I feel like Chef Brandon Jew grew up going to the same Chinese banquets I went to as a child.
When my family went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, specifically those serving up Cantonese cuisine, the menu typically had prix fixe banquet menus offering different number of courses at varying prices for a complete family dinner.
Some of those typical Chinese banquet menu dishes are referenced in the five-course prix fixe dinner at the new modern Chinatown restaurant by Chef Jew, named Mister Jiu’s.
Jew’s Mister Jiu’s, which opened less than two weeks ago, is one of the most highly anticipated new restaurants to open in 2016, probably because of the long road it took Jew to get there. Jew, who received acclaim as the chef for Bar Agricole in SOMA, left to partner with the Tacolicious guy to open what was supposed to be Chino.
But Jew pulled out of the Chino project (which opened in the Mission and recently closed) to develop his own concept, and after months of planning and renovation of the old Four Sears restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown, Mister Jiu’s was born.
I dined at the restaurant last week with my niece, Margot. The beautiful space had a relaxing, fresh vibe, with touches of modern decor with retro Asian styling. Because it’s less than one week old, the servers (who were all friendly) were still trying to get into a groove because we had a couple of wrong plates come to our table (one we kept while another the server realized it before the plate spent much time on our table).
At the entry of the restaurant, which is now off Waverly Place instead of Grant Avenue, there’s a fun bar with unique cocktails created by bar manager Danny Louie. There’s also a bar menu that includes bar bites such as pan-fried steamed buns. For the cocktails (all $13 each), I tried the “Joy,” made with Scotch, tequila, maraschino, cucumber, sesame, lime and egg white, that had a refreshing taste of the cucumber while Margot got the “Wisdom” (rhum, orgeat, passion fruit, lemongrass milk, green tea and lime).
For the dinner menu, it’s a five-course banquet menu for $69 per person. The plates are brought to the table family style, and they’re adjusted to the number of people at the table (similar to a format promoted at the Progress in San Francisco). For each course, there are about three to four options to choose from, and for the main course there are additional special options such as BBQ pork steamed buns or tea-smoked duck for an additional cost.
Here’s a look at the parade of dishes that came to our table for dinner:
This first dish actually came to our table by accident. It’s from the “rice and noodles” section, but because it’s a cold noodle, I guess it came first. It’s a cold noodle dish with Dungeness crab. We ended up eating it, and it was a nice, balanced dish of fresh crab with the right amount of peanut-sesame dressing (you know how some places can be overly peanutty).
Our soup course was Sizzling Rice Soup, a real traditional soup dish that my Mom used to order for us because of the dinner entertainment of hearing the puffed rice sizzle when dropped into the hot soup. Mister Jiu’s version had a small sizzle (because just a small ball of schmaltz was tossed in the bowl) but it was savory with crunch from the rock shrimp bits and water chestnuts. Margot did feel that the overall consomme had a fatty texture to it, so she thought it might have been made from something fatty like chicken skin.
From the salad course, we got the Salt and Pepper Monterey Squid dish. For some reason I imagined squid prepared like Mediterranean-style salads, but I forgot “salt and pepper” anything in Chinese restaurants is typical something deep fried. So the squid came out as deep-fried calamari with thinly sliced fried fennel. I tried a few pieces, which were cooked perfectly and had a lot of flavor. The kumquat provided a nice acidity to cut into the deep-fried squid.
This was the actual noodle dish we ordered, which is the Cheong Fun with Mendocino sea urchin. Cheong fun is the flat noodle rolls that are typically found at dim sum restaurants, but Jew elevates it by adding the popular sea urchin, or uni. I really enjoyed the sprouts filling, which had a bright flavor that I found pleasing. The uni, ironically, had little flavor but that might just have been that particular shipment of sea urchin.
Our main course of steamed black cod was the most traditional of all our dishes, preparing the fish by steaming and dressed with ginger-soy. Even though this is like any other fish course at Cantonese restaurants, both Margot and I agreed that the freshness of the fish and the perfect way it was cooked really brought out the amazing tenderness of the fish and beauty of the flavor. It was quite satisfying in its simplicity and sophistication.
In the “veggies” section, we ordered this Smoked Hodo Tofu, made with tofu from Hodo Soy. This was a simple stir-fry with meaty tofu and long beans with a slight chili sauce. It was nicely done but nothing memorable, which is fine since this is seen more as a side dish. In fact, people can skip the veggies section and choose their fifth course from the dessert menu.
But since dessert is not a big part of a Chinese meal (restaurants typically serve slices of fresh oranges, for example), we had decided we were going to skip dessert, which is why we ordered our fifth course from the veggies section.
But at the end of our meal, I decided we really couldn’t skip something from the dessert section, which is developed by Melissa Chou, formerly of Aziza and Mourad. So we ordered a dessert for an additional premium.
This is the chocolate caramel cake with sesame, red bean and cinnamon. The light cake was punctuated with the flavor of black sesame (found in the thin pieces sprinkled on top) with a light red bean cream and fresh strawberries. This is the kind of Asian-inspired desserts that you won’t find at any Chinese restaurant but still fits in so perfectly.
The last bite
Despite being just a couple of weeks old, the professional team behind Mister Jiu’s has brought a successful modern Chinese restaurant to bear. The dishes may seem familiar, but they’re elevated with innovation by Jew that separates it from typical Cantonese banquets. Once the front of the house finds its groove and rhythm, Mister Jiu’s will become a new classic in the heart of Chinatown.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Mister Jiu’s, 28 Waverly Place, San Francisco. PH: 415.857.9688. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. (till 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday). 4 percent SF mandate added to bill. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. misterjius.com
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