Nestled inconspicuously in the heart of San Francisco’s bustling, vivacious Chinatown is a dazzling culinary and architectural marriage of traditional Asian influences with sleek, modern sensibilities. Unveiled during the summer of 2021, Empress by Boon is more than just a Cantonese restaurant: it is a spectacle for the senses.
An unassuming street-level entrance leads directly to an elevator, which will shoot you and your party up several floors to Empress. When the doors part, the first sight to take in is the tea lounge resting under a stunningly restored Chinese pergola (constructed without any nails, as is historically customary).
This lounge space flows into multiple formal dining areas, each of which affords restaurant-goers a flooring semi-panoramic view of Coit Tower and North Beach. These spaces deftly balance modernized, industrial urban design with regal East Asian adornments. The bar is a similarly impressive set-piece and, because of its central location in the restaurant, is a sort-of a fulcrum around which the rest of the interior organizes itself (and is a prime people-watching locale).
Once seated, either in a plushy booth gazing out over Telegraph Hill or in the mellow tea lounge, the experience really begins. Amidst these sumptuous environs will you consume an equally sumptuous variety of cocktails and dishes, all of which are painstakingly curated by Empress’s chef and owner Ho Chee Boon.
Boon is a juggernaut in the culinary world who - serving as the international executive chef - led the famed series of prestigious club-esque Asian restaurants Hakkasan to multiple Michelin stars at their New York and London locations. Sustainability is one of Boon’s chief priorities as a restauranteur, as is evident in Empress’s menu, which incorporates locally-sourced ingredients from the restaurant’s farm in Gilroy.
Empress’s menu is small but mighty, boasting a carefully selected array of easily shareable Cantonese dishes. The beef salad is one such ripe-to-share-plate, combining melt-in-your-mouth morsels of beef with mango tossed in a bright, tangy peanut and sesame dressing.
Any Empress visit overlooking the Iberico pork buns, though, would be incomplete. Served with shitake mushrooms, these pork buns are the ultimate upscale comfort food. Bite through the fluffy exterior into the tender, semi-sweet center and let your worries melt away.
While their thorough array of French and German wines impresses, Empress’s custom cocktail menu is robust and delicious enough to spend more than an evening acquainting oneself with. The Firefly is a sweet, citrusy delight, mixing vodka with sarsaparilla and yellow chartreuse; the result is a lip-smacking easy-to-drink treat.
One of the most visually appealing cocktails, aptly named Too Damn Gorgeous, combines vodka with dragon fruit, rose, and chrysanthemum. The resulting color is a beautiful fuchsia, and tastes as smooth as the Firefly. One of our favorites is a more spirit-forward concoction: the Rattler.
This Old Fashioned-adjacent libation marries a rugged ginger-infused bourbon with cinnamon and bitters, neither of which overpower the drink’s bourbon foundation.
Before making the descent down the elevator as the evening draws to a close, be sure to experiment with the delectable dessert offerings. If dinner left you stuffed, the Egg Tart is a light, easy-on-the-stomach dessert choice with a sunny rhubarb sorbet.
On the more decadent side is the Black Sesame Cremeux, a chocolate-lover’s dream.Vaguely donut-shaped, this mousse-esque dish is filled to the brim with delectable dark chocolate ganache (rejoice, those who reject milk chocolate) and embellished with honey ice cream.
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Empress is one of those places at which everyone feels like a V.I.P guest. The lux environs, warm staff, unforgettable dishes, sparkling cocktails, and breathtakingly scenic views all coalesce into an experience like little else. Though he’s very busy, keep an eye out for Chef Boon and give a shoutout if you spot him.