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Slanted Door report

pane Feb 20, 2007 10:07 AM

Overall:

+
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. d
    dunn.sanfrancisco RE: pane Feb 20, 2007 12:37 PM

    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: http://slanteddoor.com/index.html

    1 Reply
    1. re: dunn.sanfrancisco
      Robert Lauriston RE: dunn.sanfrancisco Feb 21, 2007 03:29 PM

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

    2. u
      uptown jimmy RE: pane Feb 20, 2007 04:38 PM

      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
        d
        dordogne RE: uptown jimmy Feb 21, 2007 08:49 AM

        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
          Robert Lauriston RE: uptown jimmy Feb 21, 2007 03:32 PM

          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
            n
            niki rothman RE: uptown jimmy Feb 21, 2007 05:30 PM

            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
              u
              uptown jimmy RE: niki rothman Feb 22, 2007 08:40 AM

              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
                rworange RE: uptown jimmy Feb 22, 2007 10:36 AM

                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.

                1. re: rworange
                  u
                  uptown jimmy RE: rworange Feb 22, 2007 11:11 AM

                  Good point.

          2. k
            katg RE: pane Feb 20, 2007 05:41 PM

            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
              singleguychef RE: katg Feb 21, 2007 08:58 AM

              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. j
              jimctgc RE: pane Feb 21, 2007 08:46 AM

              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. o
                OldTimer RE: pane Feb 21, 2007 10:00 AM

                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
                  pane RE: OldTimer Feb 21, 2007 10:08 AM

                  Check out Dragonfly in Inner Sunset.

                  1. re: pane
                    Ruth Lafler RE: pane Feb 21, 2007 09:48 PM

                    Or Bodega Bistro.

                  2. re: OldTimer
                    g
                    grubber4 RE: OldTimer Feb 21, 2007 01:04 PM

                    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
                      Robert Lauriston RE: grubber4 Feb 21, 2007 03:37 PM

                      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
                        o
                        OakTownHound RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 21, 2007 03:51 PM

                        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
                          DezzerSF RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 21, 2007 06:15 PM

                          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
                            Robert Lauriston RE: DezzerSF Feb 22, 2007 08:11 AM

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

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                              Ruth Lafler RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 22, 2007 06:27 PM

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

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                DezzerSF RE: Ruth Lafler Feb 22, 2007 08:44 PM

                                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.

                    2. d
                      Dog Lover RE: pane Feb 21, 2007 03:59 PM

                      Slanted Door is on the expensive side but with out of town guests, $100 for four (last Saturday) for good food and even better service and a million dollar view, it's worth it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Dog Lover
                        Robert Lauriston RE: Dog Lover Feb 21, 2007 04:46 PM

                        That's some pretty restrained ordering to get out of Slanted Door for $25 a head.

                        I'm not sure I've paid less than twice that at the Ferry Building location.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          JasmineG RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 21, 2007 09:28 PM

                          I've gotten out of Slanted Door for $20-25 a head at least six or seven times, and ordered a whole lot of food. All of these times were for lunch (though their prices aren't significantly different at lunch or dinner) and no one was drinking alcohol, which may have been the issue. But I've found Slanted Door to be a really good value, especially for a big group of people.

                      2. Gary Soup RE: pane Feb 21, 2007 05:26 PM

                        I'll hold off my usual TSD-bashing, but I am totally mystified when people talk about the "spectacular view" or the "million dollar view" at the place. (Well, maybe the latter was intended to be ironic.) I would suggest the view is better from (EEEeeeeeww) Pier 39, (EEEeeeeeww) Fisherman's Wharf restaurants North of Jefferson, (EEEeeeeeww), Julius's Castle, (EEEeeeeeww) The Cliff House, or (EEEeeeeeww), the Carnelian room. I guest the mystique of the Ferry Building just makes everything larger than life.

                        My candidate for best view in town? The SFAI Cafe.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Gary Soup
                          Robert Lauriston RE: Gary Soup Feb 21, 2007 05:29 PM

                          How's the food at the Art Institute cafe these days?

                          1. re: Gary Soup
                            rworange RE: Gary Soup Feb 21, 2007 06:33 PM

                            Julius Castle was sold maybe a year ago and as far as I know has not yet reopened.

                            Having eaten at a number of Fisherman's Wharf restaurants, Pier 39, and the Cliff House, not only is the view better in my opinion at Slanted Door, but the food and wine is much, much better and ironically less expensive than any of those other joints ... even Boudin Cafe which is the least expensive of the bunch ... and this even though I don't love the Slanted Door like I did in its old location. Hard to believe, but the fancy-shmancy restaurant in the Cliff House (Sutro) is even uglier and starker than the Slanted Door ... quite the accomplishment ... and the staff isn't as nice either.

                            I liked the daikon cakes alot, but it was the first time I ever had them.

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