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Mar 24, 2009 09:08 PM

Birthday lunch at Slanted Door [San Francisco]

My sister offered to take me to lunch for my birthday, and suggested since it was Tuesday we head down to the Ferry Building for the farmers' market and lunch at Slanted Door. I've actually never eaten there (despite working less than a 10-minute walk from the Ferry Building since before it was renovated) so I thought it would be fun.

It was a beautiful day and it's a lovely setting. I personally don't like the modern, industrial look, and I thought some of the elements crossed the line from looking plain to looking cheap. The tables are close together and as reported, the sound is at the "lean across the table to hear your dining companion" level (which is one of the reasons I've avoided it).

Looking at the menu and what was on the other tables, I can see that you could have very different experiences there depending on how you ordered. I saw some very bland, boring-looking Chinese-style dishes; we ordered a couple of their signature dishes, one classic Vietnamese dish and one fusion dish.

First up was the classic Vietnamese crepe. This was a winner. The crepe was the perfect texture and the ingredients in the filling -- especially the shrimp -- were very high quality. I would have liked more herbs than just mint, and my personal preference is for a bit of coconut milk in the crepe batter, but those are minor quibbles.

We ordered two salads: the famous grapefruit jicama and a five-spice duck confit with frisee. I had always envisioned the grapefruit jicama salad as being mostly grapefruit and jicama (like the classic orange-onion salad). Instead, it was a pile of finely julienned veggies, which included some jicama but seemed to be mostly red cabbage and carrot, with a few pink grapefruit segements. Despite the fact that it wasn't what I expected, it was a delicious balance of crunchy, cool, hot (bits of finely minced green chiles), citrusy, herbal, nutty, etc. The duck confit salad also had a great interplay of the rich duck and crisp frisee.

Finally, we had the signature caramelized catfish claypot. This was a surprising miss. Catfish that's properly prepared shouldn't be as muddy as this was, and I thought the sauce was bland -- with the exception of the whole habanero-type chile I mistakenly bit into. What the hell was it doing there?

I had a glass of riesling from my favorite region; my sister had the lichee-infused iced tea, which was excellent (and I don't usually like fruity tea). We skipped dessert in favor of Recchuiti chocolate down the hall.

All in all, it was pretty much what I expected: an enjoyable spot for a special occasion lunch with good but not great food in a upscale modern urban setting. And expensive. I peeked at the bill, and lunch with tax but before tip was almost $80 (although that included a $16 glass of wine -- hey, it *was* my birthday).

Slanted Door
Ferry Slip, San Francisco, CA 94111

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  1. Happy belated birthday. Do you ever eat at Out the Door?

    So ... better than Tu Lan?

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Well, different than Tu Lan, that's for sure. Funny when you think that probably the two most famous Vietnamese restaurants in SF are so different from each other in every possible way. Except, I think, that you can apparently get bland, gloppy stir fries at both of them (i.e. "crispy egg noodles with prawns, squid, scallops, carrots, broccoli, and shiitake mushrooms" at Slanted Door) . What's with that?

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        Possibly they put it on the menu for unadventurous diners who have been dragged there by friends or for a business lunch. The Slanted Door is a) near the financial district, b) in a tourist area, and c) trendy -- or was last time I looked, which I admit I don't do often. So there's a high likelihood that there will be some people eating there for reasons other than wanting to try something in any way challenging.

        Or possibly the stir fries aren't bland and gloppy, though I admit the description sounds suspicious....

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          It doesn't have to be gloppy. But I'll point out that Tu Lan and Slanted Door are both Chinese owned.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I looked it up on the menu because I saw it on a couple of tables and it looked bland and gloppy (that is, the sauce looked overly thickened).

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I once had the whole fish there and it was served with a gloppy clear sauce.

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              It seems like most Vietnamese restaurants are owned by Chinese, or ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. Is anyone aware of which ones aren't? Are there differences between Chinese-owned and Vietnamese-owned restaurants?

        2. "Catfish that's properly prepared shouldn't be as muddy as this was ..."

          That's about shopping, not cooking.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            It can be the source, but it's also about the way the fish is prepped to release the oils in the skin so that it doesn't taste muddy.

          2. Phan's grapefruit jicama salad recipe is the subject of Mark Bittman's blog post today...


            1. Update: the "habanero-type chile" was identified on another thread as a chile known as "Vietnamese tear-jerker" -- how apt!

              1. It's funny, we didn't actually talk about the catfish while we were eating, but you could tell pretty easily which were the favorite dishes by looking at what was left on the plates. We cleaned up the crepe and the confit, ate most of the salad, and kind of picked at the catfish. I hadn't eaten catfish in a while and was wondering whether I just don't like catfish, or whether there was something wrong with it. Ah, well.

                1 Reply
                1. re: jlafler

                  The muddy flavor of some catfish is caused by a compound called geosmin:

                  Unfortunately, it's impossible to tell before you cook and eat the fish whether it contains the compound.