Empress by Boon
838 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108
Dining date: 10/15/21
Empress By Boon was one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings in San Francisco this year. Delayed by the pandemic, it finally opened in June and has been busy ever since. The restaurant occupies the top floor of the original Empress of China, which opened in the 1960s and was home to generations of special occasions and banquets for the Chinese American community until its closure in 2014.
Ho Chee Boon is the chef of this restaurant, best known for being the former executive chef of the worldwide chain of Hakkasan restaurants. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed prior meals at Hakkasan, and have been saddened by the closures of the Beverly Hills and San Francisco locations of the restaurant. While those concept is completely different, I was still very intrigued to get a taste of Boon’s cooking.
The restaurant has been completely redesigned and looks spectacular.
The restaurant is currently exclusively serving a prix fixe menu, priced at $78. I hear that extras can be ordered on top of that, but that didn’t seem to be available on this evening.
The first dishes to come to the table were assorted small plates, all individually plated.
Crispy Truffle Rice Puff fall truffle, shimeji mushroom
Jasmine Smoked Short Rib steamed bun
Beijing Dumpling housemade vinegar
Steamed Rockfish broth and red chili
The next trio of dishes were served all at once, family style (for 4 people).
Brazilian Rock Lobster and Mushroom Stir Fry
Chinese Chive Flower, Bean Curd, Crispy Yam
XO Prawn Noodles
Desserts are separate from the prix fixe menu, offered at $18-19 each.
Black Sesame Cremeux salted dark chocolate ganache, sesame florentine, yuzu honey ice cream
Egg Tart vanilla bean custard, black mission fig compote, orange & star anise sauce
I found the food to be strong at Empress by Boon, although I favored the small plates earlier in the meal to the larger, “main” courses. The rice puff was delicately crispy, served piping hot, and was full of truffle essence. The short rib featured very tender, succulent beef contrasted by pickled cucumber and fried mushrooms in a light bao. And the dumplings, simply prepared, were plump and full of sweet shrimp and chicken. While the rockfish was a strong showing, the rock lobster was not. Soft and mushy, I could see why they were hidden under a canopy of fried lotus root.
While the meal was expensive for Chinatown standards, the ambiance is like nothing else in the neighborhood and $78 is pretty reasonable in San Francisco’s high-end dining segment. Having said that, the $78 is barely a full meal as the fixed menu isn’t really that much food (certainly not enough for larger eaters). Extra items are definitely needed to supplement the meal, though I’d probably pass on the $19 desserts next time.