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Feb 20, 2007 10:07 AM

Slanted Door report


Service was excellent
Cocktails were delicious, particularly the ginger limeade
The view was spectacular
Prices were more reasonable than we expected

Food was OK to very good, but nothing was outstanding

The details:
We went to SD last night to celebrate a birthday. BART took far less time than we imagined, but although we were significantly early we were seated immediately. The server took our cocktail orders and allowed us time to peruse the menu at our leisure. She returned with the cocktails, at which time we placed our appetizer order, and then when she returned with the apps she took our entree order. For two people, we ordered:

-shrimp and jicama rolls
-daikon rice cakes
-cellophane noodles with fresh dungeness crab
-mesquite grilled ahi tuna with ginger-soy dipping sauce
-vanilla creme brulee
-one too many ginger limeades

Thai basil, roasted peanuts, and a peanut sauce were incorporated into the shrimp and jicama rolls. I very much enjoyed the roasted peanut flavor that permeated each bite as well as the subtly cool crunch of the jicama. This was the perfect appetizer to snack on while drinking cocktails and perusing the menu.

The daikon rice cakes were less appealing. These were cut into rectangles about twice the size of a deck of cards, fried, and then laid atop a soy/shallot/mushroom sauce. While we both enjoyed the crispness of the exterior pieces, the interior was less enchanting--the sauce had not soaked in and the texture was spongy. I think it would have been more enjoyable had there been more surface area to fry.

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed when my boyfriend wanted to order the cellophane noodles with crab. It seemed a bit bland to me, and my opinion didn't change when we were eating it. This dish contained a lot of noodles, a little crab, and quite a bit of oil. It may have been a nice side dish alongside a main with more robust flavor, but on its own it was underwhelming.

The ahi tuna was very good. It was cooked to my specifications and the serving size was perfect for one person--about 8 oz. The tuna was sushi-grade and so fresh and tasty that I only dipped a few pieces in the side sauce. Lightly dressed greens were included alongside the fish.

We shared the vanilla creme brulee, which was delightful. The crackly crust was still warm and the cool custard was rich, thick, and redolent of vanilla, with flecks of vanilla interspersed throughout.

Total bill, with a generous tip, was $113, which we thought was quite fair. As mentioned above, service was outstanding. Pacing was perfect, unlike our somewhat disasterous Valentine's dinner at Maverick. Our server moved with ninja-like swiftness and efficiency; she refolded my boyfriend's napkin when he had left the table; all I saw was a blur, then a perfecly folded napkin.

As far as the chow, there are other places with Vietnamese dishes I like as much or better (e.g., Bodega Bistro shaking beef), but not a restaurant with similar or better Vietnamese food in such a lovely location with top-notch service. In sum, we'll stick with our usual places with outstanding chow for everyday dining, but when the occasion calls for a special touch, I would certainly consider returning here.

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  1. Very good review. Well-worded and detailed. Thank you. I might add that the Slanted Door is under the direction of Executive Chef Charles Phan. The restaurant is located in the northeast corner of the restored Ferry Building across The Embarcadero from the foot of Market Street. The restaurant seats 150 people in the dining room and 20 at the bar. Additionally there is a 34-seat cocktail lounge facing the bar. Their web site is:

    1 Reply
    1. re: dunn.sanfrancisco

      And all of those seats are often full. If you want to eat there, get a reservation.

    2. If SD's food matched the awesome location, view, service, decor, and drinks, it would be the best restaurant in the world. Truly impressive atmosphere.

      But the food is not as good as I would like. Half a dozen hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese places serve better food in the Bay area alone. Of course, 95% of SD's customers wouldn't set foot in the those restaurants, much less the neighborhoods they reside in, so my point is moot.

      I think SD's genius is serving one of the world's great unknown cuisines to folks who don't know it in its pure form, in a setting that wows them. Problem is, the food is not awesome, and they serve it in 1/3-size portions at outrageous prices. I know, I know, the rent they pay is crazy, but still...

      6 Replies
      1. re: uptown jimmy

        I agree that there is better Vietnamese to be had in less stylish places at much lower prices. One of my favorites is Binh Minh Quan in Oakland. Which and where are your half dozen??

        1. re: uptown jimmy

          The food and wine list are the only things I like about the place. Service is nothing special. Decor and atmosphere are cold and sterile compared with the original Valencia St. location. At least they put rubber tips on the chairs so they're not screeching all the time.

          1. re: uptown jimmy

            Uptown Jimmy and dordogne: I'm with you. I want to know the best less expensive Viet gems. Please tell us your fave SF Viet restaurants (approximate cross streets very much appreciated), and if you've got the time, the things you think they cook the best.

            1. re: niki rothman

              I shame-facedly admit that I mentioned "half a dozen other places with better food" as a result of having read so many threads about Slanted Door where various Hounds mentioned various favorite Vietnamese restaurants. I trusted that they knew what they were talking about, as we seemed to agree that Slanted Door is, well, something of a sham, to be honest. A beautiful sham. They have taken a cuisine almost unknown to most Americans, a cuisine usually found in locations most Americans avoid, and they have dressed it up, cut the usual portions in half, tripled the price, and made out like bandits.

              I stand loyal to Tu-Lan, a place known to incite some degree of controversy around here. I love the place, and I love the fact that many folks would never go near it. It sort of has a built-in yuppie detterance factor. And the food is honest, real, classic Vietnamese fare without pretension and without all the window dressing. Not every dish is fabulous, but the Cha Gio Bun (rice noodles, chopped veggies, fried sausage rolls and a sweet/vinegar sauce) is absolutely one of the best things I've ever eaten. And the price is right.

              As for those who shun it because it's "dirty", I don't buy it. You're sitting in the kitchen, for goodness sakes, one where a great deal of frying goes on. There would be a lot of freaked-out people if every kitchen in San Fran was similarly exposed to public view. And compared to the same food in Vietnam, where much of the time the "restaurant" is a fly-encrusted stall on the side of a dusty road, well, Tu Lan looks just fine to me. I wish I could eat there several times a week, but the commute from GA would be a little tricky just for lunch...

              1. re: uptown jimmy

                You know, I stepped into Tu Lan a few weeks ago for the first time and with all the horror stories, I was surprised that it was a decent-looking restaurant. Didn't have cash so had to pass on eating there.

                In Slanted Door's defense, it painlessly introduces people to a cuisine they might never try otherwise. Yes it upscales and santizes it, but it makes it accessible ... and maybe from there people might take a chance on other Vietnamese places.

                At least that was my experience. Slanted Door turned me on to Vietnamese food. When I lived near them in the previous location, I ate every item on the menu. It gave me confidence to try other Vietnames restaurants.

          2. i'm surprised you didn't like the daikon rice cakes - they are still my favorite thing on the menu there.
            other than that, i agree i'd go to other vietnamese places and save slanted door for special occasions.

            1 Reply
            1. re: katg

              I wish they didn't serve their daikon rice cakes sitting in sauce. The sauce should be set aside as a dipping sauce. As a side note, the daikon rice cakes is not an authentic Vietnamese dish. I read that Charles Pham said he based it on what he ate at a dim sum restaurant but made his more vegetarian.

            2. Exactly! I just had lunch at SD on Monday and was considering posting my review. However, your review, and the comments after, sum it up perfectly. It is a great setting with excellent service. As for the food, while I enjoyed everything, I kept thinking about the various hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese places I have enjoyed. I will note, however, that the quality of many of the ingredients - the shrimp in particular - is better at SD.

              1. I don't get into the city to eat much anymore, but it seems to me that the time is ripe for an upscale Vietnamese restaurant where you don't have to take out a mortgage to eat there.

                9 Replies
                1. re: OldTimer

                  Check out Dragonfly in Inner Sunset.

                  1. re: OldTimer

                    I just don't get this attitude which is very prevalent here when talking about Vietnamese food. Many posters claim that they want upscale Vietnamese food, but want to pay the price of food from Larkin St's Vietnamese restaurant row. The fact that a restauant offers great views, good service, higher quality ingredients, top notch wine lists etc comes at a cost. I get my fill of Larkin St. restaurants weekly, but don't bat an eye when I eat at the Bong Su, Slanted Door and Le Colonial's of the world. Those upscale restaurants are offering me more variety, more amenities etc and so I rightfully expect to have to pay more. And, for my money they indeed quite frequently offer better food.

                    1. re: grubber4

                      I find Bodega Bistro's food comparable to Slanted Door's, a notch down on some dishes, a bit better on others. The wine list's not as exciting but there are some good bottles. Usually when I go there's a big party or two of serious Vietnamese foodies eating elaborate multicourse dinners and discussing wine pairings with the chef.

                      Last time I was in a nicely dressed couple were holding fabric samples up, looked like they were getting ready to redecorate.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I hope they don't get rid of the purple!

                        In my relatively limited experience, if you order right, Bodega Bistro makes some of the best food for the least money in town.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Which bottles do you recommend? Last time I was there, I remember trying 3 different whites and all were not very good..

                          1. re: DezzerSF

                            I can't remember. French whites. There's definitely room for improvement.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Last time I was there we had an Alsatian Gewurztraminer, I believe.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                How was it? I think we tried the Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and 1 other but we didn't like any of them. The Sauvignon Blanc was the best of the 3.