Americans’ love affair with Asian food has a long history — trendy young diners started going to Chinese restaurants in the 1920s. Obviously, we’ve come a long way; I’d guess there’s probably a Thai restaurant or sushi place in your smart phone contacts. Or you might be a fan of Eddie Huang — the lawyer-and-comedian-turned-restaurateur-and-TV-personality — and his Fresh Off the Boat food culture segments and new Taiwanese cuisine at Baohaus in New York.
This year, many cool chefs (Danny Bowein, Daniel Boulud, Susur Lee, José Andrés) are collaborating on Luckyrice, a series of Asian culinary and cultural events across the country. All of the dining fun hits San Francisco in September. To taste the future of Asian cuisine around the Bay Area before then, try these five restaurants now:
It’s not pronounced my, it’s M.Y., as in the initials of Chinese chef Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook fame on PBS. He’s lived in the South Bay for years and has dreamed of opening a grand restaurant to introduce people to the real regional noodles and other cuisine. The exhibition kitchen shows fast-action cooking on super-charged woks and chefs throwing and pulling noodles. Taste the result in dishes like subtle and fresh crispy Hong Kong noodles with chicken and vegetables or the hand-pulled noodle soup with beef rib eye, bok choy and star anise. Elsewhere, the stunning restaurant in the Westfield Centre features a nearly one-ton monastery bell over the bar and collections of snuff bottles and cloisonné monks.
There was lots of buzz about this spot in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood long before it opened: Two of the partners are alums of Chez Panisse. They specialize in what they call artistic, organic and sustainable ramen. The noodles are delicious; order them in vegetable broth, a delicate seafood broth or a richer burnt-miso-and-pork variety. The small menu changes often, but popular choices include a smoked sardine salad, spicy fried rice with shrimp and pork, and a black sesame ice cream sandwich for dessert. The simple space evokes being in a small Japanese village, while the large open kitchen offers an entertaining view.
“Chic” and “sexy” are the words that come to mind at this new outpost of the international chain serving upscale Cantonese food. You’ll be greeted on the ground floor and then escorted into an elevator that takes you to the restaurant. Upstairs, blue neon twinkles in a moodily lit space with a large U-shaped bar, and dining areas separated by cutout walls. This is more of a see-and-be-seen spot, so order a cocktail like the Plum Sour with 12-year-old Yamazaki whiskey and mingle.
Chef Dennis Lee heads the kitchen at this farm-fresh New Korean restaurant that also offers a few Japanese dishes, like okonomiyaki, a savory pancake. In case you were wondering, Namu Gaji means “tree branch,” a reference to this being an offshoot from the former restaurant Namu. A sinuous black branch that’s suspended over the minimally decorated restaurant is a visual representation of the name. Mushroom dumplings and the Korean tacos from the happy hour menu are memorable, while the burger with pickled daikon, sundried-tomato aioli and kimchee relish borders on life changing.
Chef Tim Archuleta (formerly of Morimoto and Nobu) has been rocking the San Francisco sushi world for a few years now with his super-fresh and artfully carved nigiri and sashimi, thrilling omakase menus, as well dishes like albacore tuna tataki and sea bream with kabosu juice, shiso, green tea salt and yuzu kosho. Stop in to whet your appetite for the grand opening of the new Ichi later this year. It will take over a larger space at 3282 Mission St. that will offer a raw bar, a sushi bar, a full kitchen and cocktails.
Photos Courtesy of Hakkasan San Francisco