Austin Walsh/Daily Journal
Clockwise from top: Lead chef Junsong Xue puts the finishing touches on a dish to be served at wonderful. The restaurant won the Bib Gourmand award from Michelin for consistently excellent and affordable meals. You You Xue, left, manages the Millbrae restaurant alongside his father.
For the second time in consecutive years, a Millbrae restaurant earned national recognition for offering superb and affordable meals.
Michelin again named wonderful, at 270 Broadway, a winner of the Bib Gourmand award, placing the Chinese eatery among elite company in the Bay Area culinary scene.
Specializing in cuisine inspired by the Hunan region, the restaurant founded only three years ago continues to establish a reputation on par with the high expectations set by its name.
You You Xue, restaurant manager, said the recognition has resulted in boatloads of attention, as it is becoming common for long lines full hungry patrons form outside waiting for one of the 50 tables.
“It feels great. It helps us legitimize what we are doing,” he said of winning the award for the second time. “It tells everyone we must be doing something right. We are the only restaurant in quite a large radius to win this award. No restaurant in Millbrae has ever received this.”
Michelin, the standard bearer in restaurant rating, honors restaurants offering two consistently excellent entrees and a glass of wine for $40 or less the Bib Gourmand award. Winners are not eligible to compete for a Michelin star.
Only three San Mateo County restaurants, including Vesta in Redwood City and La Costanera in Montara, are among the 75 recognized Tuesday, Oct. 18, for the award spanning the Peninsula, San Francisco as well as the North and East Bay.
Xue, 19, who runs the front of the restaurant while his father Junsong is the lead chef, said he believes wonderful has been able to expand the minds and palates of what most locals expect when eating Chinese food.
“Traditionally Chinese food comes with poor service, lots of ingredients that aren’t so fresh and flavors that are not so clear,” he said. “Our food is well defined. We are serving a very, very specific type of food from a very specific region in China. All our food is to order. Most of it is from woks. And you are not going to find our flavors at other restaurants.”
Hunan style cuisine is named after a region in Southeast China, and often features meat such as pork, lamb and beef along with spice drawn from chilies, said Xue.
At the restaurant, all vegetables are served fresh and much of the meat is prepared through an extensive process, said Xue.
As a testament to the lengths the restaurant is willing to go to hit its mark on flavor, above the tight and bustling kitchen hangs flanks of drying pork. The meat will often marinate for up to a week before being hung for another week in preparation for serving.
Junsong Xue has no classical training in the culinary arts, but opened the restaurant with his teen son after years of working at local cafes.
You You Xue said the opening the restaurant marked a leap of faith for the family which has ultimately paid great dividends.
“I think we have done a good job,” he said. “We are still making improvements and we are not getting complacent. Every single day we are treating it as if we didn’t get the award.”
Consistency is key to winning an award from Michelin, as judges anonymously patronize the restaurant repeatedly to ensure prices are kept low while quality and service do not slip.
The high standards make it difficult for restaurants to win in consecutive years, he said, making the repeat victory even more satisfying.
“I think we were quite surprised to stay on the list,” You You Xue said.
Furthering the accolades received, the Xue family is slated to be soon be recognized with an honor from the Millbrae City Council.
But with the acknowledgments comes great attention and expectations, he said, which can be a blessing as well as a curse.
“We have to turn customers away. People are begging to get in the door,” he said. “That’s great, but I hope we can continue seeing new customers.”
Beyond the acclaim for the restaurant, he said he hopes the awards will also bring more attention to other quality local eateries.
“I think this just represents an important contribution to the community,” he said.
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