"We're trying to define San Francisco Chinese food," chef Brandon Jew says about his new restaurant, Mister Jiu's, which soft-opened in SF's Chinatown this weekend and officially opens today. For him, that means combining his Cantonese background with ingredients from the Bay Area and techniques honed during his years in the kitchens at Bar Agricole and Quince.
It's the culmination of 10 years' worth of ideas and more than two years of actual work to open his project in the former home of the once-famed Four Seas restaurant. Unlike most restaurateurs who rail against a long opening timeline, Jew seems to be thankful for it: "I had the time fortune to distill my ideas, time to work on which ones really stuck with me," he says.
One of those primary ideas was to help revive Chinatown, which has become more of a tourist destination and less of a local hangout in recent years. "I want to get people back to Chinatown to experience this neighborhood," he says.
Fittingly, he moved the entrance of the restaurant from the busy Grant Street side of the building to the more quiet Waverly Alley side, encouraging guests to explore the area. The restaurant is also designed so diners will come with friends: Each meal is served banquet-style, with the entire table picking one dish for each of the five courses (which costs $69 a person) and sharing them together.
Those courses range from a pig's head with black vinegar, radish and watercress to a hot and sour soup with fish cake, nasturtium, lily buds and green tomato to rice noodles with sea urchin and sprouts. "Sharing food together is a big part of what eating around the table of a Chinese restaurant is about . . . people have to put their phone down, because they have to help their friend get some food," he says. It's something he wants in his restaurants, so lazy Susans grace the tables.
In a nod to the location's roots, Jew's also serving an updated version of the Four Seas' fried chicken made with sorrel, hot mustard and red chile, based off of a recipe his grandfather clipped from an old edition of the San Francisco Chronicle and saved for years. There's also steamed halibut made with ginger, cilantro, shiitake broth and smoked oyster sauce, inspired by a dish his mother made, and tea smoked ducks and salt baked whole trout.
The menu and the restaurant are ambitious, but Jew is realistic. He says almost everything still needs work to reach the level he's shooting for, which is in part why the restaurant's second floor, once used for banquets, will remain an office for at least the next six months. After that, he hopes to open a bar and lounge up there, possibly a dim sum room and a space to host private events like red egg parties (a Chinese celebration when a child turns two years old), which he remembers attending when he was growing up, and weddings—like the one his uncle had in that very room.
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