January 23, 2022


Cooking is a hobby

a virtual reality private dining room

This week, Silicon Valley is getting an ambitious, opulent Chinese restaurant that wants to set the standard for modern Chinese food in the region.

iChina opens Aug. 20 at the Westfield Valley Fair mall, which straddles Santa Clara and San Jose. The 300-seat restaurant will serve contemporary interpretations of classic Chinese dishes, like broccoli beef made with kobe ribeye steak. Chef Eddie Lam, formerly of San Francisco’s Crystal Jade and San Jose’s Straits, says he is positioning iChina in the same category of Bay Area high-end Chinese restaurants like Empress by Boon and China Live in San Francisco.

Like those restaurants, it’s as much about impressing with the dining experience as the food. A luxurious two-story space, iChina comes with a flashy cocktail bar, virtual reality dining room with its own tasting menu and enormous, custom jade-colored lanterns hanging over marble tables.

Even the bathrooms at iChina, opening this week in Santa Clara, are opulent.

Courtesy Renee Cascia

iChina is the latest gem in Westfield’s dining crown, which has become more of a food than shopping destination in recent years. The new restaurant will join hot spots like Din Tai Fung, Shake Shack and Ramen Nagi, plus restaurants coming soon such as an outpost of Eataly, the famous Italian food hall, and Singapore’s Killiney Kopitiam.

Read on for three things to know about iChina before the restaurant opens this week.

The restaurant is spotlighting “New American Chinese” food.

To Lam, a new generation of chefs are creating “New American Chinese” food by incorporating fine-dining techniques into traditional flavors and dishes. At iChina, dong bo rou, a braised pork belly dish Lam grew up eating with his Chinese family in Oakland, comes with bok choy cooked in chicken stock and then compressed in a cryovac machine, similar to sous-vide cooking. High-end ingredients like foie gras, caviar and A5 wagyu show up throughout the menu, and the kitchen sources ingredients from within 100 miles of the restaurant as much as possible.

Burrata with aged black vinegar honey, Asian pear, honeycomb and candied walnut at iChina.

Burrata with aged black vinegar honey, Asian pear, honeycomb and candied walnut at iChina.

Provided by Westfield Valley Fair

iChina highlights dishes from throughout China rather than honing in on a single region.

The classic Cantonese char siu pork is served with apples roasted in Chinese five spice, an Asian take on the classic American pairing of pork chops and apples. This and other dishes, for Lam, are an expression of Asian-American identity.

“We respect our heritage and we know where we come from, but we also love being American,” Lam said of the iChina chefs. “It’s really blending those two culinary traits and the lifestyles of being a Chinese American.”

Lam hopes the menu will successfully bridge modernity and familiarity, so older Chinese immigrants like his parents will recognize flavors as much as younger generations will be drawn to the bells and whistles. iChina will serve dinner to start and open for lunch down the line, with more casual takeout bento boxes.

Expect visually arresting design and high-tech features.

iChina’s space, according to a media representative, is “meant to evoke the riches of the Song dynasty,” known for ushering in an artistic renewal in China. Here, that means not only over-the-top design elements like floor-to-ceiling jade glass and and gold accents, but also technology. Inspired by virtual reality dining experiences in Shanghai and Indonesia, the owners of iChina built a private dining room equipped with eight video projectors that transport diners to different scenes, like a Chinese lantern festival or bamboo forest with deers prancing across the walls, depending on what they’re eating. For the seafood course, for example, the walls will switch to an underwater view, with coi fish swimming across the sensor-enabled table. Another private dining room is equipped with a “smart” mirror that turns from opaque to clear with the touch of the button to let the diners see into the kitchen.

A private dining room at iChina offers an "immersive" dining experience aided by virtual reality.

A private dining room at iChina offers an “immersive” dining experience aided by virtual reality.

Courtesy Renee Cascia

In all four of iChina’s private rooms, diners will get 10-course tasting menus that start at $120 per person (excluding drinks), and groups must meet various food-and-drink minimums for these rooms. Booking the virtual reality room, which seats up to 12 people, starts at $4,500.

The overall restaurant design was inspired by a painting from the private collection of the Song dynasty’s eighth ruler , Emperor Huizong. The 39-foot original, “A Thousand Miles of Rivers and Mountains,” is rich with shades of green, blue and golden yellow.

“When you walk in you get hit with this, ‘Wow; this should be in Vegas,’” Lam said.

Check out the downstairs cocktail lounge, which has its own drinks and food menus.

Inside JiuBa, the downstairs cocktail bar at iChina in Santa Clara.

Inside JiuBa, the downstairs cocktail bar at iChina in Santa Clara.

Courtesy Renee Cascia

If the iChina dining room is booked, head to JiuBa, the first-floor cocktail bar that’s already open. The drinks also draw on Asian ingredients, like pandan-infused whiskey and Chinese baijiu, a liquor. JiuBa’s food menu is more casual but still elevated for a bar, with snacks like mala-spiced fingerling potatoes and scallion pancakes with black truffle mousse. Space-wise, there’s a taste of the upstairs opulence from the jade-glass bar, a reflective ceiling and a massive glass-encased wine cellar.

JiuBa is open 3-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

iChina. Indoor dining. 5-10 p.m. daily. 2855 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara. ichinarestaurant.com

Elena Kadvany is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ekadvany