First Bite: Long Anticipated, Mr. Jiu’s Opens in San Francisco’s Chinatown

The entrance to Mister Jui’s on Waverly place in Chinatown.

The entrance to Mister Jui’s on Waverly place in Chinatown. (Kim Westerman)

Just as Charles Phan did for Vietnamese food when he opened The Slanted Door in the Mission in 1995, Brandon Jew is doing for the Cantonese food of his childhood — reinventing it by way of a contemporary, local, and decidedly upscale approach. One of the most eagerly anticipated restaurants to open in San Francisco in recent years, Mister Jiu’s officially opened last night on a charming block of Waverly Place in Chinatown, a neighborhood better known for fast, inexpensive food and tourist photo-ops than as a dining destination. If the restaurant’s name seems like a pun on the chef-owner’s, it is. When Chef Jew’s grandparents immigrated to the U.S., the processor translated their last name “Jiu” (which was also fabricated, but by them) as “Jew,“ and this remained the family name. So, the gesture of naming the restaurant Mister Jiu’s is a reclamation, of sorts.

As soon as the reservation system went online, I grabbed a table. And last night, we were seated next to Cecilia Chiang, the legendary chef and founder of The Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco. Though that restaurant is long gone, Chiang’s living-legend status as the mother of Chinese cuisine thrives. Her presence at the next table seemed auspicious, like a blessing of the endeavor.

The signage of the former Four Seas restaurant, still visible out front
The signage of the former Four Seas restaurant, still visible out front (Kim Westerman)

The dining room occupies the first floor of the former Four Seas restaurant, and its huge windows onto the street backlight the spacious, high-ceilinged room. The ceiling is all about the gorgeous lotus-blossom chandeliers that hang down over the round banquet tables in the center of the room. Backlighting the other end of the room is the bright, open kitchen where Chef Jew mindfully worked at a clip all night long, surrounded by a blur of helpers.

View of the dining room at Mister Jiu's with huge windows facing the street.
View of the dining room at Mister Jiu’s with huge windows facing the street. (Kim Westerman)
The dining room at Mister Jiu's with a view of the open kitchen.
The dining room at Mister Jiu’s with a view of the open kitchen. (Kim Westerman)
Chef Brandon Jew in his big open kitchen.
Chef Brandon Jew in his big open kitchen. (Kim Westerman)

Food is served family style here, $69 for five courses. Everyone at the table must agree on the choices, but courses can be ordered from any menu category: salad, soup, rice and noodles, veggies, and entrees. While I felt like I might as well close my eyes and point, so beautiful was the menu, we decided to order one dish from each category, figuring that was the chef’s intention.

We started with salt and pepper squid, Monterey squid battered in baking soda and rice flour for supreme crispiness and fried with fennel and kumquat (a brilliant idea) and served with a soy, ginger, garlic and serrano chile sauce.

Salt and pepper squid with soy-chile sauce.
Salt and pepper squid with soy-chile sauce. (Kim Westerman)

Next up: a Marin Miyagi clam and oyster custard with barely cooked fava beans, lap cheong and green garlic, sweetly earthy and sea-driven, yet delicate. This was followed by the more assertive cold sweet potato noodles tossed in peanut sauce with chrysanthemum and Dungeness crab. For our vegetable, we chose the sweet pea tendrils with Meyer lemon and roasted garlic and a few asparagus tips.

Clam and oyster custard.
Clam and oyster custard. (Kim Westerman)
Sweet potato noodles in peanut sauce with Dungeness crab and chrysanthemum.
Sweet potato noodles in peanut sauce with Dungeness crab and chrysanthemum. (Kim Westerman)
Pea tendrils with Meyer lemon and roasted garlic.
Pea tendrils with Meyer lemon and roasted garlic. (Kim Westerman)

We upgraded our main course for $25 (per table, not per person) to the barbecued pork, which featured both belly and spareribs, the latter slathered with black garlic paste, served with a side of homemade mantou buns and cucumber and daikon pickles. We tucked the belly meat into the steaming buns and dipped both those and the ribs in the hot mustard also on the plate. This recipe is destined to become a classic.

Barbecued pork with homemade mantou buns and pickles.
Barbecued pork with homemade mantou buns and pickles. (Kim Westerman)

My one quibble with the place is that some of what we ordered would have been better as bona fide side dishes, rather than standalone courses — in our case, the tendrils and the noodles. But it’s a small complaint amidst the deep pleasure invoked by the whole.

Both the cocktail and wine lists are married to the food. We went for the latter and ordered an inexpensive dry Riesling, a 2013 Hunstler from the Rheingau, which had just the right balance of minerality, fruit and acidity for all the dishes.

Service was remarkably together for day one.

If Mister Jiu’s is a harbinger of Chinatown’s future, I say welcome to the new era.

Mister Jiu’s
28 Waverly Place
San Francisco, CA 94703 [Map]
Ph: (415) 857-9688
Hours: Tues-Thu, 5:30-10:30pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-11pm
Price Range: $$$$ (Prix fixe, banquet-style, $69 per person for 5 courses).
Twitter: @MisterJiu

First Bite: Long Anticipated, Mr. Jiu’s Opens in San Francisco’s Chinatown 14 April,2016Kim Westerman

  • Joe Chang

    The reason why the pea tendrils are served as a main dish instead of a side dish is because in Chinese cooking, they are served as a main dish. This may seem strange to westerners who often see dishes such as sauteed spinach as a side, but it’s an important part of Chinese culinary tradition and should be seen through that lens.

Author

Kim Westerman

Kim Westerman has been writing about food and wine for most of her adult life. Originally from North Carolina, she moved to Berkeley in 2006 to pursue the California dream, which, it turns out, is all it’s cracked up to be. She’s a farmers’ market junkie, a lover of all things tomato, and Champagne-obsessed. She loves to cook with her kids, eight and three, and she makes frequent pilgrimages to International Boulevard in search of her next favorite Mexican dish. She spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about food and wine pairing, often starting with the wine and working backwards when planning menus. She is a Level I Sommelier and a Licensed Q-Grader. Her work has appeared in KQED’s Bay Area Bites, Forbes.com, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Tasting Table, Fodor’s Travel Guides, and lots of other publications. You can follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram @throughtraveler.

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