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The Slanted Door: Photo Edition

March 27, 2007

You might recall that awhile back we wrote up a little report on The Slanted Door. As it turns out, The Slanted Door is actually remarkably consistent in terms of both preparation and service, so our opinion has not really changed much since that last post. However, Short Exact had the chance to visit again a couple of weeks ago, and we happened to have our camera with us! So with this post, we aren’t really reporting any uphill or downhill progress. To be honest, this post is really all about the food porn. (Good stuff, right? Yes?)

We started with the chicken salad,

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served with vermicelli noodle and cabbage. It was a light and refreshing start to the lunch. You know, for what it is, this salad was fine, though it could have used stronger flavors (which is a nice way of saying we really wish it actually tasted like something). We’re being a bit flippant, but a more pronounced fish sauce and herbal flavor would have really enlivened this dish. The preparation here is loosely Vietnamese, but left some to be desired.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably noticed that when it comes to food photography, we’re usually pretty consistent and straightforward (read: slightly boring) about it– we pretty much always just take aerial shots. For some reason though, we thought we’d try something a little more artsy for this next shot. Anyway, we think it turned out pretty well, and maybe you will even agree. There’s a fuzzy background compared to the sharper focus of the plate in the foreground, along with the rice bowl and water glass:

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Oh, right: the food. This is a food blog, not a photography blog. These were the caramelized tiger prawns, featuring a somewhat rich chili sauce, with organic onions providing both soft crunch and a delicate sweetness. The prawns, hearty and with a slightly toothsome texture, were perfectly cooked. This was definitely good, but no stunning culinary achievement here; when it comes down to it, this dish was just a good way to enjoy some very nice prawns.

The cha gio (imperial rolls) were up next,

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featuring a mixture of pork, shrimp, peanuts, and glass noodles, of course served with the expected greens in which to wrap the rolls. These were delicious, and surprisingly authentic, as well. The nuoc cham dipping sauce that was provided was on the sweet side and not especially nuanced, but it definitely was not bad either. Meanwhile, the rolls themselves were light, clean, and very fresh. Nice work here.

The cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab meat

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is the signature dish at the Slanted Door, and with good reason we believe. This dish is all about demonstrating how subtle tastes and textures can be just as enchanting as bold ones. Crab does not have an especially strong flavor, and in general, it is too often the case that whenever crab is used in a dish, the flavor is overwhelmed, and the only part of the crab we can really enjoy is the texture. Not so here. The flavor of the cellophane noodles is even more delicate than that of the crab, and yet the noodles do a great job of simultaneously supporting and enhancing the crab, which rises to take the center stage in this dish.

The last entree was the shaking beef,

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featuring delicious and mighty tender chunks of Meyer Ranch filet mignon, accompanied by watercress, garlic, and organic onions. The dipping sauce was a bright and well-balanced combination of salt, lime juice, and freshly ground black pepper. For restaurants that offer it, the shaking beef usually turns out to be one of the most expensive items on the menu, and the Slanted Door is no exception. There is no doubt that the shaking beef was well-executed (and we would be lying if we said we did not enjoy it), but at $24 (at lunchtime, probably slightly more expensive at dinner), you’re definitely paying for it. We still aren’t convinced that this rendition so outstripped its competitors (at other restaurants) as to be worth the premium.

As it turns out, discussions about The Slanted Door are some of the most contentious you’ll probably find in the San Francisco food scene; actually, they are very reminiscent of the discussions that take place over whether or not the landmark Zuni Cafe is overrated. On the one hand, this restaurant provides a quintessential San Francisco experience. San Franciscans are suckers for great views (probably because of all the hills and scenic vista points), and the prime Ferry Building location makes The Slanted Door the exception to the rule that good food and good views are mutually exclusive. San Francisco is also famously an aquatic peninsular city, being surrounded on 3 out of 4 sides by water. So yes, there is something quintessentially San Francisco about eating Asian food in bright surroundings, looking out at great water views.

On the other hand, this diverse city is full of so many different cuisines that many foodies here are hell-bent on finding authentic, treasured gems (and if you’re a regular reader, you know that Short Exact definitely falls into this category). In that sense, the Slanted Door, with its posh surroundings and collection of dishes which are really only “Vietnamese inspired” (and have been altered to suit American tastes), runs directly counter to this urge to constantly search out the authentic spots, no matter how dirty or run-down they might be. The fact that the Slanted Door often charges quite expensive prices (for dishes that you could find for much lower prices at other restaurants) only adds to the insult, and for many naysayers, this is the last straw. We imagine that this would be especially frustrating for those of Vietnamese descent, who might resent the fact that their favorite home-cooked dishes are being touted as stylish and gourmet, and with prices to match. There are also many people who are familiar with this restaurant from its original days on Valencia Street, no doubt still mourning the loss of their treasured neighborhood spot that has since morphed into a regional destination. Lastly, throw in the fact that the place is always packed and never seems to have any available bookings, and it’s suddenly not so difficult to see why the Slanted Door is such a controversial restaurant.

At first, we were always a little torn about the Slanted Door, for exactly these reasons. Since then, we’ve learned to chill a bit — it’s just food after all, right? We would never say that The Slanted Door is our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, but to call it “bad” would be very unfair. The food here ranges anywhere from pretty good to great, the surroundings are very nice (although noisy and a bit hectic), and we’ve always had helpful and kind service. Some of the prices are definitely out of line, but you have to remember that you are paying for more than just food here. You will be served some high quality ingredients, yes, but you are also paying for the location, the environment, and the general dining experience. Obviously, this restaurant does not provide the best value, so if you visit here looking for value, you’re really just setting yourself up to hate it. From solely the food perspective, which is where we tend to place most of the emphasis, the Slanted Door could never be our favorite Vietnamese in town — certainly not a place to visit regularly. Every once in awhile, though, a more upscale place is required, perhaps to celebrate a special occasion, and for those cases, The Slanted Door fits the bill. Despite the controversy, The Slanted Door still offers good (or better) food and a nice dining experience.

RATING:

COST:

Please scroll down to the bottom of our original review for restaurant hours and contact information.

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4 comments

  1. i think you hit the nail on the head w/ the last paragraph. in my limited experience, the food is good but nowhere near as great as its PR machine. it’s not consistent enough to be a Michelin 1*. however, it’s a good place for a group of people to have a slightly special meal.


  2. I agree with your characterization, Chuck. I definitely don’t think it deserves a Michelin star, either.


  3. Before I read your post, I saw your rating. I thought, “Oh no, Short Exact likes the Slanted Door. . . Perhaps we differ in our food views.” And then I read the post. You are completely on the money. I agree that the Slanted Door is so much more about the food (for it is completely overpriced for Vietnamese food), but it is the entire Ferry Bldg package (including stellar service, views, and organic, free-trade, and locally-farmed food).


  4. Haha, that is one reason I switched things around so that the rating was at the end of the post, rather than at the beginning!

    You know, I’m glad you brought up the rating though. I really (and I do mean really) bickered with myself for a long time about this, as to whether they should get 3 or 3.5 stars. If the ratings were just a matter of which places are my personal favorites, Slanted Door would not have gotten 3.5. One of the reasons I keep the ratings around is so that I’m honest with myself about the whole experience. Yes, the food is completely overpriced. But in terms of the whole package (food quality, environment, service, etc.), they do a pretty dang good job. And the food is generally quite good too, just not a good value. I try to keep the ratings honest and universal, so it’s not just a matter of “here are my favorites.” The hope is that my personal quirks and tastes are made clear in the actual post.

    As I said in the post, Slanted Door isn’t really my favorite sort of place. Give me Turtle Tower any day! But I could see that for some people, this could be their favorite restaurant. It’s just a matter of priorities.

    Anyway, I’m glad that you decided to continue reading, rather than stopping right away after seeing the rating 😉



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