars on Yelp, and attracts negative comparisons to Nopalito. Roka Akor, the slick Japanese spot with extravagant sashimi platters and excellent robata, has fared better, but most everyone knows that it's an expense-account place, located as it is near the Financial District.
Crystal Jade may still do just fine, as Hakkasan seems to have, benefiting from a lavish interior that befits business lunches, business happy hours, and clients who don't know any better when it comes Chinese food. But yeah, wow, Bauer has not done them any favors in recouping that $14 mil.