Chinese New Year is really all about the food...and maybe the red envelopes.
If you've ever celebrated with a Chinese family, you know that merrymaking of any kind—be it a wedding, welcoming of a season, or start to a new year—revolves around eating copious amounts of food. It starts with the appearance of an assortment of sweet, pickled, and salted things in small lacquer dishes in homes. And then the serious gourmandizing begins—think shining banquets with soup, noodles, fish, and duck; multiple courses of decadent delights. Once you think you can't eat anymore, yet another round comes out, too delicious to turn down. (Now is not the time for impulse control).
And then comes times to make it rain. Hello, red envelopes—the crimson hue symbolizes luck with gilded messages welcoming the New Year. It's all calculated—the amount of money, whether it's an even or odd number, and determined by age or whether you're single or married. There are endless factors to consider. Even noodles have special meaning, bequeathing long life to those who slurp.
Come February 16th, between firecrackers and lion dances, you'll need to be ready for some serious feasting if you intend to celebrate the Year of the Dog. From authentic hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants to fancy coursed feasts, special cocktail menus to high tea, here are the tastiest places to ring in Chinese New Year. Note: Celebrations last two weeks, so pace yourself.
Sesame pancake with beef at House of Pancakes.(Courtesy of Anna Latino via SF Weekly)
From now through February 24th, the Union Square restaurant known for its modern take on Cantonese cuisine will offer a limited-edition signature menu created by chefs from around the globe. An array of dishes will take aim at bringing good luck and prosperity for the coming year: oysters for good fortune, fish for increased prosperity, and fai cai (fat choy) to grow wealth. Indulge in mouthwatering Szechuan oyster with lotus root and crispy rice in mantau; crispy Scallop in sweet plum sauce with mango in a golden cup; baked Chilean sea bass with kumquat glaze; and abalone fried rice in bean curd wrap with Chinese sausage, and shiitake mushroom. Wash it down with a Happy Daisy (Tanqueray No.10 gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon, spiced mandarin jam, egg white, and soda water); and finish with the golden fortune dessert (ginger caramel, roasted macadamia nuts, and lemongrass). There will even be lion dancers on February 16th at 7pm, and Hakkasan will have their annual wishing tree tradition where guests can write their wishes on red ribbons that will be hung around the restaurants. // $118 per person, 1 Kearny St. (Union Square), hakkasan.com.
House of Pancakes
A staple for divine Chinese eats in Parkside, this is a local eatery worthy of any occasion. With just a handful of tables, the restaurant is unassuming (honestly, you'd easily walk past without even thinking to look in) but be prepared for some serious flavor. Their scallion pancakes are perfectly crispy, the hand-pulled noodle soups are chewy and delicious, but it's the steaming meat rolls with egg that really stand out. A golden, flaky pastry is spun into a roll with an array of savory meat options and oyster sauce. Be sure to add an egg; you won't regret it. // Cash only, 937 Taraval St. (Parkside), 415-681-8388.
Enjoyed regularly, on both casual and formal occasions, tea is deeply embedded in Chinese culture and is used in traditional medicine as well as cuisine. St. Regis San Francisco captures this ceremony with a Year of the Dog edition of the Art of Tea, the afternoon tea tradition held in their lobby lounge. Spend a relaxing day sipping on festive teas like pu-erh and oolong, while noshing on dim sum and a selection of themed sweet treats. // February 1-28, 2pm to 4pm, reservations are available by calling 415.284.4188, stregissanfrancisco.com.
Legendary for their hand-pulled noodles and dumplings made on-site, Shandong not only has delicious eats in house, but also sends out their goodies to other local restaurants. Nestled in Oakland's Chinatown, it's a go-to for major celebrations or just a night of binging on comfort food. Get the spicy meat sauce noodles with minced pork, sesame paste noodles, and any of the dumplings (veggie options available). // shandongoakland.com
There no party without drinks. Located on the second floor of China Live, Cold Drinks—the luxe Scotch-centric bar founded by restaurateur George Chen—will be serving up a Lunar New Year menu with 12 cocktails inspired by Zodiac animals. From now until February 28th, sip on fun drinks like the Black Bull Scotch (dry curacao, Braulio, Barolo Chinato, hakai chiew, ginger and candy cap bitters); Sheep Dip (Barolo Chinato, lemon, Campari, blood orange and habanero bitters); and Compass Box Asyla (Mancino Chinato, Allspice Dram, topped with citrus foam). // chinalivesf.com