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Mar 26, 2013 07:33 AM

Slanted Door & bad reviews on Yelp [San Francisco]

Looking at reviews, although TA reviewers love it, there are a lot of bad recent reviews on Yelp, eg only 5 pieces of beef as standard in Shaking Beef, bad service, food mediocre at best, etc. I've never been to San Francisco before and will probably never have a chance to go again, so I don't want to waste one of my few meals on something overpriced and mediocre (as some reviewers suggest). I see it's a James Beard finalist which is reassuring. I'm going primarily for the Shaking Beef but also because it's meant to be so good.
Other places I plan to go are Gary Danko, Wayfarerer Tavern and probably Straw (and, I confess, In-N-Out as I don't expect to get back to the west coast).

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  1. I am one of those who don't particularly care for Slanted Door. We San Franciscans are a picky lot and I think SD is really over-rated. For me, the food is too sweet, the restaurant is too crowded and loud, and the waiters are too full of themselves because they feel so lucky working there.

    Also, Gary Danko was "the" place to eat a decade ago but has not changed with the time and is quite staid. I haven't recommended it since the early 2000s...

    What are you looking for in your San Francisco dining experience? You will probably get better recommendations here because we can discuss your choices better than you can on Yelp.

    45 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      Thanks for the replies.

      Actually I like sweet (and my wife doesn't like hot food).
      As I said, it was the Shaking Beef that interested me and my wife isn't too keen on Asian food so that looked like something she would eat (although being pretty deaf, loud's bad). I would have gone to Ana Mandara for it's French Vietnamese food but it's closed.
      I'd heard comments like yours about Gary Danko and was going to give it a miss, but what I like is the wide menu and the opportunity to order a 3 to 5 course meal with more than one of each course, rather than only 1 from each. And it serves game birds and bison. I like game, are there any good game restaurants in San Francisco? Restaurants that serve Elk or venison? I'm not much on vegetables, cheese, etc so that cuts out a lot of the foodie places I've looked at.
      As for In-N-Out, if it isn't better than McDonald's maybe I'll give it a miss, but I want fast food on a Sunday night near Fisherman’s Wharf as we've got a Segway tour booked for 7pm (we've taken a Segway tour before and enjoyed it, and we've got another tour earlier that's a food tour so we won't want a big meal).
      Places with a wide range of good desserts and a wide menu well cooked?


      1. re: DougWeller

        In-N-Out is definitely better than McDonald's, but it's not as good as some of the fancier and more expensive burgers around town. But, given your Sunday night description in the Wharf, I think it's a good fit. Part of the popularity comes from the apparently minimalist menu, but more customizable secret menu. "Animal style" is very popular. Lots of tips at:

        Elk and venison aren't particularly popular in SF. Not sure I've seen them outside of menu specials. Do you like offal?

        1. re: hyperbowler

          Wild pigs show up on menus some times.

        2. re: DougWeller

          Doug, there *are* restaurants that serve game, but in the Fall when the meat is fresh and as specials only. If there are restaurants serving game, it would have been frozen from last season and probably not very desirable...

          There are a handful that have quail on the menu but I think you were looking for mammals versus birds...

          Also look at Incanto for interesting meats.

          1. re: CarrieWas218

            I hadn't thought of the season. We have fresh venison year around in the UK (and American and European buffalo are raised near where I live). And Denver has a restaurant that serves elk, etc year around but I didn't have time to visit when I was there. Wild pig/boar sounds good but we've got that in the UK also. The secret menu looks good - I actually do like diner style food when it's cooked well - and "road food".
            Mammals or birds (I had some delicious, amazingly tender goat recently, but I'm not looking for goat again!)
            Thanks again.

            1. re: DougWeller

              "like diner style food when it's cooked well"

              Diner food cooked well, Fremont Diner in Sonoma is tops. I'm not sure about SF. RickyBobby? Grubstake?

              The ingredients and cooking at In-N-Out are pretty much identical to those at my high school cafeteria. You could make an indistinguishable hamburger yourself with groceries purchased at any American supermarket.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                If there's somewhere fast that's better Sunday evening near Ferry Wharf I'd probably go for it.

                1. re: DougWeller

                  There's a recent Wharf thread, but no one identified any places for a quick meal. As most locals try to minimize their time there, identifying an alternative quick meal to In-N-Out would certainly be of interest ...

                  1. re: hyperbowler

                    I would've mentioned the Codmother as that's the only place at the wharf on my radar if not for the UK/fish exclusions.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Nice. Thanks for pointing out Tanguito. They're open till 7pm and are closed on Mondays.

                        1. re: hyperbowler

                          Tanguito is a good call but they do sometimes run out of empanadas. Maybe good to phone first?

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Tanguito is notoriously slow. Expect at least a 30 minute wait if anyone is ahead of you.

                  2. re: DougWeller

                    You haven't mentioned fish. The salmon season starts soon and is predicted by some to be quite good.

                    1. re: wally

                      Wife's not a fish person I'm afraid. Fish and chips, yes, ordinary fish, only reluctantly (I do cook it once a week at home because it's healthy).

                    2. re: DougWeller

                      You should have said up front that you were from the UK. That makes a difference. I'd say go to In N Out as a classic Americana experience.

                      It sounds like your wife is not very adventurous, which means it might be a good idea to play it safe with Slanted Door, but maybe for lunch, and off-peak (they don't close between lunch and dinner so a late lunch might help with the noise issue). I don't think you'll find it terribly expensive if you're used to UK prices.

                      Skip Danko, especially if you aren't interested in a cheese course, which is one of the few reasons to go. You can eat really well in San Francisco without going the five-course fine dining route.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        I have to agree. Coming from the UK, the In-n-Out may be a good fit and the Slated Door will be fine. As a regular visiter to Great Britain, I think any American hamburger will be an upgrade. When are you coming over?

                      2. re: DougWeller

                        Canteen might be worth a try. Incanto does interesting innards/meat options at times.

                    3. re: DougWeller

                      Robert had a better school cafeteria than I- mine did not resemble meat, and that taste still haunts me.

                      I find that the biggest InO supporters were weaned on the stuff as I was, while the naysayers are those who were not, left wondering about all the hype. While I fall into the former camp, I agree that McDonald’s and the like (or perhaps the new crop of Smashburgers/Five Guys/etc) are the proper point of comparison. On that basis, it’s unequivocally good.

                      In-n-Out fits your pre-tour agenda and is an iconic California experience (although SoCal rather than NorCal). Go and enjoy it. My most frequent order is a Double Double, buns extra toasted, add pickle. If you get fries, they'll most likely be limp if you don't specify extra-crispy.

                      1. re: Pius Avocado III

                        SF and LA are farther apart than NYC and Montreal and have about as much in common as food culture goes.

                        If you want fast food at the Wharf, go to a sidewalk crab stand, not a branch of a foreign chain.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          The OP's wife doesn't like seafood, and by that point, the crab would doubtfully be local

                      2. re: DougWeller

                        I disagree with everyone; if you've never had an In-N-Out burger in your life, go for it. Since I'm not originally from California, I had long been curious about In-N-Out, so I couldn't wait to try it when I first visited. It is many times better than any national burger chain (with the possible exception of Whataburger, which I've never had but a Texan acquaintance of mine claims is slightly superior.) It is certainly far superior to the Shake Shack, which I have had in the last few months.

                        And if you don't like it, hey, you only spent $10.

                        The only problem I have with In-N-Out is their French fries, which is actual potato that they slice up on the spot and throw into the fryer. This may make for a fresher experience, but it does make for a bland fry, if you're used to McDonald's fries with all their seasoning. Fries can also be ordered animal style, which helps a lot.

                        Definitely skip Danko. Personally I'm not particularly moved by Straw either, but I know people who like it a lot, so.

                        1. re: dunstable

                          Apologies - yes, I'm in the UK, but I'm from Miami. However, I miss American food although British food has improved immensely over the last ten years. I think we will keep an open mind until we get there and decide on the night between in-N-Out (buns extra toasted with pickle and mustard fried and a grilled onion slice sounds good to me) and Tanquito (and many thanks for suggesting that). In fact, if I have room I may try both!

                          Anyone have experience of Quickly? I like the HK equivalent of French toast, had that in Shanghai.

                          Thanks all, Doug

                          What does Bodega Bistro call their Shaking Beef, as I can't find that on their online menu.

                          And I'm still not clear why I should drop Gary Danko - he's got the awards, the reviews, and a menu that's maybe not that exciting but is broad - however, I'm going to wait until the winter menu is replaced to decide.

                          1. re: DougWeller

                            Gary Danko is bland food, to put it bluntly, albeit competent, well-executed bland food. There are many, many restaruants in San Francisco doing similar food at a much higher caliber. At this point, I might even go as far as calling Danko a tourist trap, because it seems that tourists are who sustain Danko's business -- and those accolades came a long time ago. If you were some random tourist from Podunk, then perhaps it would be a perfectly okay recommendation, but as you are already the sort of person who reads Chowhound and is from a major metro area, I don't think Danko is going to cut it for you, especially considering the cost -- you could eat two or three amazing meals for the cost of one at Gary Danko.

                            1. re: DougWeller

                              Bodega Bistro has "shaking beef" listed under its Vietnamese name: bo luc lac.

                              Drop Danko because it's generic and not representative of the current San Francisco food scene. Unless for some reason you feel you must have a formal five-course prix fixe dinner, look at some other options.

                              1. re: DougWeller

                                my opinion:

                                slanted door
                                gary danko

                                are all fine choices. while they certainly aren't the most interesting or best value, they all have good consistent predictable food in a convenient location, and have nice decor. they are also places where a lot of visitors go, which is useful from a frame of reference perspective when talking to other people who've been to sf.

                                i'm a local. i've been to almost all the other places mentioned on the boards. i still stop by all three at least once a year or so.

                                if you go to slanted door, i like the pork belly. they offer half orders of that. i've never thought the shaking beef was anything special. their crab noodles are decent too.

                                i also like the flexibility of gary danko's menu. i generally prefer a steakhouse to their meat selections -- but their meats certainly aren't bad. i've had good luck with their seafood dishes. i'd skip their cheese -- i'm sure you can get better in the uk.

                                anyway, if you move to san francisco, and eat at these places many times over many years, they probably won't be your favorites. but i think they are decent picks for a visitor who's never been to any of these. and definitely a better choice than traveling across town to a less nice niche venue to save 20% on the check for marginally better food.

                                1. re: DougWeller

                                  Whether you should go to Gary Danko really depends on what you are looking for. The restaurant caters to tourists looking to splurge on an upscale meal and the menu reflects that. It's safe, generic fine dining that has something for everyone, so if you are an unadventurous diner looking to have your fix of Russian caviar and Maine lobster while in San Francisco, this may be your place. (Although I wasn't impressed by their caviar service last time I had it.) But if you are looking for something that is either a little bit more "California" than Maine lobster or a more unique restaurant, there are much more interesting choices, although they usually don't have the deliberately broad, touristy appeal of GD.

                                  1. re: DougWeller

                                    Ok, I basically agree with everyone that Slanted Door is really not that special, swarmed with tourists, and just serves stuff you could get for 1/3 the price elsewhere.

                                    Let me try to explain why everyone here is pushing you away from Gary Danko as a tourist trap: it's fancy but the food is not memorable at all, much less worth the price. Danko's food may have been relatively good 20 years ago when rich folks wanted high-end french cuisine (nothing wrong with that—I liked LeDoyen and L'Ambroisie in Paris). Locals have moved on and there are much better options, both fancy french and other cuisines at all price points.

                                    For comparison: I lived in London for a couple of years and my favorite restaurant was The Ledbury, and they did great things with game. Gary Danko is like Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's (he just lost the contract with the hotel) or La Tour d'Argent in Paris—overpriced for the food and lost what accolades it once had.

                                    Furthermore, I know it's hard to tell as a tourist, but Gary Danko really doesn't get the best reviews. Danko hasn't been nominated for a Beard award in almost a dozen years and he hasn't won anything since 1995. The restaurant lost its only Michelin star for several years. Michael Bauer of the SF Chronicle, widely considered the most important reviewer in the area, rates the food and the overall restaurant at 3 and 1/2 stars out of 4 (and frankly I think his standards are too lax).

                                    If you want a "broad" menu that is similar and just as flexible in how much you order, try La Folie. The longtime chef Roland Passot and the chef-de-cuisine Michael Hung are often amenable to making changes or cooking something special if you ask (even if you bring it in). Or if you interested in an expensive experience that will be totally creative and unlike anything else—like say The Fat Duck though not as amazing—try Saison or Benu (if your wife doesn't like fish you might have to go with the Tues-Thurs only a la carte menu at Benu).

                                    Also, try In-N-Out if you never have. It's not the best burger, though it is better than any I had in the UK, and the hype mostly seems to stem from nostalgia. But a medium rare double double animal style with fries well still hits the spot.

                                    1. re: W42

                                      Thanks. I think La Folie certainly looks like a better bet - a menu I like with some interesting choices.
                                      I think we'll avoid Slanted Door also - given everything people here have said, and the noise factor sounds like a bad choice, especially since Bodega Bistro looks good. We may walk there from our hotel (Chancellor near Union Square). Any suggestions for dessert afterwards?

                                      1. re: DougWeller

                                        I love La Folie, but why would you go to San Francisco to have French food Provençal if it's a one and only trip in a long time?
                                        Benu, Coi, Crenn, and Saison all would make for far more unique experiences, although more controversial ones. For a distinctively "California" take, consider Manresa, which unfortunately is well over an hours drive south of SF.

                                        1. re: nocharge

                                          Simply that I like La Folie's menu and their food looks interesting, and none of the other menus attract me. Maybe I could get food like that in France, but I've no plans to go back to France, there are too many other places I haven't been.

                                          1. re: DougWeller

                                            La Folie is great, but I think that a fair amount of the discussion is whether it makes sense to go on a long trip to San Francisco only to have food that has very little to do with either San Francisco or California. My take is that you should go for whatever food you feel like having, whether it's Maine lobsters or a Big Mac as long as you realize that neither would be likely to be far superior to any Maine lobsters or Big Macs that could be had in other cities across the globe.

                                            1. re: nocharge

                                              Thanks. That's what I'm really looking for, food I'd like no matter where it might be better or the same.
                                              As for La Folie, I'm not convinced that Huckleberry Baked Alaska is French (or most of their other dishes - French influenced, yes, French, no).
                                              It's nice to have food that exemplifies local tastes, but to be honest, when I go to New Orleans at the end of the year, I'm going to be avoiding most of the really local stuff as it's not to my taste (ditto poutine in Seattle, no way will I eat fries with cheese and gravy). Interesting is good but not when it gets in the way of delicious. La Folie looks like it combines both for me.

                                              1. re: DougWeller

                                                Since you mentioned the Baked Alaska, I'll relate that the time I ordered it at La Folie, the ice cream inside was completely melted. Pretty big fail. Chef Passot came by our table to ask how things were. I told him the problem with the dessert. He just stared at me, didn't say a word and then turned away. I kinda expect more of a response when the tab is more than $200 per person.

                                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  "stared at me, didn't say a word and then turned away"
                                                  Unbelievable! I hope it's merely his Gallic temperament and he's going back to the kitchens to give a piece of his mind to the pastry chef, rather than any hurt pride on his part that you even *dared* suggest that there was anything less than perfect in your entire meal.

                                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                                    He had no trouble interacting and soaking up the praise that others in our party had for the savory courses.

                                                2. re: DougWeller

                                                  Exactly, if doing local stuff is not your priority, why do it? Go with whatever you are happy with. However, I think you are wrong about La Folie not being French. Any good chef does the best possible with local ingredients but that doesn't mean that Passot isn't more traditionally French than the likes of Crenn or Kinch. Anyway, I'm sure you'll be happy a La Folie if that's the kind of dining experience you are looking for.

                                                  1. re: nocharge

                                                    Good think I always microwave my ice cream! Anyway, French or not, or melted ice cream, still looks better than Gary Danko. I've booked and will look at the menus next month or early May and cancel one (I'd never be a no-show if I could possibly avoid it).

                                                  2. re: DougWeller

                                                    La Folie's chef is very, very French, but he's been cooking in SF for a long time and has incorporated many local influences in his original dishes.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      Excellent, the best of two worlds. Certainly not something I'd expect to find in the UK or France. Thanks for this.

                                                    2. re: DougWeller

                                                      Almost none of the food at La Folie is anything like what I get in France - although that may be a matter of my choices. My experience has been that Passot over the years has incorporated a LOT of local fresh cuisine and style - while also keeping some traditional dishes and as a dinner you can choose.

                                                      I must say I'm shocked at Melanie's experience. I've certainly had more pleasant experiences (but then again I haven't had a complaint), he surely should have replaced the dessert with a correct one!

                                                      Last time I was there I had two very creative dishes that incorporated many fresh (uncooked) fish and were like nothing I'd had anywhere else (and delicious) and I felt very reflective of SF.
                                                      Manresa my be more popular here, but it's not in the city, MUCH more expensive and I've had a lot more "misses" there than La Folie (just my humble experience).

                                                      1. re: estnet

                                                        La Folie remains my favorite high end restaurant in SF.

                                      2. re: DougWeller

                                        In-N-Out is not a gourmet burger place, but the quality of ingredients is much better than any national fast food chain (eg. no frozen meat). I would recommend you try it, if not just to be able to say you did. The fries on the other hand suck. Maybe you can skip the fries and get an empanada at Tanguito across the way - provided there is no line.

                                        1. re: Civil Bear

                                          That's my plan, grab a burger there and if we have time something at Tanguito - across the way you say?

                                          1. re: DougWeller

                                            In the end, we ate at:
                                            Out the Door at the Ferry building where I had a delicious Banh Mi.
                                            In-N-Out - decent, not special.
                                            Rome Artisan Burger - fantastic burger
                                            La Folie - which we really enjoyed, I even found tasty there food I'd never normally eat
                                            Front Porch
                                            Kate's Kitchen (for delicious pancakes)
                                            Luques Restaurant at the Chancellor - good sourdough pancakes
                                            Boudin - disappointing sourdough waffles (their sourdough bread was also disappointing, I'm used to a sourer taste, this was fairly bland).
                                            Depending on the context, I'd go back to any of them except Boudin.

                                    2. Pass on In-n-Out!!! It is just another McDonalds level chain. Slanted Door is a better than average tourist spot. For locals, it may seem passé, but anytime I take visitors, they are delighted. Plus the location at the food centric Ferry building will offer many other choices.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: budnball

                                        I'm often the first person to say not to waste an SF meal on that LA chain In-N-Out, but it's a step up from McDonald's. That's really its only claim to fame, the only reason some people are impressed by it is that they're comparing it to McD.

                                        1. re: budnball

                                          Agreed. I always recommend Slanted Door because the food is pretty good and and view is unbelievable and the location is fun.

                                        2. I've always eaten well at Slanted Door but it's expensive for the kind of casual place it is.

                                          You can get the shaking beef at the Out the Door spinoff on Bush. It's a bit cheaper, not touristy, and the food might be a bit better.


                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Thanks, that looks like a better idea.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              What's so casual about Slanted Door? Its decor, or service, or something else?

                                              1. re: vincentlo

                                                The fact that a large fraction of the patrons will likely be tourists not wearing a suit and a tie may contribute to a somewhat casual feel.

                                            2. Lunch at places you're not quite sure or sold on (like Slanted Door) is a good strategy. This makes it less of a risk or big deal if disappointed but you still get to try it.

                                              Also I would skip Gary Danko. Perfectly fine place but the tag in SF is you can get a very nice "continental" inspired meal like it in just about every/any decent large metro city.

                                              1. Slanted Door was vaguely revolutionary 15 years ago. A few moves later, there's a lot more upscale Vietnamese food available, and it's three times as expensive. TA is just catching up. (Gary Danko is also a place from the 90s.)

                                                If you really want to try Slanted Door, get a snack from Out the Door, as noted below. I'd stop at their takeout in the Ferry Building, open for lunch.

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: Windy

                                                  He wants shaken beef. Does that work as a takeout?

                                                  1. re: wally

                                                    No, Out the Door isn't the same menu, though they do have jicama grapefruit salad with candied walnuts. Shaken beef is 1/3 the price and delicious at Bodega Bistro.

                                                    The view from Slanted Door is not worth paying crazy prices for. You can enjoy it without eating there--walk out at night and look at the Bay Lights for free.

                                                    1. re: wally

                                                      I don't get all the hype about the shaking beef.
                                                      To me, the one thing I look forward to there (I usually go once with my parents each time they visit -- they love it) is the Daikon Rice Cake.

                                                      1. re: pauliface

                                                        The daikon cake at Out the Door on Bush was the highlight of my meal there a few weeks ago. Great crisp brown crust.

                                                        If I can track down the receipt I'll repost my report, it apparently got lost in a system upgrade or something.