The restaurant, which has moved into a location built out for chef Jonathan Waxman’s short-lived Waxman’s, occupies 6,500 square feet of space, with 127 seats in the main dining room, 19 at the bar, 10 in a private dining room, and an additional 100 on the patio. In the scheme of the restaurants owned by Willy Ng, that’s a relatively modest number of seats — Koi Palace in Daly City seats up to 450 diners.
“If we didn’t have the support from the Koi Palace team, our menu would be half the size, or one third,” says general manager Dennis Leung. “There’s no way for a restaurant in SF to have the space and labor to do this.”
That extensive menu includes a wide variety of the dumplings for which the Ng family’s restaurants have become known, including the Instagram-famous sampler of xiao long bao (XLB) with colorful wrappers. In fact, the popularity of those dumplings was part of the inspiration for Palette, where presentation has taken on a new level of importance.
“At Dragon Beaux, lots of people already take pictures and Instagram and so on,” Leung told Eater. “So we decided we had to take advantage of that.”
The result is what Leung describes as a collaboration between the old school and new school. Ingredients like wagyu beef, Kurobuta pork, Iberico ham, lobster, and Dungeness crab (both crustaceans are visible live in tanks at the restaurant) are scattered throughout the menu, and many of the dishes are as focused on presentation as on taste.
“We want to break that stereotype that Chinese food is supposed to be cheap, and use cheap ingredients,” says Leung. “Why cant Chinese food be an upscale cuisine? For people to stop that perception we have to do that ourselves.”
Lobster ha gow, rice crepes with wagyu and black truffle, and fried soft shell “typhoon crab” are all updated dishes, whose plating has been carefully tweaked by chef Stephen Nguyen. In a very literal interpretation of the concept, dim sum plates are fashioned to resemble an artist’s palette, with indentions for each of the sauces that come to the table. (See the full menu below.) For now, dumplings are steamed to order, but in a few weeks dim sum carts will rumble through the dining room with towering orders of bao and XLB.
“It’s the idea that a lot of Chinese cuisine has great flavor and techniques but when it comes to presentation it can be sloppy. We’re thinking how we can change that image,” says Leung.
The space itself has gotten a makeover, shifting from the California chic of Waxman’s to a room filled with sleek lanterns overhead, tiled murals, and a private dining room lined with wines behind glass (those who dined at Waxman’s may recognize one holdover: the enormous slice of a redwood tree that still hangs on the wall). Sunny Tam of Studio O2 (Gram Cafe, Din Tai Fung) and designer Chris Ho of C&E Designs collaborated on the interior, which retained its exposed brick walls and other historic features.
Another holdover: The adjacent quick serve area that was briefly J. Bird (Waxman’s fried chicken takeout counter). Now it will serve boba tea, Chinese pastries and dim sum to-go; it will open in the next few months.
Meanwhile, the cocktail menu is from Carlos Yturria (The Treasury, Whitecap), while John Vuong (Ame, High Treason) has curated an extensive wine list. Cocktails include a rotating boozy slushie (an Yturria hallmark), and a series of borderline tropical cocktails, like the Eureka, made with bourbon, sherry, passion fruit, lemon, yogurt, and bitters.
Pastry chef Lyn Manangan worked with Leung (who got his start as a pastry chef at Roy’s) to create desserts like a chocolate mochi cake with salted pastry cream, raspberry lychee sorbet, and chocolate tempura.
The restaurant is now open at 900 N Point St. Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m.- 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.- 10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.