The dumpling station in the back of Market Restaurant. Photo courtesy of China Live.
George Chen—founder and executive chef of China Live—has been working on this project with his wife, Cindy Wong-Chen, for the past few years. Chen hired one of the top concept design firms, AvroKO (who did a stunning job with Single Thread in Healdsburg), to design the 30,000-square-foot space, which some are calling the Eataly of Chinese food. Other key figures on the team are Joey Altman, Director of Culinary Operations, and Quinn McKenna (Lark Creek Restaurant Group), Executive Director of Operations (I also spotted Jonnatan Leiva and pastry chef Luis Villavelazquez helping out).
Let’s take a look. Visitors will first walk in past a flower and plant stand, and then will note the Oolong Café, outfitted with blue and white tiles that reference 14th-century Chinese porcelain. Be sure to take a close look at the wall installation, you’ll see some Bay Area landmarks cleverly tucked in. At the counter, you can order artisanal teas sourced directly from farmers in Taiwan and China (like Dong Ding “Frozen Peak” High Mountain oolong tea), coffee, and grab-and-go Chinese bites, including pastries and jianbing crêpes. There are 25 seats in the café.
Bar Central. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Subway tile and a counter overlooking the kitchen. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The exterior of China Live Marketplace. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
One of the massive elm tables in Market Restaurant. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Oolong Café, with hand-painted tiles. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Retail Market. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The main event is Market Restaurant and Bar Central, with 120 seats, and it’s like the Chinese food court of your dreams, featuring eight stations: dumplings and dim sum, Chinese charcuterie and barbecue, cold salads and starters, noodles and rice bowls, fresh and live seafood, rice bowls, soups and tonics, wok stir-fry and grill, and desserts. You’ll have table service and order off a daily changing menu, which will feature seasonal products and dishes from many regions.
Some signature items include stone oven-roasted duck prepared Peking style with seasonal fruit glazes; sheng jian bao dumplings (SJB), which are juicy pan-fried pork dumplings; mapo tofu prepared tableside (meat or vegetarian); three-cup Taiwanese chicken with basil and seasonal citrus confit; chrysanthemum salad with star fruit vinegar (which you can pick up in the Retail Market, it has such an unusual and appealing flavor); and dan tat (Macanese egg custard tart) done crème brûlée style. Unfortunately I can’t share a menu at this time, but will go over it with you next week. (I’m also going in for dinner with a friend, so will be able to include more details.)
There are four exhibition kitchens with bar and counter seating, so you can watch the chefs in action. The dining room features chairs and huge communal/group tables handcrafted in China from reclaimed Northern Chinese elm, and it has a very clean look, with subway tiles alongside ones made with Shanghai clay. Of course, the kitchen is mega custom and top of the line. Be sure to peek at the stone oven they will be roasting Peking ducks in and the Wa Guan Tang ceramic cauldron for slow cooking.
Director of beverage Duggan McDonnell is crafting a unique program, from international wines and sherries that will pair with the many nuances of the food, to cocktails that will utilize Chinese ingredients—more on his list soon. There’s also a Malaysian-style cold-brew coffee and a custom Marin kombucha.
The Retail Market is full of cookware, cutlery, unique products for your pantry (including spices and condiments like vegetarian XO sauce), and top-of-the-line soy sauces, vinegars, teas, and more. There will also be fresh produce. Education will be a big part of the experience: there will be guides to help explain all the items in-depth, and screens will be streaming videos of Chinese cooking techniques.