Why: Nobody likes to say so, but a lot of San Francisco's Chinatown looks tired these days. And many of the area's best Chinese restaurants are scattered among the outer suburbs where so many affluent Chinese American families live. So it's a happy surprise to see China Live bring new energy and higher style to the neighborhood with a combination of design-intensive eating and shopping options. Its mission: "to demystify Chinese ingredients and recipes while educating guests on the rich history and influence."
What: China Live opened in March 2017, near the frontier between Chinatown and North Beach. The main downstairs space, the Market Restaurant and Bar, is full of long wood tables under a semi-raw concrete ceiling. Picture an Apple Store with steaming, edible merchandise, neighbored by open cooking areas, beckoning counters, a bar and adjacent retail rooms stocked with artisan teas, kitchen tools, condiments, shapely candles, jewelry and such. The restaurant's menu is mostly based on sharing small dishes, so you might wind up with a medley dinner of fire-roasted sweet white corn, Dungenes crab spring rolls and Sheng Jian Bao (SJB) pan-fried pork dumplings.
Near the entrance is the casual Oolong Cafe. Upstairs waits a more exclusive restaurant offering private, pricey dining in elegant rooms befitting a royal in hiding. It's called Eight Tables by George Chen (dinner only; tasting menu: $225). There are also a pair of bars upstairs, including the Gold Mountain Lounge and one called Cold Drinks -- one of those hip hideaways that seeks to be popular by maintaining quasi-secrecy.