The long-awaited new arrival in the Empress of China space in San Francisco's Chinatown is finally opening, just in time for mask rules and capacity restrictions to be lifted statewide.
Empress by Boon, the new restaurant from Hakkasan alum Ho Chee Boon that we first learned about in October 2019, is opening its doors at 838 Grant Avenue on June 19, adding to a quiet but steady renaissance of high-end dining in Chinatown. The restaurant, in a sixth-floor space with sweeping views of Chinatown and downtown, has sat dark since Empress of China closed in 2014 after 47 years in business.
Once a glamorous stop among several in the neighborhood, Empress of China had fallen into the rut of many longtime restaurants in touristed neighborhoods, but remained a well-loved and kitschy date spot into the last decade.
Enter Chef Boon, who also worked at the Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant chain Yauatcha (also owned by the Hakkasan Group), and his backers, who have transformed and modernized the space with the help of UK-based designers Atelier LLYS.
The Chronicle has some more photos of the interior, which is sleek and has a retro vibe not unlike the upstairs lounge at another recent addition to the neighborhood, the Moon Gate Lounge at Mister Jiu's.
Empress by Boon won't be strictly a Chinese restaurant. Chef Boon was born in Malaysia, and his influences are more pan-Asian. Hints from the restaurant's Instagram account show some fanciful looking seafood dishes and bites — with Boon generally a fan of "higher end dim sum," as the Chronicle notes.
The restaurant's first month in business will exclusively feature a $68 prix fixe menu that is meant to showcase Boon's taste and style. It will include a steamed shrimp dumpling topped with caviar, and a mapo tofu-esque grilled rib eye, served with tofu and a Sichuan peppercorn-infused sauce.
Later on, though it won't be part of the tasting menu, Peking duck is going to be a signature of Empress by Boon as well.
This opening, while delayed by the pandemic along with so much else, follows on several others in recent years that have made Chinatown more of a high-end dining destination, after decades of the neighborhood becoming more known for underwhelming Chinese American food.
Mister Jiu's became the first Chinese restaurant in San Francisco to garner a Michelin star in 2016, six months after it opened. Chef Brandon Jew, a San Francisco native, was committed to opening a very personal and modern restaurant in Chinatown, which he did in the former Four Seas banquet restaurant space.
Another former banquet restaurant, Gold Mountain, gave way to China Live, which opened to much acclaim in 2017, bringing a bustling, big-restaurant atmosphere with high-quality food.
Most recently, a swanky new nightclub came to the neighborhood, Lion's Den, which opened during the pandemic earlier this year. Lion's Den has been slowing expanding its live music offerings, and with restrictions being lifted on June 15, it may just come into its own as a popular nightspot.
Find reservations for Empress By Boon here — they're going fast.