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Is the Future of Chinatown a Mega-Food Hall?

Ready or not, here comes China Live. 


Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about the Chinese-American city that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the April 2015 Chinese Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.   

Go big or go home,” says George Chen, neatly summing up China Live, the huge four-story Chinese marketplace, food court, restaurant, and event space that he’s planning to open later this year on Broadway, just a few blocks from the Empress of China building. The project, which was announced last February, will debut in stages: The first three floors are on track for a September launch, and the fourth-floor rooftop will open by the end of the year.

Although some have described the first floor’s marketplace and food court as a Chinese Eataly (after New York City’s giant Italian market hall), “it will be more experiential than that,” says Chen. “A lot of people are intimidated by Asian products, so our attempt is to really educate them and demystify Chinese cuisine.” To that end, there will be demonstration areas where staffers will explain how to use, say, the 30 to 40 peppercorn varieties that China Live will stock. “You will see stuff generally never seen in this country,” Chen promises. There will also be an open kitchen outfitted with stations for barbecue, vegetables, dumplings, noodles, pastry, and fresh seafood, along with a central bar area, a teahouse, and a coffee shop. When people ask him if China Live will focus on a specific region, Chen says, “No, it’s just going to do great Chinese food.” The second floor will house Eight Tables by George Chen, a restaurant with, yes, eight tables, plus a chef’s counter in the kitchen. There will be two eight-course prix fixe menus, one showcasing classic ingredients and the other more exotic. Chen has hired one chef from Taiwan and another from Shanghai, and he himself will be the full-time executive chef—so far, he’s planned more than 500 dishes. “Our attempt, to be blunt,” he says, “is to be one of the best Chinese restaurants in the world.”

The third floor will be a 6,000-square-foot event space with a banquet kitchen and room for 200 people. The complex will be crowned by a 3,000-square-foot rooftop. Chen is “tinkering” with the idea of making it into a club lounge reminiscent of the late and legendary Andy Wong’s Chinese Sky Room. “It would be late-night entertainment done right,” he says. “It’s not going to be raunchy.”


Originally published in the April issue of San Francisco

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