The acclaimed chef behind Empress By Boon, Ho Chee Boon, is opening a new, casual restaurant in the Marina District, and it's opening soon.

Since it opened in mid-2021, Empress By Boon has brought style and fresh life to the long empty, top-floor Chinatown space that was formerly known as Empress of China. The Michelin Guide ranks it among the Best Chinese Restaurants in San Francisco, saying of Chef Boon, "His talent for dishing out refined, modern Cantonese fare is apparent, along with an extra pinch of personality and a touch of California seasonality."

Now Boon is expanding his San Francisco empire with Blue Whale, a new restaurant taking over the former Osha Thai space at 2033 Union Street (between Buchanan and Webster).

According to a release, the menu will feature items like crispy wasabi tiger prawns with pineapple, and crab xiao long bao — but details are few beyond this. And the whole menu will be a la carte, unlike Empress By Boon.

The space reportedly features a patio and open-air courtyard, and will include two bars as well as a private lounge.

The project appears to have been in the works for over 18 months, with a liquor license application having popped up in February 2022 — which was picked up by What Now SF at the time. They spoke to one of the partners, Ming Lei, who said it would be an "Asian-fusion restaurant with a full bar."

The original intention was to have the place open last summer, but the opening date is now arriving next month, in September.

Chef Boon is an alum of London-based, upscale modern Cantonese chain Hakkasan, which had a location in San Francisco from 2012 to 2020. It closed in the early pandemic, with the restaurant group deciding to cut its losses and not reopen some of its locations. The Chronicle noted at the time that the restaurant had involved a $7 million buildout when it opened eight years earlier.

The restaurant group also closed its New York location, but retains U.S. outposts in Las Vegas and Miami.

While working for the restaurant group, Boon maintained a Michelin star while working in the kitchen at Yauatcha, the group's dim-sum restaurant in London.

Being from Malaysia, Chef Boon's influences are not strictly Chinese, but are more pan-Asian — as evidenced on the menu at Empress By Boon, which is currently offered only as a $98 prix fixe (though a la carte dishes can be ordered at the bar).

Photo via Blateis Realty