August 23, 2007

The Slanted Door [San Francisco]

After a dozen visits at all hours and with all walks of people, I can now vouch for the consistently impeccable food sent out by the Slanted Door's kitchen.

My standards for Vietnamese food are high--I grew up in the largest Vietnamese diaspora community in SoCal. Although the Slanted Door doesn't do justice to some of my Vietnamese street food favorites (mostly appetizers), it does amazing small plates and entrees. The dishes remainauthentic, highlighting the flavor profiles and textures common to the region, while ad-libbing elements that are complimentary, though not necessarily traditional, to Vietnamese cuisine.

It’s tempting to make a meal of the classics. The lamb is always interesting, the shaking beef, solid, the dungeness crab glass noodles, subtle and the claypot catfish, a no-brainer. No more.

We started with the only two appetizers I haven’t had: the Kabocha Squash Rice Cakes ($8.5) and the Alaskan Black Cod Rolls ($12). I’ve never met a starchy sweet squash I didn’t like, so the flavors were a no-brainer on that one. However, the cakes were on the oily side and even left a ring of grease glistening on my plate. The ingredients of the rolls were muddled and each bite had to be drowned in diluted fish sauce before any flavor could be detected. Such has been my experience with appetizers at the Slanted Door—they’re too timid for my seasoned palate.

First off, no one ever said that eating in a chic dining room with floor-to-ceiling views of the bay would be cheap. What is considered a small plate at the Slanted Door is often the size entrée portion anywhere else with the difference being that you order more plates than there are people to compensate for family-style sharing. On the upside, you get a reasonable amount of food for what you pay for. On the downside, you order more food than necessary and you don’t feel like you’re getting a deal at $30 for a tapas plate.

The Grilled Niman Ranch Rib Eye ($29.5) was a fan of eight succulent slices of brand-name beef plated with a tangle of mushrooms and onions. The flavor was reminiscent of the soy sauce-marinated steaks my parents grill, though the fatty rib eye absorbs the flavors much better than the lean cuts of steak we eat at home. The garlic-soy dipping sauce was a welcomed departure from the butters and creams often ladled on steaks, though it was completely on brand with the savories of Vietnamese cuisine. The Caramelized Prawns overflowed with fleshy shrimp and were distinct without being overpowering.

Over the last four years, I've found the service at the Slanted Door to be consistently brusque. Hipster waiters wearing all black are colder than ice, though always polite. There is an air of pretension even in the bathrooms, which are cleaned and presented after every use.

Most high-end Vietnamese restaurants sell tame versions of the traditionals at inflated prices--others plate ingredients and preparations that may be Pan-Asian, but certainly not Vietnamese. The Slanted Door manages to balance the inventiveness and integrity that it takes to bring a regional cuisine to the next level.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-8032

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