After a decade of waiting, a dark Cow Hollow storefront has finally met its match.
Last week on Union Street, Blue Whale, a new Malaysian-Chinese restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon, opened in grand style.
Ho Chee Boon, the culinary artist behind Chinatown’s elegant Empress by Boon and the hit Cantonese fine-dining franchise Hakkasan, envisioned his new restaurant as a casual take on elevated East Asian eats. With a lush patio outside and a refined style inside, Blue Whale is part urban oasis, part Art Deco dining destination.
Though worlds away from Empress and its glamorous, early 20th century design, Blue Whale echoes the era with its geometrically patterned tiled floor, high-backed wooden booths, and sculptural lighting. In the adjacent bar-lounge, vintage vibes evoke spirit-soaked lunches circa 1952. The whole place, in fact, hidden behind sidewalk-fronting shops and down a dusky, low-lit passageway, feels like a members-only supper club from a bygone era.
Blue Whale's Malaysian rojak fruit salad with lightly spiced peanut dressing. (Courtesy of Blue Whale)
Blue Whale, however, has none of the exclusiveness of the restaurants it resembles. Its menu is an approachable reflection of Malaysian-born chef Boon’s heritage, his extensive travels, and his illustrious career. The result is a family-style assortment that combines contemporary flavors with traditional dishes like har gow, pork buns, and crispy duck. Behind the bar, pops of pandan powder, Sichuan peppercorns, and Chinese five spice engender crowd-pleasing cocktails with a bitter edge and a fruity finish.
For its first seasonal menu, Blue Whale leans comfortingly into fall with a fig and pear salad drizzled with sesame sauce, cured salmon with beets, and noodles studded with mushrooms. The crispy pumpkin puffs, perfect little gourds stuffed with a deliciously umami duck and pumpkin stew, should be crowned a universal autumn staple.
But even in fall, there is a place for the tropical fruits of Boon’s homeland. He incorporates tart, juicy mango and pineapple into several dishes including Malaysian rojak (a fruit salad with a lightly spiced peanut dressing), crispy wasabi prawns, and a delicate cake made with coconut mousse and passion fruit confit.
Inside, Blue Whale evokes the vintage vibe of a secretive supper club. (Caitlin Beyer)
Fish and seafood also take a star turn at Blue Whale. Plates are piled with California red snapper grilled Malaysian-style and halibut lacquered with a punchy glaze of sweet-and-salty honey and soya. Succulent lobster is baked with aromatic lemongrass milk and hot chiles; plump xiao long bao are filled with tender, decadent crab; chewy housemade noodles are tossed with seared scallops, shrimp, and slurpable sauce.
Specialty Chinese and Taiwanese teas are a soothing punctuation mark on the meal, alongside spots of sweetness like chocolate cremeux gateau and bread pudding with candied orange.
An exciting addition to Cow Hollow’s dinner scene, Blue Whale is more than just that. The new restaurant’s laidback cool and tasty food make it a great option for lunch, happy hour, dinner, and everything in between.
// Blue Whale is open 11:30am to 9pm Tuesday through Sunday; 2033 Union St. (Cow Hollow), instagram.com/bluewhalesf
Blue Whale's Andaman sour made with bourbon, Bitter Journey amaro, mango, and lemon (Caitlin Beyer)