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Apr 12, 2016 6 min read

Phoenix Rising: Mister Jiu's Now Open in Chinatown

Phoenix Rising: Mister Jiu's Now Open in Chinatown
The modern lines of Mister Jiu’s dining room. All photos: Kassie Borreson.
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Ladies and gents, it makes me happy to report that MISTER JIU’S is now open in Chinatown. I’d like to give a slow clap to Brandon Jew and his entire team for getting this beast of a project open—it was a huge undertaking and will continue to be so as the project ramps up, but you gotta start somewhere. And when you’re opening in a historic space in the city’s most densely textured neighborhood, the scale of the project would make most well-seasoned restaurateurs question their sanity.

Jew says it has been an amazing experience to get this project up and running—it’s an enormous team, from the landlord (Betty Louie of China Bazaar) to his architect to kitchen team to construction to graphic designers to the Chinese community. He has reached out to many people along the way, and his family has been an immeasurable help.

Brandon Jew is a San Francisco-born Chinese American (his family’s last name was originally Jiu, but of course immigration messed up the spelling). He remembers shopping in Chinatown with his grandmother, an all-day project, as they would go from place to place, only buying the best on her very specific grocery list. She taught him a lot about how to cook and source, something that has stayed with him on his culinary journey (which includes a year cooking in Shanghai, plus learning about Italian cuisine at Quince and California cuisine and whole animal butchery as he cooked in places like Zuni Cafe and Bar Agricole).

Jew’s cuisine at Mister Jiu’s will reflect his multifaceted culinary journey and experience—this is not about creating a facsimile of a Chinese restaurant, it’s not how he was trained. He will be integrating his Cantonese family roots, Chinese American experience, and California training. We’ll be tasting his interpretation and memories of many classic Cantonese dishes, plus dishes from other regions, too, but with his own perspective and ingredient sourcing.

For example, his XO sauce is made with La Quercia prosciutto, and Oregon bay shrimp and Mexican bay scallops they dehydrated. Jew has learned the importance of knowing where your ingredients come from and isn’t inspired to buy dried scallops from a jar in a shop where he doesn’t know a thing about them or even how long they have been sitting around. It’s about the integrity of everything used in the kitchen, so the kitchen’s four dehydrators have been running full time.

Like the Lee brothers with Namu Gaji, Pim of Kin Khao, and Charles Phan of Slanted Door, these chefs have created a new style of their native and beloved cuisines that is told through the lens of San Francisco ingredients. And then there’s Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese, with his completely own freestyle take and expression of dishes, from Chinese American classics to Shanghaiese.

Of course Jew is going to be under a lot of scrutiny from the Chinese American community: it’s a big deal for him to be opening a new restaurant on such a big scale in the historic Four Seas location. It’s a legacy building, one that is so important to the community—so many families and friends would dine there, making a night out of it with dinner and entertainment. As Jew says, “This place deserves people in it and celebrating again.”

The menu is a choose-your-own banquet menu that starts at $69 for five courses. You can select dishes like crispy daikon cake with oil-cured black olives and shiitake mushrooms; hot and sour soup with fish cake, nasturtium, lily buds, and green tomato; cheong fun (rice noodle roll) with Mendocino sea urchin and sprouts (can’t wait to try it); Four Seas fried chicken with sorrel, hot mustard, and red chile; plus supplemental dishes like Heart Arrow Ranch barbecue pork (char siu pork belly, black garlic spareribs, mantou buns, cucumber and daikon pickles) and tea-smoked Liberty Farm duck (pancakes, peanut hoisin, chopped liver, 12-day aged duck breast, confit legs, and gizzards).

As you can see, it’s not about being “Chinese-Chinese, but Chinese for San Francisco,” as Jew puts it. He didn’t want a Chinese experience you could have anywhere; he wanted it to be specific to San Francisco, using quality and local ingredients in a Chinese format. He also wants to keep things simple enough so that the ingredients can really shine.

They are making so many things in-house, including all the noodles, buns, pancakes, and sauces, and are building the pantry as they go along, which will include making their own lap cheong sausage (they are butchering whole pigs). He is also going to be working with farmers to grow vegetables for the restaurant and plans to grow plants on the roof.

He has quite the team with him, including sous chef Sara Hauman (previously Huxley; she worked with Jew at Bar Agricole) and desserts by pastry chef Melissa Chou (formerly of Mourad and Aziza). In the ultimate plug-and-play move, the beverage director and bar manager is Danny Louie, previously at Chino, who also has some great SF/Chinese-American roots—his father was a bartender at Cecilia Chiang’s The Mandarin. The two of them will be working closely on creating culinary ingredients for the bar to use (check out the cocktail menu here).

Congrats to John Herbstritt, who has made the move from the wine aisle at Bi-Rite Market to the role of wine director at the restaurant (scroll down here to see the wine and beer list). (Although I will miss his smiling face and great recos at Bi-Rite.) And ultimate opener Liz Subauste (previously Al’s Place) is the GM.

The 10,000-square-foot space space was redesigned by Boor Bridges Architecture (Lord Stanley, Trou Normand, Sightglass Coffee) and has a clean, midcentury look, a reference to the period when Chinatown was in its heyday. You can only imagine the work it took to restore the multilevel space, which was previously Hang Far Low and dates back to the late 1800s.

For now, there are 85 seats, with 15 at the bar (although the seats aren’t coming for a couple of weeks, so it’s a standing bar at the moment)—a bar menu will also be coming soon. There are three custom­-made teak tables (by Brandon’s uncle) with built­-in lazy Susans, and you can’t miss the massive brass chandeliers, which are from the original space and were refurbished locally. There’s also a 20-foot-long black-and-white piece by artist Afton Love that runs along an entire wall. Also: the original entrance on Grant has been moved to the alley side, on Waverly Place.

As for future plans, the upper floor will possibly be converted into a bar and lounge and private event space during the week, with dim sum on the weekends—plus Jew scored the bar and lounge furnishings from the Empress of China, amazing. And there’s talk of having a window on Waverly, where you can get late-night sweet and sour pork and other drink-friendly food to eat upstairs or to go.

Hours for now: Tue-Thu 5:30pm-10:30pm, bar opens at 5pm; Fri-Sat 5:30pm-11pm, bar opens at 5pm. Closed Sun-Mon. A portion of the dining room and the entire bar are reserved for walk-­ins every night.

Note that the entrance is at 28 Waverly Place (not 731 Grant as indicated for the moment on Google), between Stockton and Grant, Clay and Sacramento.

The modern lines of Mister Jiu’s dining room. All photos: Kassie Borreson.

Chef and owner Brandon Jew.
A look at the art installation.
The custom teak tables with built-in lazy Susans.
Sizzling rice soup with chicken consommé, water chestnuts, spring veggies, rock shrimp, and schmaltz.
Tea-smoked Liberty Farm duck with pancake.
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