Crispy Imperial Rolls, Green Papaya Salad with Tofu, Rau Ram, and Roasted Peanuts, Bluenose Bass
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Slanted Door
Reviewed The Slanted Door: Friday February 22, 2008
Walking into the Slanted Door is like walking into a trendy hip restaurant in NYC with buzzing energy. Before I even get into the unique and delightful smells coming from the kitchen, my eyes are welcomed by the beautiful people of San Francisco sitting along the massively long bar. If that’s not enough, directly behind the bar are several community cocktail tables and couches where friends seem to be catching up over desert island sort of drinks. My wife and I choose to start with one of these mixology delights and aren't disappointed. Eric, a tall good looking guy with a shaved head works his magic and comes up with a drink they call “Ginger Limeade.” With Kaffir Lime Vodka, fresh ginger, and lime, this isn’t to be missed, especially if Eric is making it.
After being walked across the dining room, which is very “see and be seen,” we sit down at a beautiful table with comfortable chairs. The place is buzzing, as are the eclectic waitstaff whose attention throughout the evening was far from lacking. While the menu offers options for everyone, including vegetarians, it comes off very sophisticated and geared toward the changing of the season. We choose a staple, which we have every time we go: the green papaya salad. As usual, it doesn’t disappoint with its layered flavors of freshness. Then come the spring rolls, which we choose to wrap in a small piece of lettuce while pulling some pieces of mint and stuffing them inside. Before the first bite, I dip mine into some delicious peanut sauce while my wife requests their fish sauce, which also pairs perfectly.
Let me back up for a moment as I nearly forgot the wine! We choose a German Riesling with dinner, which pairs with the Slanted Doors cuisine much like a glove does to a hand. The sweet and sour and often slightly spicy foods scream out for bright acidic wines, and the Riesling delivers the goods. I should state that the wine list ROCKS and is geared towards food-friendly, low alcohol styled wines that pair wonderfully with the cuisine at the Slanted Door.
More food arrives, and we sink our appetites into a claypot of Vietnamese catfish. The flavors of the fish culminate in a perfect balance between sweet and spicy. The other dish is the Niman Ranch double cut pork chops with ginger soy shallot sauce. One bite leaves you craving for more, as the saltiness of the sauce works perfectly with the cooked-to-perfection chops. For a side, we choose some jasmine rice and Chue Farms baby bok choy. The bok choy was far from bland (as I often unfortunately make it), this one is brimming with flavors.
Overall the meal tasted healthy and didn’t leave me weighed down. The wine was light, but so complex and while I wouldn’t call the food light fare, I would call it clean and definitely delicious. To finish, we shared a Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée, which just about disappeared as quickly as it arrived. To pair, we each had tea. More specifically Art Tea from the list. Basically it is a jasmine infused green tea with lychee flower. It’s served in a tall clear glass and starts off much like something that resembled a walnut. With time the tea opens and forms a long flower from the bottom of the glass to the top. Not just aesthetically pretty, the nose and taste left me hypnotized and in a very happy state. I hope to go back next week!
Occupation: Marketing Director
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Cyrus
Reviewed The Slanted Door: Friday February 8, 2008
The Slanted Door is located in the Embarcadero’s Ferry Building. That said, parking isn’t plentiful. In fact, be prepared to pony up $10 and park in a nearby lot. That’s what my boyfriend and I did on a recent Friday evening.
The night we chose to visit the restaurant may have been unusually busy (though I’m guessing this is par for the course based on the lack of availability on OpenTable.com). Actually, “busy” is an understatement, it was PACKED. It looked like most of the people there at that hour had just finished their work day and poured in like the cool, tall drinks each held in their hand.
There was a queue just to get to the hostess and these people all had reservations! Luckily the line moved fairly quickly and we didn’t lose patience from the get-go. To be honest, we couldn’t get a reservation for that evening, so we showed up “reservation-less” and were accommodated despite the crowds. This was incredibly impressive to us.
We were seated at a table with views of the water, bridge, and ferry, and as the sun went down, we were in awe of just how beautiful the location is. The inside of The Slanted Door is spacious. Very high ceilings with unusual and contemporary lighting, floor to ceiling windows, and uncluttered walls. I only noticed one painting from where we were sitting and everything felt clean and well appointed. The tables were a combination of natural wood meets high design. Diners weren’t seated so closely that you could hear their every conversation and luckily the acoustics were amazing -- I’m guessing the architect planned it that way! I would have to guess that the place easily seats well over a hundred at any given time. That said, there seemed to be adequate waitstaff for that many diners.
Moving on to the topic of wait staff. Our food server, Satchi, a very animated, informative, and adorable young woman from Hawaii made our experience even better. From the moment she approached the table she was full of helpful suggestions. For example: she recommended the cocktail that we had several of, and it was the most delicious combination of gin and chartreuse with just a bit of lime. This special drink is known as The Last Word, and had we continued drinking them it might have very well lived up to its name! I will say that the first round of drinks took a bit longer to reach our table than we would have liked. We understood that the bar was jam packed, but we always say if you can get a drink in our hands when we walk in the door, everything else can slide a little!
We asked Satchi for some food recommendations, and she walked us through some of the more popular dishes and some of HER favorites. We ended up ordering nearly every suggestion she brought forth.
We started with six perfectly chilled fresh oysters: two Malpeque, two Beau Soleil, and two Hama Hama. Mmm…just thinking about them makes me want more. Then, we had a half order of the Japanese yellowtail (let me diverge for a moment and say that the restaurant is most accommodating by way of allowing diners to have half orders of items so as to try that much more!). The yellowtail was okay in my opinion, the texture was very nice, but there was a moment of fishiness when I first put it in my mouth, and so of all the things we ordered that evening, this is something I wouldn’t order again (and my boyfriend agreed!).
We followed that with half orders of the crispy vegetarian imperial roll and fresh spring rolls with shrimp, pork, mint, and peanut sauce. I personally would have probably just ordered the fresh roll, but Satchi recommended trying both and I’m glad she did! Despite the added calories, the fried roll was worth it. Not greasy or heavy, just a light bite of imperial delight.
Despite Satchi’s recommendation to order the pork belly (which sounded delish) my boyfriend has a soft spot for carpaccio so we ordered that. Thank goodness! I’m not sure how I lived before tasting this perfectly prepared raw beef with roasted peanuts, rauram sauce, and fresh lime juice. It was a symphony of flavors -- all complementing one another -- and it came with a sesame rice cracker/flat bread that was helpful in getting the beef on your fork or chopstick and tasted nice and light too!
By this time we had finished our Last Words and we moved on to a bottle of pinot noir. We were going to order a bottle of Carter, but Satchi recommended the Emeritus (same price but "more than just a mouthful of cherries"), so we did. She was right! It was delicious and worked well with the next course -- the Meyer Ranch Shaking Beef -- a delicate balance of garlic, watercress, and red onions. We ordered organic brown rice (instead of white), which was a lovely addition and more healthful considering all of our eating this evening. We also took the recommendation of our food server and placed an order for the cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. Oh my. That was something I could have placed three more orders of. It was delicious. Not too much sauce (in fact, I couldn’t even see a sauce), but the flavors were so balanced and robust. The chard we ordered as a side completed our trio of entrees perfectly. Prepared with caramelized shallots and garlic, these “veggies” were to die for.
Across the board, portion size was just right for sharing. The dishes weren’t so small that you felt saddened by the one bite you eked out of the dish, but not so large that you couldn’t have many, many more. Like the story of Goldilocks, it was “just right”!
Despite the fact that we were soooooooooo full we thought we might burst, we HAD to have dessert. There were many delicious-sounding things to choose from, and we almost went with the chocolate tart, but again Satchi saved the day by recommending the panna cotta instead. We couldn’t resist the pear crisp, and thank goodness we didn’t because it was heaven in a terrine. Mmmm mmm good. The panna cotta was rich and creamy with visible specks of fresh vanilla and fresh, bright grapefruit on the side. In contrast, the pear crisp was warmed, with a buttery, salty topping, and fresh ice cream. The pears tasted like they’d just been picked from the tree and were perfectly cooked (not mealy or squishy).
We went into The Slanted Door knowing its reputation and assuming we would pay more than we are accustomed to paying for Vietnamese fare. That said, at nearly $150/head it is spendy for this type of food, but, in our opinion, quite worth it.
Occupation: Health Care Consultant
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: The Yellow Submarine
Reviewed The Slanted Door: Tuesday February 19, 2008
Our party of five people arrived at Slanted Door on time for our 8pm reservation and waited approximately 5 minutes to be seated. We parked on the pier next to the Ferry Building complex. We had a lovely table that had a view of the Bay Bridge for some of the diners, while the others had views of the restaurant. The restaurant was packed. Our waitress was extremely attentive from start to finish. She has worked at Slanted Door for the past 3 years and was very knowledgeable about the cocktails, wine, food, and order that the food should appear at the table for maximum flavor effect. We started with several delicious cocktails and the imperial rolls. When they arrived at the table, unfortunately we did not get an explanation from the waiter that brought the appetizer regarding how we were to eat the rolls for maximum effect. The plate arrives with 6 rolls, several leaves of lettuce, fresh mint, and some rice noodles. Luckily, one of the members of our party was from Laos and Vietnam and could show us how to wrap the rolls in the lettuce, include some noodles, mint, and dip in the sauce. They were delicious, and our Laos/Vietnam guest was very impressed with the flavor. We also enjoyed the BBQ pork ribs as an appetizer; they were generous in size and tasted delicious. Lastly, we ordered the papaya salad, which is a classic for this type of cuisine. We all agreed that we have had better papaya salads in other Vietnamese restaurants.
For dinner, because we had a party of five, we ordered a variety of main course dishes. The waitress suggested a Gewurztraminer that another table had sent back that the restaurant was selling by the glass to avoid wasting it. The wine was a perfect paring for the flavors we experienced in our main course selections, and we were very impressed with our waitress' knowledge of the subtleties of the wine. The pours she gave were also generous, which was nice, especially since this was a wine that another table had technically "sent back." The first dishes to arrive at the table were the shaking beef and a plate of broccoli, both were flavorful and cooked very well. The beef was tender, the onions on the beef were delicious, and the broccoli was not over cooked. We also had jasmine rice and brown rice, both were cooked well. Next, the Bluenose bass arrived at the table. The skin was nice and crisp. However, while most of the meat of the fish was cooked nicely, there was a portion that one of our guests noted was a bit dry. The final main dish that we had was the claypot catfish. Hands down, this was the most delicious dish of the main courses that we ordered. The sauce was phenomenal and really complemented the taste and texture of the catfish. We asked our waitress if she had the food sent to the table in a particular order and she replied that she had sent them in this order to maximize the taste of each dish -- had the claypot catfish been served first, the sauce would have overwhelmed the tartness of the sauces for the beef and bass. While we could all understand why a lot of people recommend Slanted Door's claypot chicken, as the chicken is probably an excellent substrate for the fantastic sauce, our table universally advocate a little adventure for future guests to Slanted Door -- try the catfish claypot, you won't be disappointed!
We concluded our meal with three desserts. We had the bourbon chocolate torte, which was beautiful and very delicious. We had the pear crisp, which was nice. Lastly, we had the pot de crème, which was also nice. We enjoyed a coffee that was very flavorful, chrysanthemum tea, which smelled very nice, and a glass of dry Gewurztraminer that complemented the flavors in the desserts.
Our major complaint about Slanted Door was the unisex bathroom area. In the bathroom area there is a communal sink that is shaped like a long trough, then there are several private unisex toilets. While the effect is very cool and modern, the effect is less than desirable for a number of reasons. First, the women in our party universally agreed that they did not like the communal sink because they felt that they did not have privacy from the men in the area when they wanted to tend to their hair, apply lipstick, and otherwise primp in the mirror before returning to the table. In addition, I used one of the unisex toilets and apparently turned the lock the wrong way and almost had a male visitor during an inopportune moment. Lastly, all three women in our party were greeted by the seat being "up" in the bathroom stall, which is never very pleasant to manage when using a public toilet in a restaurant. The men in our group did not mind the unisex bathroom; however, they did not care for the trough sink. In fact, they said that it made them feel like they were at a State Fair and should be looking for the funnel cake and deep-fried Snickers bar vendors. Lastly, there was no bathroom attendant to ensure that the stalls were clean after use.
Overall experience: best waitress I have experienced in a long while, very knowledgeable, and customer service oriented. The food was great with the highlight being the claypot catfish and the excellent wine paring suggested by the waitress. The noise level in the restaurant was fairly loud. As a result, I would recommend this restaurant for group dinners, but not for dates or private business meetings where intimacy is desired. Bathrooms were a universal disappointment. We felt that the cost of the meal was appropriate for the service and food we received.