Chinatown’s iconic Empress of China closed its doors seven years ago, leaving a massive hole in Chinatown’s dining scene. Once the scene of large-scale banquets and celebrations in dining rooms looking over the bay, it will now serve as the home of Empress by Boon, a Cantonese restaurant helmed by Chef Ho Chee Boon, set to open June 18.
Formerly the international culinary director for the clubby, upscale Hakkasan chain (San Francisco’s downtown location closed a year ago this month), Boon hopes to bring back the elegance of the Empress in a more modern dining room, while honoring the legacy of the historic space.
The new Empress will open with a prix fixe menu before debuting an a la carte menu, creating Cantonese dishes with ingredients from the restaurant’s organic farm in Gilroy. Like Hakkasan, cocktails, wine, and tea will be a large component; Boon has brought in a team of hospitality pros, many of which came from Hakkasan, to lead those drink programs.
The restaurant is one of several higher-end restaurants to open in Chinatown in the past few years, including Mister Jiu’s and China Live, opening in the dusty spaces of shuttered banquet halls. That dwindling number of banquet halls has been cause for concern for many in the neighborhood, though as George Chen, chef-owner of China Live and Eight Tables noted last year, there just isn’t as much interest in massive banquets from younger generations of Chinese Americans.
Regardless, the opening of Empress by Boon, China Live, and others has largely spared the neighborhood from worse fates: After Empress of China closed in 2014, real estate developers, including the building’s current owner John Yee, posited plans to turn the top floor into tech offices, or even a hotel. The Empress has dodged the bullet of tech monotony at least, and as Yee told the Chron last year, there’s hope for new jobs and tourist dollars on the way.
Empress by Boon will open at 838 Grant Avenue on June 18, starting with dinner service Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The opening menu will be prix fixe only, but with more a la carte options to come.