Monday, July 27, 2009
Walking through the Slanted Door to Vietnam
Pending my trip to Southeast Asia, I thought it would be intriguing to compare high-end San Francisco Vietnamese food with the street food I'd enjoy on the street of Saigon and Hanoi. Now that I'm back from my trip, I can give a fair comparative review of The Slanted Door.
The meal started with an offering from the raw bar. Although the oysters, kampachi, and Japanese Yellowtail with crispy shallots and Thai basil (pictured above), didn't seem like Vietnamese dishes. But I had accepted that prior to walking into this hip San Francisco joint. If anything, the menu tended to have fewer fusion items than I expected. The yellowtail were the best items of the night, though the appeal was still not Vietnamese.
Our more cuisine specific dish came in the form of a banh hoi wrap of sauteed shrimp, parilla leaf, cucumber and vermicelli. My meals and talks with Wandering Chopsticks had given me and introduction to Vietnamese food that doesn't come as rice noodles in a bowl of beef soup. Though messy to eat, each bite tended to spill shrimp all over my plate, the morsels would've been just as good playing center-stage as an entree rather than an appetizer. The five-spice quail with pickled cucumbers had good flavor, but led me to a conclusion about the tiny poultry. Quail in general doesn't have nearly enough meat to be worth the trouble. And in a nice, Western restaurant like this, I wouldn't stick the whole bird into my mouth and pull out the little bones. Confined to a knife and fork, there was too much meat to leave behind to warrant ordering quail again. Contrastingly, in Vietnam, I could pick at the little bird with my fingers and teeth and leave it glistening as though vultures had their way with the carcass.
Catfish claypot, cilantro, ginger, Thai chilies
Hodo Soy Beanery organic lemongrass tofu, shiitake mushrooms, onions, chili sauce
With the first round of courses finished, the entrees came family style. Besides the above two, I also ordered Niman Ranch filet mignon shaking beef with watercress and lime dipping sauce, grass-fed Anderson Ranch lamb sirloin, and cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. I made sure to include all the adjectives for each dish since Slanted Door prides itself on its fresh and local ingredients. After taking a cooking course in Thailand, I really understood the difference that fresh, quality ingredients make. Though maybe it was too fresh, the catfish felt somewhat sandy. For the luc lac shaking beef, the cubes were too large to be properly marinated. The restaurant may have been trying to showcase their beef by presenting large enough pieces to feel the texture of the meat, but I think it overshot the concept of shaking beef altogether. Neither the noodles nor the lamb sirloin had any distinguishable flavors.
The dessert offerings were impressive, perhaps reflecting a French trained pastry chef. Though there were several Pacific-leaning desserts, I fell for the tray of mignardises. Macarons are always my sweet spot, but the passionfruit gelee had a certain appeal too.
Satisfied with the classy Vietnamese offerings of the States, I ventured off to Asia for some low-end food. Something dirty and cheap. I walked out of the restaurant, full and eager for my adventure. I took a picture of San Francisco to take with me to Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Thailand.
The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Bldg
San Francisco, 94111
$10-15 appetizers, $15-30 entrees