In China, the most exclusive way to enjoy a meal isn’t at an upscale restaurant. Shifan tsui, which translates to “private chateau cuisine,” is the practice of inviting small groups of guests to enjoy elaborate meals prepared by personal chefs. This is the concept behind Eight Tables, the distinctive dining experience located—both literally and metaphorically—at the very top of China Live, the ambitious culinary and cultural destination by restaurant mogul George Chen. While anyone can wander into China Live, access to Eight Tables is spectacularly guarded. Guests are met at a metal gate on Vallejo Street then whisked away (occasionally by rickshaw) to a private elevator that opens to a room set with eight tables. Waiters wear three-piece Ralph Lauren suits and blue Hermes ties, and the procession of the meal’s 10 courses is only matched in pomp and circumstance by the mad-scientist cocktails from the bar. The gin-based Lily Pond features “forest water,” made by juicing sour grasses into cucumber water. It is served in a delicate white bowl with a single nasturtium floating on top. The tasting menu changes regularly, but such decadent ingredients as caviar, lobster, and foie gras are regular fixtures.

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