It was years in the planning and the execution seemed to take even longer, but the long anticipated China Live marketplace has finally opened in San Francisco. From our initial, very limited experience, it appears to be on the road to meeting or exceeding expectations. And that is before we have had a chance to partake in the Main Event—Dinner at Eight Tables Restaurant which will be opening at a future date.
China Live is San Francisco’s Asian answer to Mario Battali’s incredibly successful Eataly, a combination Italian cooking supply and food store and venue for a range of Italian-themed restaurants and cafes. China Live applies a similar concept to Chinese and Taiwanese food.
The 30,000 sq. ft. emporium will ultimately consist of three floors. The Ground Floor, which is the only one currently open, is entered by a flower stand and leads to a:
- 25-seat tea, coffee and snack bar (Oolong Café) that serves farm-fresh and custom blended teas (some of which cost up to $1,000 per pound). Another bar specializes in soy sauces and spices;
- 120-seat full-service food court/restaurant (Market Restaurant and Bar Central) with eight stations, each focusing on a particular type of fresh and seasonal Chinese foo including dumplings, barbecue, salads, noodles and rice bowls, seafood, stir-fry, and dessert. Foods will often be changed on a daily basis;
- Bar Central cocktail bar that will serve meals and a range of beverages, including Chinese-inspired cocktails and Chinese ingredients;
- Retail Market, that occupies half the floor and displays more than 1,000 different items including a wide range of Chinese cookware, tableware, spices, sauces and much more—some of which is custom-designed and some never previously available in the U.S.;
- Multiple demonstration kitchens that will host cooking demonstrations, tastings and classes; and
- State-of-the-art industrial kitchen filed with custom cookware including a giant, specially-made ceramic slow-cook cauldron.
Décor is suitably Chinese and elegant consisting of blue and white tiles with classic Chinese and San Franciscan themes and images), hand-made Chinese-made, reclaimed wood tables, Chinese river rocks (used in the tea and soy sauce bars), cooper counters and custom-designed place settings and glassware.
Just as importantly, prices are much less than would normally be expected in such an expensively-designed venue. They are intended to be comparable to neighborhood (i.e., every-day Chinese) restaurants.
This, however, is just the start. The second and third floors are still to come. The second floor, in particular, will house China Live-founder and chef George Chen’s exclusive Eight Tables restaurant (which will offer an upscale, seasonal, eight-course Chinese tasting menu), a craft cocktail bar and a lounge. The third-floor will house multiple private event spaces and the roof will have a bar and an herb garden. Eight Tables is expected to open in May or June 2017 while the third floor and roof spaces are planned for later.
Since China Live opened the evening before we were set to leave the country for a 3 week trip, our initial exploration was limited. We explored the spaces, examined the menus and sampled a few dishes from Market Restaurant. Between the dishes we ordered, those that were offered by the restaurant and those we shared with our neighbor at the counter, we tried six different items. These included two types of dumplings (pork and soup), three wok-fried (crystal shrimp, chicken wings and grass-wrapped fried cod) and one dessert (soft-serve sesame ice cream). Preparations were interesting, especially the shitake mushrooms and lily bulbs (that tasted like gnocchi) with the shrimp and the shrimp paste crusted chicken wings. Our initial experience was mixed. We loved the design, the atmosphere and the service. Although we enjoyed all the dishes we tried, none stood out exceptional. All were good, but not extraordinary. And we would have liked a larger selection.
We shall return—both ourselves and with friends—and plan to sample many more of the restaurant’s wares on our return visits. And then there is Eight Tables …