What to Drink
How San Francisco Phenomenon Mister Jiu’s Pairs Wines With Its Michelin-Starred Menu
What to Drink

How San Francisco Phenomenon Mister Jiu’s Pairs Wines With Its Michelin-Starred Menu

“I think so much of Chinese food is put into a little box,” says Wine Director Adam Wren. Here's how he breaks out of it.
By Anna Captain
Photo courtesy of Mister Jiu's

November 14, 2023

Within a year of opening, Brandon Jew’s restaurant had a Michelin star to its name. Within two years, it was named to Bon Appetit’s ‘Best New Restaurants’ list. Today, seven years after its sensational start, Mister Jiu’s has become a fixture in the Bay Area (and national) dining scene thanks to its blend of tradition and innovation that’s emblematic of San Francisco’s cherished Chinatown.

The restaurant’s intelligent approach to Cantonese cooking with a Californian twist is headlined by its Peking Duck, a dish some regard as the best of its kind in the country.

In March 2023, Jew turned his restaurant’s focus toward a five-course tasting menu, which, as the chef told Eater, creates “a communal aspect to the meal,” that’s “important for Chinese food. There are so many things that must be large-format.”

In the middle of it all sits a brilliant wine program. 

Wine Director Adam Wren knows that pairing the domineering flavors of Chinese cuisine is a delicate act, and his wine choices keep a substantive tasting menu airy and alive with his light touch. “I think so much of Chinese food is put into a little box,” says Wren. “Just pair it with sweet stuff. I’ve noticed that there are two approaches to pairing: you can either work with the food or you can work against it head-on to draw out a different flavor. I find that with our food, so many of the ingredients are so powerful that it’s better to work with it.”

Dish: Monterey Bay Squid, Smashed Cucumber, Braised Peanuts

Wine: 2019 Dr. Lippold ‘Josephine’ Mosel, Germany

This is a halbtrocken [half-dry] Riesling. My brain went to a halbtrocken Riesling or something a little off-dry that has some nice minerality, but not that flinty minerality that’s typically seen in most Rieslings. This comes from Dr. Lippold, started by Enno Lippold in the Mosel Valley in Germany.

There’s a little bit of spice with the mouthwatering sauce at the bottom of the bowl for this dish. We wanted something to temper the spice, but really where the pairing shines is the delicate nature of the squid, the cucumbers and the basil. This was super fun to pair in terms of combating the spices, because you have this very cooling element and a little bit of spice to the dish.

Dish: Day Boat Scallop and Pork Belly Dumpling, Scallop XO

Wine: 2017 Domaine Huet Petillant Brut Vouvray, France

We ended up going with Domaine Huet Petillant. This is one of the coolest sparkling Chenin Blancs, period. They’ve owned the property since the twenties. They have three of the best parcelles. And I just think that Chenin Blanc with seafood is always a really fun pairing.

You have this umami bomb, which is a pancetta and dehydrated scallop XO sauce. That brings in more of that meatiness and that little bit of red fruit spice. We have pork belly and it’s not like a xiaolongbao where it’s super brothy, but it is very juicy. I wanted something that would play with the seafood a little bit more than the pork belly, but with enough richness to hold up to all of that good stuff.

We’re using the 2017 vintage, so it’s got a little creaminess and a little richness from the malolactic fermentation. This wine sees a little bit of oak, as well. It has the richness to hold up to that lovely dumpling all the while showcasing the salinity of the scallop in both the XO as well as the actual dumpling.

Dish: Ling Cod, Yellow Chives, Clam, Glass Noodles

Wine: 2021 Máximo Abete ‘La Roya’ Navarra, Spain

This dish has glass noodles and gypsy peppers that have been wok-tossed. There’s a clam gravy that has a little bit of Sungold tomato in there. But first and foremost, I was thinking about ginger and the ling cod. The ginger isn’t super pronounced. It’s more about the clam sauce that’s a big umami driver.

I’m really playing off of those gingery bits—it’s not that fresh ginger flavor, it’s more caramelized, more roasty.

To be completely honest, this Garnache Gris was a bit of a prayer. I  tried probably six wines that I thought were going to work. But every one of those wines overpowered the clam sauce. Then, three cases of this wine got delivered to the wrong place by a person I’d never met and a company I’d never worked with. And I was just like, “Hey, fuck it. This is here! Let’s try this.” And it worked remarkably well.

This Maximo Abete is a Grenache that comes from the Navarra region of Spain. Everything is farmed biodynamically and they manage to get a fair amount of texture out of this wine, which doesn’t overwhelm that clam sauce.

Dish: Strip Loin, Spinach, Seaweed, Smoked Oyster

Wine: 2021 Stirm Cabernet Pfeffer San Benito, California

So, this dish is not Chinese, period — it’s more like an homage to the history of Chinatown. There used to be a whole bunch of inexpensive steakhouses and prime rib spots all over San Francisco’s Chinatown as a way to draw people into the city for something other than just Chinese food. 

Obviously, it had to be red. People expect that there’s at least going to be one red. 

It’s a New York Strip. We’re sous viding it, and then we’re roasting it. It’s not super rich, it’s not super dense, it’s not super salty. It’s literally just the purest presentation of A New York strip. So on the surface, it’s super easy to pair with. Except for the smoked oyster and the oyster leaf, there’s a lot of salinity in this dish. 

So, I wanted a wine that was lean, like the steak, and not too high alcohol. Something that was somewhat coastal, that had a little salinity, but had some earthiness and spice — not peppery spice, but a little bit just to play with the cream spinach. 

That’s where the Cabernet Pfeffer came in. I wanted to represent something local. As with any Michelin-starred restaurant, you get a lot of visitors. People want to try California wine. This vintage in particular is a little bit lighter than more recent vintages, with little less fruit, which is great.

Dish: Melon, Coconut, Gooseberry, Walnut

Wine: NV La Caudrina Asti Spumante Piedmont, Italy

We wanted a dessert wine here. Sometimes we do a cider or cocktail, but with this one, I felt like it was so tropical and the melon and the coconut were so spot-on. So what would I want to drink with all these flavors? Moscato.

Typically, Moscato can be overly sweet and doesn’t have enough effervescence to match the sweetness. So, my head went to one of my favorite Moscatos, which is Spumante D’Asti from La Caudrina. I think the beauty of Spumante D’Asti (as opposed to Moscato D’Asti) is that you can get to a whopping 7% alcohol instead of the allowable 5.5%.

You get that little exchange —a little less sweetness, a little bit more effervescence, a little more lift out of the wine to cut through the sweetness of the ice cream. I like all the tropical notes of that wine — how they play out some of the tropical, coconutty, melony qualities of the dish. It draws out some of the coconut and the lemon verbena, which is really amazing.

Mister Jiu's