Palette Pleaser: Five chefs bring tradition and innovation to popular dim sum destination Palette Tea House, now offering carry-out and delivery.
Since Willy and Ronnie Ng opened Palette Tea House’s doors just over a year ago at the iconic Ghirardelli Square, it has seen a steady and growing base of customers. Many were built-in fans acquired from dim sum restaurants Koi Palace (koipalace.com) and Dragon Beaux (dragonbeaux.com), also founded by the Ng brothers. At Palette, followers of their expanding dumpling dynasty were able to find familiar dishes, such as the xiao long bao (from its classic pork soup dumpling to a truffle and oxtail soup dumpling). But it was clear Palette was its own entity and had its own unique character.
Behind its brick facade, the 6,500-square-foot space is a full sensory experience. Illuminated red and gold lanterns hang from the ceiling of the bustling dining area, where designers Sunny Tam of Campbell-based Studio 02 Architects and interior designer Chris Ho of C&E Designs were masterful in mirroring both the whimsy and sophistication of the dishes through their design of the space.
The name itself is a theme carried out through the dining experience, with plates shaped as painter’s palettes and grooves for each colorful sauce to complement the dumplings. “To me, Palette started as a concept of how we present our food,” says general manager and pastry chef Dennis Leung. “However, as I work with each one of the chefs, I started to interpret it differently. On a palette, all colors are important. It’s not about which color, or paint, is the best of all, but how all these colors and elements work together to create a beautiful picture. Some colors may be used more often than the others, but none of them can be removed. It is exactly what we are doing here.”
Bringing these colors together are five chefs at Palette, each from different backgrounds, using their own mediums and unique artistic talents—and each essential to creating the full Palette experience. The following are snapshots of the chefs and their signature dishes, as described by Leung. Delivery (via UberEats, DoorDash and GrubHub) and carry-out available. See menu here. 900 North Point St., Ste. B201, 415.347.8888, paletteteahouse.com
Chef Sarn Saechao
STYLE Keep it simple: Sarn uses a classic combination of flavors, great-quality ingredients, perfect execution. Beef and daikon is a classic Chinese dish. Sarn’s version reflects the identity of the cuisine while elevating it through the use of top-quality ingredients, a clean and elegant presentation and simply cooking each component to perfection. BACKGROUND lu Mien American, born in Seattle CUISINE New American ROLE Chef of elevated Chinese dishes. Sarn and I worked together at Bong Su, a Vietnamese restaurant that is now closed. I always remember him as the “glue guy” in the kitchen, bringing people together, and everything works out as long as he is in the kitchen. SPECIALTY Braised short rib and daikon, beef tendon “chicharon,” star anise jus STYLE Keep it simple: Sarn uses a classic combination of flavors, great-quality ingredients, perfect execution. Beef and daikon is a classic Chinese dish. Sarn’s version reflects the identity of the cuisine while elevating it through the use of top-quality ingredients, a clean and elegant presentation and simply cooking each component to perfection
Chef Sarn Saechao’s speciality dish: braised short rib and daikon
Chef James Parry
BACKGROUND Born in England; grew up in England and Hong Kong CUISINE Modern Chinese and Japanese cuisine ROLE Chef of elevated Chinese dishes. James cooked at Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, Ryugin in Japan and Corey Lee’s three-Michelin-starred Benu. He is keeping the bar high for all of us here. SPECIALITY Iberico Cha Siu barbecued pork: roasted Spanish Iberico pork, Cha Siu glaze, compressed green apple in lime and ginger STYLE Modern approach to traditional. This dish evokes childhood memories of eating Cha Siu and rice growing up in Hong Kong. Everybody in Hong Kong seems to have their own preference of Cha Siu, usually determined by how fatty or lean they like it. Though it appears simple, our version involves multiple steps and components to bring the whole dish together. There are three layers of marination, followed by a final glaze and “char.” The finishing touch is a spray of Hennessy cognac and served with the tart compressed green apple to take the edge off the rich meat.
Chef James Parry’s specialty dish: Iberico Cha Siu barbecued pork
Chef Danny Zhou
BACKGROUND Canton, China CUISINE Cantonese ROLE Wok chef, started working at Palette Tea House two days after arriving in the U.S. We are all very proud of how he has adjusted to the new environment, and immediately worked at a high standard. SPECIALITY Typhoon-style crab, a dish served in many Hong Kong Chinese restaurants and believed to have originated from the typhoon shelters. It is commonly prepared with crab, garlic, scallion, red chile and black beans. Our version adds a touch of kaffir lime leaves for fragrance and brightness. STYLE Making each dish with care and respect. Through extensive training and travel throughout different regions of China, Danny built his cooking technique using Cantonese cuisine as the foundation. He then evolved with different flavors and cooking styles from all other regions. This style of cooking is growing in China—a fusion of the different regional Chinese cuisines (there are eight main ones; Cantonese, Shanghainese and Sichuan are three of the more well-known ones). He believes each dish should have its story from its origin, culture and chef’s own input. Cooking is not just about the food, but also the attitude of the chef. Danny strives to improve as a chef every time he is in the kitchen.
Chef Danny Zhou’s specialty dish: Typhoon-style Crab
Chef Luis Tong
BACKGROUND Shanghai, China CUISINE Classically trained in French and Italian ROLE Sous chef. He is our savior in the kitchen, and works every station from pantry to wok. He was the chef owner of Pisces (now closed) for 12 years in the Sunset district, serving French-Asian cuisine. He never cooked in a Chinese restaurant until joining Palette Tea House, and now he is one of our top wok chefs in the kitchen—a skill that takes years to develop. SPECIALTY Black truffle oxtail soup dumpling (XLB): This rich and savory dumpling is a combination of French technique and Chinese tradition. Oxtail is braised in red wine and vegetables, and used as a filling in place of pork. The traditional pork broth is replaced by a rich veal stock combined with truffle. Then our dim sum masters wrap this incredible filling into delicate soup dumplings. STYLE Make every dish special; do not overlook any item in the kitchen. Every bite is our opportunity to impress our customers.
Chef Luis Tong’s dish: black truffle oxtail soup XLB
Chef Dennis Leung
BACKGROUND Born in Hong Kong, arrived in the U.S. in 1981 CUISINE Pastry ROLE General manager/pastry chef. Graduated from UC Berkeley in 1999, worked five years as an engineer, then went to culinary school in 2004 for its pastry program. I worked in the kitchen until joining Dragon Beaux as general manager in 2015. During the years working in the kitchen, I worked at Roy’s, Aqua (now Michael Mina), Rotunda, Bong Su (Vietnamese, now closed), St. Regis Hotel and DeLise Café (owner, now closed). SPECIALITY Bobamisu—it is a fun play on (and cross of) tiramisu and boba milk tea. It’s composed of black sugar, cooked boba pearls, milk tea mousse, rice cracker (in place of lady fingers) and salted mascarpone cheese cream. STYLE I created this dish as a fun, trendy, delicious dessert that doesn’t require extensive labor and technique (which is crucial in today’s labor market). I believe food doesn’t need to be complicated, and it’s best when it can remind people of their memories. I remember how amazed I was the first time I had tiramisu. The airy and creamy mousse, combined with the coffee, chocolate and rum—it was transcendent. Our version combines different textures: chewy boba, creamy mousse and crunchy rice cracker, while the salted mascarpone cheese foam, rich Hong Kong milk tea mousse and the black sugar replicate a good boba tea drink. I want to create memories for the customers who try this dessert.
Chef Dennis Leung’s specialty dessert: Bobamisu
Photography by: Albert Law