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A Gourmet Gamble

Carolyn Jung | November 17, 2017 | Story

The Province at the new Bay 101 Casino in San Jose is by far the most ambitious and challenging restaurant ever opened by the Chris Yeo Group. It isn’t just that it took years of negotiations and months of construction, plus the postponement twice of its opening date. It isn’t just that it required hiring about 150 employees, nearly double the staff at any of its four other restaurants. It isn’t just that this restaurant is responsible for providing all food and beverage in the casino. It’s also that it has to do so nearly round-the-clock, with this restaurant staying open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am until an onerous 3 am.

But Julian Yeo, vice president of the group his father started in 1987 with the opening of Straits in San Francisco, will be the first to acknowledge it’s all been worth it now that The Province opened its glitzy doors in October. It is part of the $100 million project that relocated the card room, owned by the Bumb family, from its original site across the Bayshore Freeway in North San Jose. Connected to Bay 101, but with its own front entrance, The Province is a glamorous 7,500-square-foot tour de force.

Conceived by Mister Important Design of Oakland, the restaurant features a mirrored ceiling, massive brass chandeliers, nine flat-screen TVs, and interior garage doors of red glass that can be rolled up or down to partition off two private dining rooms. A large rectangular bar of blue-jade tile is the centerpiece, with lighted suspended shelves of liquor anchored by pirate shiplike nautical ropes hung from the ceiling. Oakland artist Jet Martinez handpainted the floral motifs on the walls, giving Asian peonies a touch of Mexican folk art panache. “We wanted to make it feel like a one-of-a-kind restaurant,” Yeo says. “It’s like Las Vegas in San Jose.”

The developers actually took inspiration for the casino interior from sister restaurant Sino in San Jose’s Santana Row, Yeo says, fashioning a similar seductive old Shanghai verve heavy on warm, dark wood.

When it came time to create the menu for 180-seat The Province, Yeo went on a scouting mission to Vegas, where he found his muse in the modern small plates at David Chang’s Momofuku in The Cosmopolitan. “With Roots & Rye, we went a little out of the box,” Yeo says of the Santana Row spot that specializes in American classics and whiskey cocktails. “With The Province, we are going back to what we’ve always done—a mix of Asian influences that we know our customers like and which we are refining even more.” Head chef Shingo Katsura came over from Roots & Rye, where he was formerly chef de cuisine.

In spring, the restaurant group also hired a corporate executive chef to oversee all its restaurants: Howard Ko, whose impressive pedigree includes cooking at Michelin three-starred Napa Valley restaurants, The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood. Ko, whose aunt was a chef in Korea who battled on the original Iron Chef show (and lost), has wanted to be a chef since he was in the sixth grade. But after working in fine dining for many years, he tired of its fussiness. “Food can still be elegant, but more approachable without stuffiness,” he says.

The food at The Province has whimsy and style. There’s a dedicated raw bar with oysters, and a chic shrimp cocktail elevated with sauce fortified with Hennessy XO. Korea meets Canada in “poutine” made with bulgogi beef and tofu curds. Hawaii gets a nod with Spam musubi, only here the much-maligned mystery pork meat is made in-house. Italian goes Chinese with char siu porchetta served with butter beans. And steaks come with not a side of potatoes, but beef-fat fried rice instead. Much of the food is served on plateware handmade by San Francisco’s MMclay, the ceramicist of choice of San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions and The Progress, as well as Bird Dog in Palo Alto.

Card players in a hurry can opt for grab-and-go items like sub sandwiches, banh mi and vermicelli salads. Brunch will be added on weekends, served on the 50-seat patio complete with three fire pits, and games such as cornhole and giant Jenga. Eventually, a separate late-night menu will be offered in the dining room. All this from a kitchen that’s actually smaller than the one at Sino.

At times, it has felt like they’ve bet the farm on The Province. “It’s definitely a bit of a gamble, what with the effort it takes to open a restaurant these days,” says Yeo. “I guess I’ll find out after the first month if we’ve hit the jackpot.”

41788 N. First St., Ste. 10, San Jose, 408.796.1699,
Appetizers, $15; noodle dishes, $10-$13; entrees, $20-$30
Sun.-Tue., 10am-11pm; Wed.-Thu., 10am-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 10-3am

Originally published in the November/December issue of Silicon Valley

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