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  • Writer's pictureKathy Chin Leong

Empress of China

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

In 2014, all of Chinatown mourned when the owners of the Empress of China Restaurant closed its kitchen and shuttered operations. The elegant venue occupying the top floor of 838 Grant Avenue with magnificent views was in operation for nearly 50 years. Uniformed waiters served generations of politicians, celebrities, and international guests. Local Chinese captured treasured memories on video and still film, for they were the ones who hosted grand wedding banquets for their children and red egg and ginger parties for grandchildren. Family association members gathered around the tables by the hundreds for their annual Christmas and Chinese New Year soirees. While the building sat empty, Chinatown residents and community leaders speculated about what the building owners would do next. Would the floors become a trendy workspace center? Or an art gallery? Or a home for Chinatown non-profit organizations? On October 16, 2019, EMPRESS by Boon announced that at least a portion the 7,500 square-foot space will become a restaurant once again, this time helmed by a Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon, who has worked at top Asian restaurants in London, Moscow, and Bangkok. The award-winning chef intends to deliver his own spin on modern Cantonese cuisine and use organic produce grown from the restaurant’s affiliated farm in Gilroy, Calif., two hours south of San Francisco. And, according to the Chef Ho, he will be using unexpected ingredients in his entrees. “We hope to surprise and delight diners,” he said.

The restaurant will also highlight the talents of Chef Rory Macdonald of London, who will be serving as the restaurant’s pastry chef. His dreams call for concocting desserts with flavors to compliment the Cantonese menu. MacDonald has also honed his culinary chops at renowned Michelin-starred restaurants in his home city as well as in San Sebastian, Spain. The seasoned dessert chef launched his first concept eatery in New York called Patisserie Chanson + Dessert Bar where he became known for his six-course, small bite dessert menu. While the Empress of China building has been languishing for years, various groups have bickered over what should be done with the prized real estate which sits in the heart of Chinatown. In the end, building owner John Yee determined that another “Empress” could reign successfully. In fact, his company, JL Realty Partners, LLC., had already wanted to bring the Empress restaurant back to its old glory days when it purchased the building. The Asianova Hospitality Group Inc. is the financial backer of the new enterprise, due to open in 2020. So far, it seems that the company is sparing no expense. Asianova is hiring a UK-based design team, Atelier LLYS, and the restaurant will feature a few vestiges of its former life as Empress of China. The carved panel and wooden pergola will remain, bringing a sense of sentimentality to former customers. Dinners will be served on fine contemporary table settings from a French company, Legle, known for its chef-driven dinnerware placed at some of the most prestigious restaurants in the world.

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