The An Family burst on to the American dining scene in 1975, when Helene An opened a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco’s western fringe with mother-in-law Diana. They built on the success of Thanh Long – their original restaurant – by opening branches of Crustacean in San Francisco and Beverly Hills. Now eldest daughter Elizabeth An has led the family to South Coast Plaza for their latest venture, a sleek Euro-Asian bistro that opens next to Bloomingdale’s on December 10, called AnQi.
If you’re wondering about the name AnQi, An is Elizabeth’s last name and “Qi” is her nickname, which loosely translates as “steam from cooking rice” in Chinese, “flavorful” in Thai and “hot and spicy” in Korean.
We were invited to AnQi to experience their friends & family preview. Every table’s prix fixe meal was comped by the restaurant as part of a three-day trial run to work out the kinks. AnQi acts as a noodle bar from 11 AM – 6 PM and switches to a more ambitious menu at night. We tasted the full effect.
Elizabeth An designed the Beverly Hills branch of Crustacean to look like her grandfather’s estate in Vietnam. At South Coast Plaza, the look is far less traditional, with a black and grey color palette, plenty of translucent screens, and a central seating area that converts to a runway for SCP fashion shows. Screens in the lounge open to entice passing Bloomingdale’s shoppers.
The sports bar features purple seats and wall-mounted vine-like coils. No matter the room, you’ll find plenty of floral accents.
The bar is on the way from the entrance to the dining room. Backlighting spotlights the bottles and bathes drinkers in a soft glow.
Hand Crafted Cocktails cost $11-14 and include options like the Lavender Mojito: Flor de Cana Rum with hand pressed blackberries, mint and lime, lavender soda water and essence, all garnished with a cut of sugar cane.
Helene An developed the menu in conjunction with an on-site chef (Daniel Barron) who has a penchant for experimentation. Small Plates include Steam Bao Bun with braised pork belly and scallions; Salt & Pepper Calamari with tomato ginger aioli; Roasted Poblano Caesar Salad; and Golden Plum Carpaccio.
There’s little overlap with Crustacean, but you will find a handful of Signature Items like the Pan Roasted Lobster & An’s Famous Garlic Noodles, with the meat from a claw and half of a tail. New Large Plates include Tempura & Shitake Wrapped Big Eye Tuna with avocado-scallion-shiso puree; Pan Roasted Rack of Lamb with roasted pineapple and red curry demi glace, served with dark rum, chile sweet potatoes and snow peas; and Brick Roasted Free Range Chicken Breast with King oyster mushroom and white truffle puree and haricot vert.
Hannah An – Elizabeth’s sister and one of the younger generation in charge of operations – sent out samples of several molecular small plates that will be available at the chef’s table, including a nest of salty, sour and crispy beets.
Each sphere of “miso soup” filled a spoon with tofu “caviar” and seaweed powder.
At AnQi, the An Family delivers traditional desserts like chocolate covered peanut butter parfait…
…and molecular desserts like this airy cheesecake with blueberries.
This isn’t the first AnQi. They’re opening a second branch in Palo Alto in 2010. In other An Family news, they plan to open the more casual Tiato Café at Santa Monica’s MTV building in December. Hannah An described “American classics with an Asian twist,” including Caesar salad, turkey meatloaf and dumplings. The café will be open for breakfast and lunch and is named for a leaf that Helene An uses in cooking that aids digestion. The healthy cafe will serve as an event space at nighttime.