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On The Scene - Mr Jiu’s Restaurant Brings Life to Chinatown

ON THE SCENE   BY Gerrye Wong

Brandon Jew brings new cuisine to San Francisco’s Chinatown scene.
San Francisco’s historic Chinatown is afire with excitement over the opening of MR. JIU’S Restaurant with noted chef BRANDON JEW at the helm.   After just a week since its April 12th opening, I met a crowded bar of happy diners when I entered the nondescript restaurant door from the quiet Waverly Alley smack in the middle of the largest Chinatown in the US.  As Chinatown merchant Betty Louie remarked, “This upscale restaurant is just what our Chinatown needs after so many of the larger familiar old style restaurants have recently closed.  This brings new cuisine to Chinatown unlike any previously seen and will soon be enjoyed, I am sure, by the savvy young people of San Francisco who are always seeking to enjoy fine dining.”
The ever smiling Chef Brandon Jew grew up in San Francisco and remembers grocery shopping with his grandmother in Chinatown. After getting University of California biology degree, Jew followed his interest in the gastronomic world and spent the next year traveling in Northern Italy. He recalls that his time spent in Bologna at Ristorante la Pernice e la Gallina exposed him to a cultural pride and culinary integrity reminiscent of his own Asian upbringing.  Returning to his San Francisco roots, he made a name for himself working at Zuni Café with Chef Judy Rogers and Quince with Chef Michael Tusk.  From there, his inquisitive culinary mind brought him to Shanghai’s Museum of Modern Art and upon his return to Bay Area, he donned the apron at Pizetta 211, Bar Jules, Camino, and Adesso. In 2010 as opening chef of Bar Agricole, he earned 3 stars from San Francisco Chronicle’s Food Critic Michael Bauer. 

Bustling kitchen of Mr Jiu’s is very busy.
And now he has returned to his cultural ties and brought a new shining light to Chinatown in his Mr. Jiu’s. His thought, he recalls, was to connect our community’s rich past to modern San Francisco and my inspiration is to bring people back to Chinatown.  For those of us locales who remember the old Four Seas Restaurant, Brandon’s new locale, and even further back to Hung Far Low, the original restaurant at that location dating back to the 1800s,   this new restaurant brings a new look to the Chinese restaurant scene.  Missing is the old Four Seas long stairway entrance from Grant Avenue and now you enter via Waverly Alley to be greeted by a new modern long bar with a smiling staff under the leadership of  Bar Manager Danny Louie, formerly of Chino.  A friendly hostess leads you to the brightly lit dining room, flanked by a modern open air kitchen where one can see the bustling of Brandon and his noted staff members, Pastry Chef Melissa Chou, Sous Chefs Sara Hauman and Kai Goodman, Wine director John Herbstritt and General Manager Liz Subaste. Three groups of happy jovial diners greeted me from the restaurant’s centerpiece three custom-made round tables with built in Lazy Susans designed by Brandon’s uncle himself.  Positioned above are the familiar massive gold lotus-accented chandeliers which once adorned the Four Seas, but now polished brighter through a complete refurbishment.

Betty Louie and Colleen Quen join diners under large metallic art piece adorning wall.
If you come looking for the traditional Chinese banquet fare ladened heavily with meat and seafood dishes in heavy sauces, you’re in the wrong place.  Brandon’s special meal shows locally grown produce, something he continually strives for, he comments.  His dinner fare is served banquet style with 5 course-set-price menu cost of $69 pp. Surrounded by a roomful of other diners, we could feel the joy of dining coming from patrons on all sides of us in the packed first seating diners.  To commemorate my first time to Mr. Jiu’s, I chose the restaurant’s most popular drink, according to our eager server, the Happiness Cocktail, which consisted of gin, sour apple, gentian, jasmine tea, honey and lime. The other cocktail offerings also had prophetic Chinese names such as Luck, Wisdom, Longevity, Joy, Tranquility, Prosperity and Wealth.  I guess if you sought all of these qualities, you’d have to try all 8 of these special  cocktails. I don’t recommend it as then in a slightly inebriated state  you wouldn’t fully enjoy the dining experience coming upon your ordering.

Chef Brandon Jew and wife Anna Lee happily work together and welcome new diners to their Chinatown restaurant
Brandon’s cheerful wife, Anna Lee Jew, informed us along with our server that our family style dining choices could be 4 dishes from the salad, soup, rice & noodles and veggies section of the menu, and one dish from the entrée section. My favorites included the Marin Myagi Oyster & Clam Custard, a delectable dish of a duck’s egg, lop cheong, green garlic and favos. A unique cheong fun filled with sprouts and topped with minced Mendocino sea urchin was artfully done, as was the cold noodle dish which had Dungeness crab, peanut, sesame and for color and eating, chrysanthemum leaves which proved good tasting too. The piece de resistance to me was our entrée choice, Tea-Smoked Liberty Farm Duck. Not usually a favorite of mine because I generally find duck cooked this way in northern Chinese regional restaurants too dry, However Brandon’s dish was succulent with a savory touch to the 8-spiced breast & confit leg. Served with thin pancakes, peanut hoisin and finely chopped liver, this dish hopefully will be a permanent fixture on the menu, although Jew says he will be changing the menu with the seasons to take advantage of the locally grown produce and seasonal favorites. This is the priciest dish on the menu with added cost to the fixed price but well worth it, I thought. Betty Louie, a self proclaimed foodie, is a regular here  who should be commended for her foresight and desire to bring a fresh new exciting look to Chinatown.

A sumptuous dessert attractively presented of frozen soy milk with jasmine granite and carmelized puff pastry is enjoyed by Gerrye Wong
Let me reiterate – this is not your usual Chinese dinner experience, as found in every city big or small in all of America, I have found in my travels.  The dishes are unique. Some use familiar ingredients found in most Chinese homes, some using newly introduced.  The friendly smiling staff eager to satisfy your every whim was very evident in the atmosphere, and I hope this new venue will bring the younger generation of San Francisco’s diners back to Chinatown.  Come sample Brandon Jew’s new California Chinois cuisine in a new brightly lit ambiance where the original windows can give the diners a view below of Chinatown’s Grant Avenue and its colorful red hanging  lanterns.  Brandon’s parting words were, “I really want locals to experience San Francisco Chinatown again. This is what my San Francisco Chinese food is: some references from our families, our training, our travels and inspiration from this neighborhood – they all impact my interpretation of the experience and the food.”  If crowds continue to come as I saw when I was there on a week night,  plan ahead for this unique Chinese dinner experience. Reservations: http://misterjius.com   Address:28 Waverly Place in the heart of San Francisco Chinatown,  CA


Dali Jones surrounded by grandchildren marvel at the birthday cake designed as a suitcase symbolizing her love for travel

Dali Jones three children and 10 grandchildren had to do a lot of secret maneuverings to surprise their savvy grandmother but they pulled it off when she opened the door to daughter Shelley’s Hillsborough home and found over 70 of her best friends and family members shouting Happy Birthday.   Feeding the happy greeters with a sumptuous buffet prepared mostly by her daughter and son-in law Manni Jones and Jobie Low ran smoothly with all 10 grandchildren making sure everyone was comfortably seated and fed, and even the grandsons acting as valets to hide the cars before she arrived.   Especially notable was the brown chocolate  birthday cake shaped in the form of a suitcase to symbolize this traveling grandmother’s favorite pastime of seeing the world.  Everything on the cake – from passport  to stickers symbolizing world cities of her life – were edible except for the golf and tennis balls, another one of her favorite hobbies. 

Walter Wong celebrates his 92nd birthday in the traditional green of St. Patricks Day

Walter Wong always celebrates his birthday, and this 92nd was no different when he carried the tradition of having corned beef and cabbage  on March 17, St. Patricks Day and Walter Wong birthday holiday too.  Old friends Sonya and Bill Wong traditionally host him to his favorite food, and this year surprised him with friends Al and May Chan, Ed Chan, Annie Ong, and many others in San Leandro Sam’s Restaurant, another of Walter’s favorites.  Good sport Walter let his friends adorn him in traditional green ornaments as he passed out traditional li see envelopes in return.