Empress by Boon EnchantsSep 07, 2021 09:49AM ● By Fran Miller
BY Fran Endicott Miller
It takes confidence to open a 7,500 square foot restaurant during a period of uncertainty within the hospitality industry. Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon did just that, and his Empress by Boon has captured the palates and imaginations of gourmands and design enthusiasts who clamor for reservations. The regal restaurant is a long-held dream and career goal of the Malaysian-born Boon who brings nearly 30 years of experience to his new San Francisco hot spot.
“I’m very pleased that my dream has come to fruition here in the United States’ most historic Chinatown,” said Boon, best known as the longtime executive chef of international Chinese chain Hakkasan. “The delays this past year due to COVID-19 have only made our team more grateful to open; we look forward to contributing to the revitalization of this beloved community.”
Identifiable from the street only by its Grant Ave. address, Empress by Boon continues to feature the marquee of Empress of China, the restaurant’s former occupant that held court in the same location for 48 years before shuttering in 2014. The space, with seating for 156, is accessed via an elevator that opens to a stunning antique wooden pergola, a salvaged tribute to the restaurant’s previous life. It now frames the restaurant’s tea lounge featuring a central circular leather couch surrounded by plush seating and low tables.
Two distinct dining rooms feature varied views. Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill are visible from cozy, peacock blue, north facing booths, and Salesforce Tower and its business district are the star attractions of the eastern-oriented dining room with its carved wooden screens. Choose your vantage point and the restaurant will do its best to grant your wish, though your attention may well divert to the striking interior, designed by Atelier LLYS.
Boon’s international culinary expertise transforms any restaurant and its cuisine into a true epicurean experience. His traditional techniques utilize fresh ingredients from local purveyors (including the restaurant’s own organic farm in Gilroy) to produce dishes that are contemporary, but with the essence of traditional Cantonese cuisine. He currently presents an ever-changing prix-fixe menu ($78+/pp) with a subsequent option to add wine and cocktail pairings, as well as signature dishes that can be ordered a la carte, such as Peking Duck sourced from Joe Jurgielewicz & Son, a fourth-generation farm in Pennsylvania.
On this night, the menu consisted of delicate Iberico ham Shanghai Xiao Long bao served steaming in a basket, cigar-shaped sesame coated fried prawn roll, steamed zucchini-prawn dumplings in an Instagram-able hue of vibrant green, flaky grilled Alaskan black cod prepared with soy and sha cha sauces, lightly fried crispy chicken nuggets served in a spicy curry sauce, Lotus Rice with dried scallop and shrimp and shitake mushrooms, and seasonal braised greens. Dishes are served family style.
From the list of specialty cocktails, the standout was the Old-Fashioned equivalent Nanjing cocktail consisting of duck fat rinsed Knob Creek Rye and bitters. The extensive wine list is curated by the talented Haley Moore, CEO and founder of Acquire. And tea service is not to be missed.
838 Grant Avenue (between Washington and Clay streets)
Book via www.theempresssf.com or by calling 415.757.0728
Photos courtesy of Empress by Boon. Interior photos by Jean Bai