Eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese. Phonetically, the number in Mandarin, “ba”, rhymes with “fa”, the word for fortune or wealth. George Chen creates a unique dining experience around this auspicious number at Eight Tables, celebrating the best of Chinese cuisine. The restaurant is also aptly named for the number of dining tables inhabiting intimate, yet comfortably spacious, nooks in the restaurant.
You may at first think you’ve lost your way walking through a wrought iron gate to a mysterious alley approaching 8 Kenneth Rexroth Place. But you are exactly where you should be. Continue forward and you will spot an entranceway guarded by two fu dragons with a singular elevator to their right transporting you up to the restrained old-world elegance of Eight Tables. Imagine you are attending a decadent banquet at George’s and his wife Cindy’s home, as this is exactly their intention. Treasured black and white portraits of Chen’s family decorate many a wall further adding a warm welcome into his dining den, along with the sound of jazz from a bygone era playing on a vintage turntable. And then there is the extravagant mobile barcart likened to the most extravagant version of a home bar.
The feast that awaits you is Chen’s homage to shi fan tsai, or private chateau cuisine, a dining style of the Qing dynasty that has been revived in recent years across China’s cosmopolitan cities. It is Chinese cuisine through and through with a modern whimsy, style, and boldness, not to be confused as fusion.
Chen’s vision challenges any preconceived notions you may have ever held around the proud, and complex cuisine of China. At Eight Tables, he flexes his culinary muscle, showcasing the best of seasonal Chinese ingredients and techniques in cookery. The exclusive restaurant is a force to be reckoned with, considering the pedigree of its staff that includes Chef de Cuisine Chi-Feng Robin Lin, a celebrated chef from Taiwan known for modern and Hakka-style cuisine, and Luis Villavelazquez previously of Absinthe conceiving elevated desserts. The front of the house is run by Andrew Fuentes, an alum of The Restaurant at Meadowood, Coi, and most recently Saison, along with mixologist Andrew Keels creating inventive cocktails, and Tony Kim from the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel directing the wine program.
The first course sets the stage with “9 flavors”, spotlighting Chinese cuisine’s nine essential flavors. The palette of flavors and textures represent the senses of taste – salt, sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, sharp, nutty, numbing, and smoky, awakening the palate to the next nine courses ahead that will incorporate each of these flavors more in depth. The taste of beef tendon with a garlic confit and mala sauce represents numbing heat, while a soy marinated clam with ginger and scallion evokes sharp flavor.
A visual showstopper second course, the Four Seasons Dumpling takes the classic dim sum dish of har gow (shrimp dumpling) to the next level, dotted with dollops of Russian golden osetra caviar, wild trout roe, Chinese Kaluga caviar, and finger lime “caviar”, (with variations depending on availability).
Other dishes that are sure to be on the greatest hits list include the nationally treasured braised and melt-like-butter Red ‘Dongpo’ Pork, and the Foie Gras Potsticker, enveloping a blend of rich foie gras with duck skin in a traditional dumpling skin pan fried into a beautiful crispy fan. Not only is each dish composed of a harmony of ingredients, textures, and flavors, but each also focuses on a technique, not limited to traditional Chinese barbecue (shao kao), steaming, frying, pan-frying or poaching.
The desserts, like other courses are balanced and never veer too sweet or too heavy. The Chrysanthemum Granita with yogurt and preserved plum and Chinese Sea Grass cake with passion fruit mousse are examples of savory playing with sweet for an interesting mix of flavors leaving you wanting more.
To pair with the vibrant and complex flavors of the menu, a 1,500 bottle wine list is on offer, some of which are from George’s personal collection. A grower producer champagne cart is also at your disposal, as well as cocktails from the bar not to be missed.
The menu at Eight Tables will continue to evolve and change with seasonal ingredients, but one thing that will be consistent is it will always be a special and intimate experience of Chinese food that will delight and surprise you.