Though Mister Jiu’s black and gray-green facade and idiosyncratic signage contrast with its neighbors in Chinatown in San Francisco, chef Brandon Jew’s year-old restaurant seems at home among medical herb vendors and knickknack shops.
Jew — whose surname, he explained, was “lost in translation” when his grandfather came to the United States — sees Mister Jiu’s promise as being rooted in California cuisine and the region’s Chinese-American history. “I had a real passion for the things I was nostalgic for,” he said.
“The restaurant stemmed from my desire to have people think differently about Chinese food,” Jew added. “We’re doing that through Californian ingredients, organic local farms” — like Hodo tofu from Oakland and oyster sauce made in house with Hog Island Oysters — “and how those ingredients can be translated through a Chinese lens.” Jew wants to cook food that is distinctly San Franciscan and Chinese-American.
Housed in a century-old former banquet hall, Mister Jiu’s is definitely not vintage Chinatown. On a recent Saturday night, the bar was crowded with Ivanka Trump types in tall heels and straight blond ponytails. Drinks were slow coming as the bartender, warm and apologetic, meticulously sprayed yin-yang symbols onto the frothy tops of cocktails flavored with lotus and lemongrass. Despite its popularity, Mister Jiu’s seems to go out of its way to avoid playing hard to get.
The dining room, largely designed by Jew’s wife, Anna Chet Jew-Lee, is lush and welcoming with two huge lotus blossom chandeliers salvaged from the previous restaurant. We pored over a menu full of lists of ingredients separated by commas, followed by bracingly large dollar figures. The meat and seafood section flits from salt-baked trout to roast duck (available halved or whole); the five-course Dungeness crab “celebration menu” is $105 per person, $65 more for wine pairings.
In some cases, familiar dishes like rib-eye cap mapo tofu invited unwelcome comparisons. A thin layer of silken tofu topped with large chunks of steak, rather than a flavorful tofu stew seasoned with meat, seemed flat compared with the classic, heavily spiced version.
More often, though, Jew’s rendition of a dim sum standard seemed lively and exciting. His “tendrils, greens and stems,” for example, was everything satisfying about heaping piles of garlicky vegetables served from pushcarts, but fresher and more complex. As Mister Jiu’s seasonal menu moves from winter to spring, it promises to grow even more compelling and provocative.
28 Waverly Place; 415-857-9688; misterjius.com.
An average à la carte meal for two, without drink and tip, is about $150.