Melissa Chou, the star pastry chef formerly of Mister Jiu’s, has thrown back open a bakery window in Chinatown. Grand Opening first open as a monthly pop-up in 2019, when many black sesame cake and egg tart fans hoped it would become a permanent fixture. During the pandemic, the window went dark. But now, even though Chou no longer works for Mister Jiu’s, Grand Opening is popping back up at Mister Jiu’s every weekend, and Chou is handing gorgeous cakes, pies, and pastry boxes out onto the red lantern–strung alley.
Melissa Chou is an SF native who grew up in the Sunset and baked through Aziza and Mourad before joining as the opening pastry chef at Mister Jiu’s, conceiving and leading the dessert menu through four years and one Michelin star. Grand Opening is her first solo venture, and it was just firing up as lockdown descended: Chou says her last day at Mister Jiu’s was scheduled for March 20, 2020. She flew to New Zealand to visit family, intending to stay a summer, but instead extending for a long pandemic year.
But she’s back in the bay — with burnt honey pie. Chou says she gained a rich appreciation for Chinese-American bakeries while working in Chinatown, but Grand Opening is really a reflection of her personal taste and style. “I was ready to try my own thing… ” Chou says. After years of working in fine-dining restaurants, “As a pastry chef, I was always in conversation with the restaurant, the chef, the savory menu …. Grand Opening felt like my opportunity to make standalone items that I wanted to make.”
Grand Opening currently offers a short and sweet menu, with a few cakes, a few pies, and a pastry box. The burnt honey pie starts out like Americana classic buttermilk pie, but wild honey gives depth and dimension to the custard, with swishes of beeswax cream piped on top, and bee pollen sprinkled over. The Parisian egg tart is completely different from the jiggling little egg tarts of Chinatown; it’s thick and deep with rich custard, flecked with vanilla bean, and torched on top. The sponge cake is a nod to the Chinese bakery classic, with light and airy layers of blackberries, jasmine mousse, and ginger custard, which will swap out seasonally.
The pastry box is smaller than some — not a dozen items, but a mix of four different pastries: A bolo bao or pineapple bun, stuffed with a different custard or cream week to week, such as cherry and cream cheese or apricot and lemon verbena. A cocktail bun or chicken tail bun, flavored both with the traditional coconut and a twist of passionfruit. A wife cookie, which in this case folds black sesame frangipane and chewy mochi into a pastry crust that’s tender with lard. And a good and crunchy cookie, currently peanut and toffee.
Whole cakes, pies, and pastry boxes are available for preorders every Friday and Saturday from noon to 12 p.m. But if that sounds like too big of a commitment, you can walk up for slices on Sundays from 10 a.m. until sold out. Chou, however, refuses to size down for smaller versions, which many pastry chefs played around with during the pandemic, but can become laborious. Moreover, she maintains her creations will keep well for several days, and encourages you to buy a cake for the week. “Why wouldn’t you?” Chou says. “A lot of people buy cakes for special occasions and at the weekend. But I eat dessert every single night. So I don’t see why you would limit yourself, personally.”