At Mister Jiu’s, What’s Old is New
Before we’ve even had our first coffee of the morning, Chef Brandon Jew has served us a plate of brightly colored, head-on prawns. It takes a certain kind of gutsiness to look your first meal of the day directly in the eye. But as we’ll quickly learn, “going big” is kind of Brandon’s thing.
His restaurant Mister Jiu’s is a multi-level, 10,000 square-foot space right in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and about three times the size Brandon was looking for when he set out to open a place of his own after stints in the kitchens of esteemed Bay Area restaurants like Zuni Café, Quince, and Bar Agricole. That is, until a piece of local and personal history hit the market.
“I love how the weather plays a part in what our body craves and, as a chef, how I can adapt my menu to what I believe those cravings are.”
The space now occupied by Mister Jiu’s was formerly the site of restaurant-slash-banquet hall Four Seas, a beloved Chinatown institution for decades and the site of countless family celebrations for Brandon as well as the local community. Never mind the fact that it was so massive compared to the spaces he’d previously been considering, Brandon felt obligated to ensure this site’s significance would not be taken lightly.
Any serious conversation about food in the city of San Francisco invariably becomes a conversation on a whole host of other issues, whether explicitly stated or not. It’s a place—like many others across the country—that’s seen rapid, widespread changes to the very fabric of the city. Skyrocketing rents, new powerful and disruptive industries, the displacement of communities of color—all of this affects who, quite literally, gets a seat at the table. Understandably, these issues have stoked a hunger for authenticity. There’s arguably no better steward for the neighborhood and Four Seas’s cultural legacy than Brandon Jew.
“When the job feels tough, I retreat back to my happy place, the kitchen. It’s where time slows down for me. I automatically feel lucky to get to work with my hands, working with beautiful products, and trying to tell a story with them.”
The food at Mister Jiu’s is a perfect marriage of the seasonal, local, farm-fresh sourcing Northern California is known for and the Chinese comfort food of Brandon’s childhood. The staple of steak fried rice is made with wagyu steak and beef heart. The BBQ pork buns are made with organic pork and nestled within Brandon’s take on San Francisco’s famed Dutch Crunch bread. Cocktails with names like Zen, Courage, and Happiness feature traditional Chinese ingredients like lapsang tea and sichuan peppers, as well as ingredients you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the neighborhood like mezcal and amaro. This thoughtful honoring of the past while looking to the future even extends to the decor of the restaurant. It’s been lovingly renovated to feel fresh and new while light fixtures and restored murals from Four Seas remain in homage to its past. Most recently, Brandon and his team have opened Moongate Lounge, a casual cocktail lounge above Mister Jiu’s designed as a place to host the kind of milestone celebrations that made Four Seas such a fixture of the community.
Things very easily could have gone another way. Far too often, historic landmarks go out of business, fall into disrepair, and fade from memory. But if Brandon Jew’s vision for Mister Jiu’s is a peek into the neighborhood’s next chapter, the future looks like one hell of a party.