Back in 2002, Jasmine Tea House had its 15 minutes of fame when former President Bill Clinton ordered delivery from the old-school Chinese restaurant not once, but twice.
The story goes that he was in town and staying at the Fairmount, and had gotten a hot tip from a friend that Jasmine was a good spot. Unfortunately, this bit of lore, while documented as true, may have kept this place open for a long time past its expiration date. I went with an old friend recently because it had been his favorite for many years, and I do remember trying it once and liking it fine. And I really like reviewing our old-school, somewhat forgotten places. However, something had changed. Apparently, a remodel happened, and at one point the restaurant had even been up for sale. But it looks like owner Frank Xu, who personally delivered Clinton his food back in the day, may be at the helm again. What happened, then?
We started out with crab puffs.
Yeah, I know what you’re going to say. “That’s not even an authentic Chinese dish! Why would you start with that?” Because it’s old-school Chinese-American fare, and that’s what I thought this place was all about. But they were rather tasteless and, despite appearances, not very crispy on the outside, not very fluffy on the inside.
Next, spare ribs.
Chinese spare ribs, another standard, right? Look, if it’s pork, I’ll eat almost anything. Literally, anything. But these, smothered with a gloopy, overly sweet sauce, were still so dry and tough as to be almost inedible. We ate them. But we didn’t like them.
The first main dish we got was the Mongolian Lamb.
This dish was the best of the lot, and it was … ok. It was fine. Didn’t really get much lamb flavor, but … the veggies were properly cooked. So, fine. But if “inoffensive” is the best I can say about a dish, there’s a problem.
Our last and final dish, and one I’d had high hopes for, was the oolong smoked duck.
It looks good, right? Makes your expectations soar at the sight of those puffy pillows, that seemingly crispy, smoky skin, covering that delicate, yet fatty skin underneath … right? Sadly, this, too, did not fail to disappoint. Dry, flabby-skinned, and mostly taste-free. Sigh.
Jasmine Tea House has been around for a long time, and I saw people there who were clearly regulars. But I — sadly (honestly! It really does disappoint me to not love a restaurant in our neighborhood!) — didn’t even feel the need (nor desire) to go back for a second visit. It seems to work as a neighborhood place (even though they list themselves as a Mission District restaurant, they’re closer to Bernal.) And so, more power to Jasmine Tea House and its followers. But I really hope Mr. Xu sees fit to up his game when it comes to the food, because at this point, I don’t think even Slick Willy would come back.
Jasmine Tea House (website)
3253 Mission St.