The stretch of Waverly Place connecting Clay and Sacramento streets in San Francisco’s Chinatown provides a quiet parallel to Grant Avenue, a lively lane of gift shops, clothing stores and cafes to the east. When Brandon Jew brought his first solo venture to the former Four Seas Restaurant space, he moved the main entrance from Grant to an understated Waverly Place storefront. He then refurbished ornate lotus chandeliers from the old Four Seas, and outfitted the airy, updated dining room with custom tables, Chinese pottery, potted palms and pops of jade green.
Jew opened Mister Jiu’s in April 2016. Just six months later, the soft-spoken chef earned a Michelin star.
“Chef/owner Brandon Jew has brought some of the sparkle back to Chinatown with this contemporary treasure,” reads the Michelin review, “[putting] a modern Californian spin on the Cantonese classics that once made the neighborhood a national dining destination.”
Jew, who grew up in San Francisco’s Sunset district, chose Chinatown for his cocktail bar and kitchen because of personal connections to the neighborhood.
“It’s exciting to be in the old Four Seas space. My uncle got married upstairs, and there were lots of celebrations here when I was a kid,” he said. “With our restoration, we tried to retain as much of the building’s original soul as possible.”
Tradition informs both the design and the menu at Mister Jiu’s. Jew mixes classic flavors and modern techniques learned through his culinary experiences in Italy, Shanghai and San Francisco. Inspired by his work with respected local chefs like Quince’s Michael Tusk and Judy Rodgers, the late chef-owner of Zuni Cafe, Jew also puts a global spin on seasonal, Bay Area ingredients.
“I felt like it was time for someone to serve California elements in a Chinese context,” he said. “It’s how my grandma shopped for dinner, going to seven or eight stores looking for one special thing. It’s about relationships, and knowing where to find the best ingredients.”
“In Chinatown, people shop the markets in the morning and cook those ingredients at home that night. Why can’t we do that with Chinese restaurants?” said George Chen, founder and executive chef of China Live. His Chinatown food hall opened on Broadway in early 2017, complete with a market-driven cafe, beverage bar, tea counter and culinary retail shop, plus an upstairs cocktail lounge and fine dining venue.
Chen and his wife, Cindy Wong-Chen, explored Asia in search of sustainable, humanely produced goods and equipment for the 30,000-square-foot, Eataly-inspired space. The ground-floor Market Restaurant and Bar Central seats diners at tables and chairs made from reclaimed Northern Chinese elm. Hand-painted blue and white tiles in the Oolong Cafe reflect a style of ceramics popular in 14th-century China. Illustrated posters and rice sacks gathered during the Chens’ travels adorn the walls.
From a bright chrysanthemum salad sprinkled with star fruit vinegar, to slow-simmered broth crafted in an imported ceramic cauldron, the menu spotlights what George Chen calls “traditional recipes with a San Francisco twist.”
“We change our menu daily, and we named this destination ‘China Live’ because we wanted to create a vibrant platform where people can try new things,” he said. “With San Francisco booming and Chinatown being right here in the heart of the city, the time was right for this project.”
Three to Try at China Live
The China Live retail market carries sauces, spices, noodles, cookbooks, kitchenware and a number of other culinary goods. These three items are among many noteworthy options.
- Bay Area chocolate maker Karen Urbanek worked with Cindy Wong-Chen to create a special selection of Flying Noir chocolates for China Live.
- Extra Virgin Camellia Tenuifolia (Tea) Oil is a mild alternative to olive oil that works well in Asian dishes and non-Mediterranean recipes.
- Tea mugs and teapots designed for China Live make it easy to properly seep, strain and sip the perfect blend. Loose-leaf teas are also available for purchase.
Chef Brandon Jew's Chinatown
What are your favorite childhood memories of Chinatown?
On weekends, my grandma would take me shopping in Chinatown. She was really particular about where she bought things. We went from one place to the next as fast as we could, so that we could get home and get cooking. That kind of energy still exists in Chinatown—it’s very busy, very bustling, and I love that about this area.
Where in the neighborhood do you like to eat?
Golden Gate Bakery has an egg custard tart that’s so good, especially when it’s hot. I’ll sometimes go to City View for dim sum, and I sometimes have lunch at Hon’s Wun-Tun House. I love the counter and the people who work there. It’s great how a bowl of wonton is so simple and satisfying.
What makes Chinatown a fit for your business?
There’s a lot of inspiration in this neighborhood. We’re just trying to continue the legacy of this building and make it a place where people celebrate. I wake up every day thinking about how we’re doing and how we can do it better.