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Feb 17, 2009 01:06 PM

Slanted Door- Be forewarned

Slanted Door now charges an outrageous $35 corkage fee, and there is no warning in advance. Our waiter actually apologized for not warning us.
The food remains as wonderful as ever - don't miss the cellophane noodles with crab.

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  1. Hmmm ... if the corkage fee was not on the menu somewhere and the waiter said nothing, it seems they could have brought it down a little.

    Slanted Door
    Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

    1. I've always thought the food at Slanted Door's over-rated tho.

      26 Replies
      1. re: klyeoh

        I agree. Slanted Door is way over-rated and is really only popular with non-Asians. I would bet that most people who go to Slanted Door do not know you can get a much better banh mi for half the price, nor do they know that there are a number of pretty good and authentic Vietnamese places in the bay area like Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin or Bun Bo Hue An Nam in San Jose.

        1. re: hong_kong_foodie

          Can you name another authentic Vietnamese restaurant that has the same high qualit ingrediants that Slanted Door does? Yes, I can get a bahn mi at Saigon Sandwich, for example, but the meat however tasty is from a mystery source as are the veggies.

          It seems to me like comparing wat is served at a place like, say Asian Pearl, to the same items you can get at a take out dim sum or steam table restaurant.

          1. re: rworange

            First of all, just because they don't spell out exactly where they get the ingredients down to the name of the farm like they do at Slanted Door, doesn't mean that the ingredients are not of a high quality. Case in point is a place like Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin--just because they don't say everything in detail on their menu doesn't mean the chicken comes from a "mysterious source". Just ask them if you are curious.

            Second, paying for "high quality" ingredients makes sense to me when the marginal benefit is more or less in line with the marginal cost. If you are paying an arm and a leg for something that is just marginally better, then it's crazy and something most Asians would not do--which is again why Slanted Door caters to a non-Asian crowd because that's exactly what they do.

            1. re: hong_kong_foodie

              And third, paying that much money for bland and mediocre renditions of Vietnamese food is galling, no matter the food sourcing.

              Slanted Door is a very beautiful tourist trap.

              1. re: uptown jimmy

                That's an unnecessary overstatement. The food at SD is not bland nor mediocre. I vividly remember the presspot of blue bottle coffee I had for brunch there, and the special eggplant dish they whipped up for my fish-allergic friend.

              2. re: hong_kong_foodie

                Slanted Door doesn't pretend to be an 'authentic' Vietnamese restaurant. However, perhaps California cuisine is not to your taste. It certainly isn't dumbed down Viietnamese food but Californized Vietnamese. Then again there are a whole lot of people who don't appreciate Chez Panisse either because they don't get it ... simple top-quality ingrediants. I would highly doubt at the prices that the same farmers are supplying Turtle Tower.

                These arguments are almost identical to East Coast people who bemoan the fact that they can't get real pizza, bagels, etc. Location will put its stamp on dishes. That doesn't mean that California-style pizza isn't excellent and should be dismissed for that reason. Neither should Slanted Door which does an excellent job of its localized version.

                Moving up the food quality chain is more difficult than moving down. People rarely recognize it. However, after a while of eating the ... well ... cream of the crop in terms of produce and meat ... eating a lower grade of food is noticable.

                Also, why put down a restaurant that introduces non-Asians to a new cuisine? To tell you the truth, other than Saigon Sandwich, Slanted Door in the old location was my intro to Vietnamese cusines. It made it understandable and accessible. It made it comfortable for me to step into a 'authentic' Vietnamese restaurant and continue exploring. I find both the 'authentic' and places like Slanted Door or Vanessa's both delicous for what each is trying to accomplish.

                I guess I don't understand you reasoning. In your dim sum posts you bemoan the fact there is no contemporary versions of dim sum and the local scene is 20 years behind the times. Yet when a restaurant like Slanted Door updates and localizes the menu, you dismiss it because it isn't the same old thing. Double standard? Why? Can't restaurants in this country put a creative twist on traditional dishes?

                  1. re: rworange

                    Sure, The Slanted Door introduces non-Asians to a new cuisine, in a safe, politically correct environment (foodie-wise) surrounded by their peers. The problem is that most of them will never get beyond TSD to explore real Vietnamese food as eaten by real Vietnamese people, possibly because they aren't motivated to do so.

                    I never get tired of quoting Denver food writer Jason Sheehan on this subject. As he said about a lionized Asian eatery in Aspen, "Of course, if you're going to bastardize a cuisine, it's best to go someplace were no one knows the parents.."

                    1. re: Xiao Yang

                      Xiao, I think you're being too dogmatic. Slanted door was the first "Vietnamese" I ever ate, and it expanded my definitions of "restaurant" and "food." I grew up in the Napa Valley, certainly not a culinary backwater, but the only ethnic food that wasn't Mexican was Tang's restaurant in St. Helena, generic American-Chinese: snow peas, water chestnut, sweet and sour pork. Within a few years of eating at Slanted door, we were fiendishly zooming around Northern Thailand and Cambodia eating everything we could find.

                      Have I been back to slanted door since them? Not once. But it was a great place to start, and I have trouble developing any hard feelings toward it because it isn't authentic. It is what it is, and if people expect to find authentic ethnic food by reading the AAA magazine or San Francisco magazine, that's their own fault, not Slanted Door's.

                      Since we're all talking about Vietnamese food and authenticity now rather than the original subject of the thread, what are the favorites for authentic Vietnamese sit down food in San Francisco, aside from Turtle Tower? My last few visits to Yummy Yummy were awful, Bodega Bistro has been hit or miss, and rarely particularly inspired.

                      1. re: SteveG

                        I've had good meals at Pagolac, but nothing revelatory. I like the mom and pop feel, and it is a nice clean place. The menu is also not incredibly extensive. They do 7 ways beef. I have only had a portion of those, but I like the grilled beef meatballs.

                        People really like PPQ (Outer Sunset) and when I've been it was pretty good.

                        What was bad about Yummy Yummy so people can pay attention? I've only been there once, and it was fine if not special. We were only a small party and didn't order extensively.

                        655 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                        PPQ Vietnamese Cuisine
                        1816 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                        Yummy Yummy
                        1015 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

                        1. re: P. Punko

                          Yep, Pagolac does a decent 7 way beef, and even though I haven't been myself, I also have heard good things about PPQ in the Richmond. Regarding Yummy Yummy, I also enjoy their food but recognize that it's Vietnamese food made by Chinese primarily for the Chinese and so it's not as authentic. In fact, I would say this is true for most of the Vietnamese restaurants in SF - they are owned and operated by Chinese people who grew up in Vietnam, not by people who are ethnically Vietnamese. On the other hand, most of what you find in San Jose is food made by Vietnamese for the Vietnamese so oftentimes it's a lot more authentic.

                        2. re: SteveG

                          I haven't tried many of the TL spots, but have tried Pagolac for 7 courses, which was pretty good. I'm with you on Yummy Yummy ( I wouldn't say awful, though) and Bodega Bistro.

                          I like PPQ on Irving for mainly one thing: the five spice chicken in Pho or Bun.

                          I've had good dishes at Sunflower in the Mission, like the Banh Xeo and the sea bass.

                          My one visit to Dragonfly years ago was pretty memorable, we had some pretty tasty dishes including the catfish claypot and shaking beef.

                          San Jose on the other hand...

                          1. re: SteveG

                            Pagolac has good salads (the raw beef and the lotus root in particular) and claypots as well as 7 courses of beef. I like their cha gio because it has a lot of taro in it, although my parents say they are not as crisp as they should be. Their warm taro pudding is excellent. Their pho is not so good. Anh Hong has a good grill and banh hoi selection (meat with rice noodle cakes to be wrapped in rice paper). Bodega Bistro's beef jerky salad and their roast squab are what I remember. I think Yummy Yummy tries to make too many things. The banh cuon are decent, and although I often order it, the bun rieu isn't right. And avoid the bun bo hue at all costs.

                        3. re: rworange

                          I'm so happy to learn about authenticity and be educated about food by a lot of people on this board, but "authenticity" is a fleeting mistress, and it is unfortunate that many discussions are unable to use inclusive benchmarks of how food actually tastes, so we have discussions about Parisian Macarons as a point of comparison for SF ones, or Vancouver dim sum in relation to the Bay Area. I understand the excitement that comes with knowing the supposed archetype of any particular dish, but people forget that it is genetically impossible for all of us to be blessed with identical palates or certainly to have had identical opportunities to live and experience extreme quality food journeys. We're all on different journeys, and there is value with many different viewpoints. I understand why the Slanted Door would have value for many people.

                          I just got back from a trip to the heart of Texas, and my friend living there told me about the amazing meal she had at Slanted Door while attending a conference in SF. Maybe she would have loved a more authentic Vietnamese place even more, or maybe she would have been uncomfortable in sketchier Tenderloin surroundings, likely being frozen during dinner or possibly not enjoying the atmosphere as much, or not having as clean of a restaurant. Sometimes on Chowhound we treat every meal as either a success or a failure because they are zero-sum games- we get too attuned to the fact that meals can be wasted, or that we need optimize them against some benchmark many of us will never know (like having the Pad Kee Mao be "just like in Thailand").

                          I've never been to the Slanted Door because I already came to the Bay Area with a love of Vietnamese food, and I have lower price points that I need to meet, but I would take someone there in a heartbeat to introduce them to the cuisine in a wonderful atmosphere, or if they remembered a great meal there while enjoying San Francisco and the Ferry Building.

                          1. re: P. Punko

                            My San Franciscan colleague who introduced me to Slanted Door in the first place (he used to gush about it being "the best Vietnamese restaurant in the world") subsequently went to Saigon for a 3-week business assignment early last year. He love the food there so much (send me the photos from Square One restaurant below) that he still talks about the restaurants there like Nam Phan, Nam Kha, etc.

                          2. re: rworange

                            thank you for your post! i don't know why i consistently keep reading SD bashing here on chowhound.
                            i've always enjoyed my meal there, everytime i bring visitors, they've enjoyed meals there. yes, it's not authentic vietnamese food but it's still delicious.

                        4. re: rworange

                          I don't love Slanted Door, but I also don't think you can name a single Asian restaurant that has the same high quality ingredients as Slanted Door. There are probably a handful in the world. I love Asian food and holes in the wall as much as anybody, but all these restaurants are getting their food from the same dubious sources: farmed seafood pumped full of chemicals, cut rate meat, and unnaturally bug free vegetables. I know what they're putting in my food and I'm fine with it, and I don't have any illusions about it. Unfortunately, most Asian people don't put a premium on clean food as opposed to inexpensive. So kudos for Charles Phan for trying.

                          Plus, when I was in Saigon, I went to a couple of places crammed to the gills with nouveau riche Vietnamese where the food was pretty Slanted Door-esque , so it is not as if Slanted Door food is for white people only.

                          That being said, I think Slanted Door was better before it became an empire. When Phan first opened on Valencia, for example, his caramel sauce in his catfish claypot was a revelation. (And I ate that a LOT when I was growing up, because it is quintessentially poor people food.) Nowadays, it is just ok. In general, his fusiony dishes are decent and I really like the selection of vegetables. Where I think the restaurant trips up is the pho. It is quite simply bad. Just because you're a Vietnamese restaurant doesn't mean you have to serve pho.

                          BTW, Turtle Tower has free-range Empress (or yellow feathers) chicken. The breed accounts for the flavor, but free range doesn't mean organic or chemical free.

                          1. re: sfbing

                            Yeah, each move at Slanted Door took a little away. It was much better in the prior Embarcadero location. It took them quite a while to get into the groove with the larger Ferry Building space. The first year there was abysmal. Haven't had the pho since the previous location. I usually stick with what is not the regular menu items since I've tried all of those.

                            I know many hole in the wall Asian joints probably have tastier free-range chicken. It is just that overall the quality of ingrediants at SD is higher. And of course, that doesn't translate to taste. Sometimes it dumbs down flavor. It is my gripe with the upscale Mexican restaurants such as Dona Thomas and group. However, in those cases they are not passing themselves off as Cal-Mexican, but rather a different level of Mexican cooking which they just don't achieve.

                            Thinking about that corkage, Slanted Door makes a lot of effort to put togehter their wine list to match the food. I imagine the high fee is because almost all local restaurants allow you to bring a bottle and it would cause them more grief to not allow that option period. The high fee is a way of really discouraging that unless someone is hell bent on bringing their own wine. Still ... it should be clearly stated on the menu or wine list or the waiter should mention it up front.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Now that I think about it, is he actually cooking anymore? Because I have to admit, when he was cooking on Valencia, the dude had SKILLS.

                            2. re: sfbing

                              Designer label "natural" produce doesn't necessarily imply organic, either. Niman Ranch beef is not organic, nor is Meyer Ranch beef (which TSD uses for its "Shaking Beef").

                              1. re: sfbing

                                For SFBing, HKfoodie, maybe kyleoh or others who have eaten in Hong Kong and in HK cafes a lot.

                                Have any of you tried the Hong Kong style hot milk tea at Slanted Door or Out The Door? It is actually the absolute best tasting HK milk tea I've ever had in the San Francisco Bay Area, outperforming even the better hole in the wall dirty filthy HK style cafes in Chinatown. A friend says SD/OTD use a secret 7 leaf blend.

                                And are any of you familiar with or have tried the HK milk tea at the birthplace of Hong Kong milk tea, Lan Fong Yuen 蘭芳園 in Central Gage Street, where they use 5 tea leaf blends of Sri Lankan and other kinds (plus one or two others that I believe are young buds)? Unfortunately I never had the pleasure and didn't know about the place until after 2002 (more like 2 late). I'm really curious how this drink measures up.

                                The only thing about SD/OTD is that they do not serve a cold version of this drink. You have to let the tea first sit in the pot to brew, before you can drink it (even if to go from the counter). The fragrance, taste, and texture is smooth and amazing.

                                1. re: sfbing

                                  >>I also don't think you can name a single Asian restaurant that has the same high quality ingredients as Slanted Door. There are probably a handful in the world.

                                  It's a lot more than that. Have you traveled in Asia? Everywhere I've been the food is local and usually same-day fresh. In Vietnam, there isn't a concept of refrigerated fish, except maybe in Saigon. Your seafood comes out of the tank. In Hanoi, we ordered chicken and they took a chicken out in the courtyard and killed it. Fruit was so local that twenty miles away you won't find it. The food in Vietnam is infinitely fresher than the US. I would say the same for other places I visited in Asia, except that there is a fair amount of imported food in Japan. Even then, I had live sushi, fish taken out of the tank and fileted and cut alive and served still moving. I've never seen anything close here.

                                  My own take on the Slanted Door is that it's over-priced and not that exciting - I prefer Bodega Bistro, which is somewhat regionalized, but had excellent food when I last went. I haven't been in a while, but I would hope it's still the same, and it's a whole lot cheaper than Slanted Door. The ingredients may not be as good but the food is a lot more interesting.

                                  1. re: realspear

                                    It's true, in most Asian countries, the concept of using days-old refrigerated ingredients is still pretty much frowned upon. Daily marketing for the freshest meats/vegetables is still much preferred. Even in Japan, many chose to buy small quantities to cook just for that day.

                                    I guess Slanted Door "works" for San Francisco, but we should avoid elevating it to the level that says "don't think you can name a single Asian restaurant that has the same high quality ingredients as Slanted Door. There are probably a handful in the world.". Tokyo alone has 150,000 restaurants, and every Japanese chef prides him/herself with using the best, freshest ingredients for their dishes.

                                    1. re: klyeoh

                                      Sorry-I forgot about Japan. And when I said high-quality, I meant "safe" and "clean" as opposed to "fresh."

                                      See the following links:

                                    2. re: realspear

                                      Bodega Bistro is a great place with good food at great prices, but the food at Slanted Door is much better. You may not see the value, but if you think the food is better at BB than at SD, you must have been to some other Bodega Bistro and some other Slanted Door.

                                  2. re: rworange

                                    I think, ultimately, it comes down to the taste test. Slanted Door is not authentic Viet tho, rather - their cooking can be touted as Viet-inspired at best. Which is why, perhaps, folks like me who first walked into Slanted Door were pretty much disappointed. Of course, I did not expect Vietnamese food in SF to taste as good as those we'd get in Vietnam itself, but I'd expected Slanted Door's versions to be at least "tasty", e.g. like some great-tasting authentic fare I find from humble "real" Viet eateries like BC Deli, Oakland.

                                    I do go back to Slanted Door for dinner on business account (expensive, like I said) if I want to introduce something "exotic" to unadventurous eaters. Frequently, my guests who're non-Asians (especially those who'd never tasted real Vietnamese) will most likely & inadvertently like the place as it offered them a gentle introduction to this wonderful cuisine. But if my guests are Asians (HKers, S'poreans, etc), I make sure to forewarn them that the food is pseudo/Californicated Vietnamese, and they'd know what to expect - else I'd just bring them for some Chinese food at R&G Lounge or Great Eastern.

                              2. it's a short walk from out the door to the wine merchants in the ferry building. seems a little planning ahead of time could end in a desired result.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: steve h.

                                  The OP is complaining about the high cost of corkage. How is visiting FPWM going to result in an improvement on that?

                                  1. re: Paul H

                                    Because you could get takeout at Out the Door, and then wine from the wine merchants, without having to pay corkage.

                                    1. re: Paul H

                                      simple, get your food from slanted door and grab a bottle from the wine merchants. the selection is decent and probably mirrors the op's collection. eating/drinking at the bar at the merchants is a great way to kill a few hours. very liberal policy on food and wine there. give it a shot if you haven't been.

                                  2. Hmmm... almost makes you wanna take a bottle of 2 buck Chuck just to piss 'em off. $35.00 is just a tad steep for a place that serves over-priced food to begin with. Not a smart business idea in these turbulent times. Adam

                                    1. Or you could go next door to Taylor's Refresher where the corkage fee is one dollar! Adam