The Slanted Door evolved over the years and has now taken its ultimate form.
The Slanted Door is now in its third incarnation, as the centerpiece of the redeveloped Ferry Building. Charles Phan emigrated with his family from Vietnam in the mid-70’s. He later attended architecture school at Cal and worked in sales before launching his Vietnamese concept in the then-dicey Mission District in 1995. I was lucky enough to eat at the original location, and at the second version near Pac Bell Park (now AT&T Park). While the setting has changed, and Phan isn’t in the kitchen as often, the quality of Vietnamese cooking is nearly unrivaled in the U.S.
The Slanted Door’s modern space is kept simple so it doesn’t clash with stunning San Francisco Bay views. Especially on a day like this. FYI: That’s the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island in the background.
The bar is the most nattily adorned section of the restaurant, with a stacked sea glass-like back wall. Considering how long the waits are without reservations, the bar sees a lot of action, even at lunch.
Charles Phan’s much imitated cuisine includes a signature salad incorporating grapefruit sections, jicama, cabbage, carrot, and candied pecans. It’s a perfect summer salad.
Chef Phan includes a textbook example of a Vietnamese classic: cha gio. These fried imperial rolls are luscious, filled with shrimp, pork, and glass noodles. The traditional method of eating these rolls is to wrap them in a lettuce leaf with fresh mint, rice vermicelli, and a little crushed peanut, then to dip the entire thing in fish sauce. These were among the best imperial rolls I’ve eaten, including in Vietnam.
Eggplant strips could have been more tender, but the flavor was good due to the inclusion of green onions and coconut milk.
Another Slanted Door mainstay: chicken claypot with caramel sauce, chilies and fresh ginger. These slightly sweet, somewhat spicy chunks of yardbird were tender and tasty, and that sauce stood out when spooned over steamed broken rice.
I was skeptical of the rice-noodle stir-fry since it included hated bean sprouts. Amazingly, the silky noodles were terrific, featuring beyond-fresh shiitake mushrooms and green beans, plus scrambled egg and crusty white meat chicken nuggets.
In a balanced meal, it’s nice to have a winning seafood dish. Ours took the form of oven roasted Alaskan halibut with spicy gingered fish sauce. The fish was moist and flaky, and the sauce an excellent flavor jolt.
Shaking beef is The Slanted Door’s most famous dish, and it’s certainly excellent. It’s also a standard Vietnamese dish known as Bo Luc Lac, which of course nobody knew about before The Slanted Door popularized it. It helps The Slanted Door that they get much higher quality filet mignon than most Vietnamese restaurants. Paired with a terrific salt and pepper lime sauce, sweet red onions, and scallions, I can forgive the hidden unoriginality.
Executive pastry chef Mutsumi Takehara glammed up a Thai dessert classic: mango with sticky rice. Some touches worked, like mango chunks marinated with basil, the inclusion of black and white sticky rice, and a pastry shell. What was up with the white tree ear mushrooms?
Since we were so charming (Why else?), our waiter treated us to a brownie topped with a scoop of malted vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. The plate features decorative (and delicious) squiggles of Vietnamese coffee Anglaise and caramel sauce. plus a powdered sugar shake. This wasn’t exactly Vietnamese, but was a very good dessert.
Drip coffee from Blue Bottle produces exemplary Vietnamese coffee, or in this case, iced coffee. At the bottom of the glass is a layer of condensed milk that gets stirred to sweeten the drink. On an unusually hot day, like the one we experienced, ice was very necessary.