We have all heard about certain restaurant spaces being cursed. No matter how good the concept there is something about the venue or location that simply does not attract customers. And yet other locations seem to have no trouble at all such as the Chinatown building now occupied by the new Mister Jiu’s that over the last century housed two highly successful eateries. There is no magic formula to opening a restaurant; it’s always a gamble. Take restaurateur Franck LeClerc who has successfully transformed a challenging FIDI location that housed Hecho, Midi and Perry’s into a wonderland of mid-20th century Paris. Why did his concept work and the others failed? Will Mister Jiu’s live on for a hundred years? Time will tell.
Three years in the making, the highly anticipated Mister Jiu’s is now open in a historic 1880s Chinatown building at 28 Waverly Place. The multilevel structure has only housed two restaurants in the last 136 years: the very popular Four Seas, and before that the legendary Hang Far Low—long considered the “Delmonico’s of Chinatown.” Taking over such a prominent spot is no small undertaking. The 10,000-square foot space (redesigned by Boor Bridges Architecture) includes massive brass lotus chandeliers and filigreed lighting fixtures from the Four Seas. The bright, midcentury-style dining room features several round teak tables fitted with ubiquitous Chinese lazy Susans, as well as a 20-foot-long black-and-white landscape piece created with graphite, beeswax and rice paper by artist Afton Love.
Photo by Patricia Chang
Chef and co-owner Brandon Jew (Quince, Bar Agricole) and his all-star team are focusing on Cantonese cuisine articulated through a San Francisco lens, sourcing seasonal ingredients from local farms. “My family’s Cantonese food is really cleansing and pure, but people don’t have that association with Chinese food,” says Jew. He and sous chef Sara Hauman (Huxley) and pastry chef Melissa Chou (Aziza, Mourad) are offering a five-course banquet menu served family style. Diners choose one dish from each of the five categories: salad, soup, rice and noodles, vegetables and entrees. Jew and his team make almost everything in-house, including the noodles, dried seafood and pickled vegetables.
Not-to-miss items include the Devil’s Gulch pig head salad and the Cheong Fun rice noodle roll with Mendocino sea urchin and sprouts. The memorable Liberty Farms duck is made from 12-day aged duck that’s been smoked with lapsang souchong black tea and is presented with pancakes, peanut hoisin, chopped liver, breast, confit legs and gizzards. In homage to the history of the building, Jew has an updated version of the Four Seas’ crispy whole chicken (his grandfather clipped the recipe out of an old copy of the Chronicle). Jew presents the roasted bird with pounded ginger and sorrel, shrimp chips, cilantro, Calabrian chili and hot mustard. Mister Jiu’s is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
When restaurateur Franck LeClerc (Café Claude, Gitane) opened Gaspar two years ago in a space attached to the Galleria Park Hotel at 185 Sutter St., it was seen by many as a risky move. The address had seen more than a few restaurants come and go. The stunning two-level space was designed by LeClerc and Consortium Design, and features a variety of vintage chandeliers, textural wall finishes and a rich color palette of deep reds, dark browns and gold. There is a small, cozy bar downstairs: upstairs is the epitome of swank with a hand-painted ceiling, sexy lighting, brass railings and red leather banquettes.
Photo by Aubrie Pick
New in the kitchen is executive chef Adam Nichol (Wayfare Tavern, AQ) who has been quietly reworking the classic French menu for the past several months. Start off with a cocktail at the intimate Cognac bar adjacent to the dining room. When available do not pass up the Louisiana fried frogs legs with tartar sauce. Other noteworthy dishes include the pristine white prawns with fresh horseradish and cocktail sauce and the harissa-spiced yogurt lamb tartare. One would not go wrong with the perfectly prepared steak frites or the comforting Poulet Rôti half chicken with wild mushrooms and albufera sauce. Gaspar is open daily for lunch and dinner.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com