The Slanted Door

San Francisco, CA

     
 


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Tuesday, July 6, 2004, 12:51 AM

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The Slanted Door, San Francisco, CA, January 19, 2004 Vietnamese food is one of my favorite foods of all time. The flavors are fresh, bright, and exciting. The food is seemingly simple but is rich with complexity of texture and taste. I love tiny traditional Vietnamese restaurants that cater mainly to Vietnamese immigrants as well as modern interpretations of Vietnamese that try to serve refined versions of traditional dishes. Well, I at least like trying them. Finding great ones is a different matter. And it's easier with the former than with the latter. For our last meal in San Francisco (given how full we were of "fancy food" and haute cuisine) we opted for The Slanted Door - an updated interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine. The food definitely did not try to stray from tradition, but the environment and the menu were aiming for a non-Vietnamese crowd.

Apparently the restaurant had moved since Lauren had last been there. It's funny but I've heard a surprising number of times how restaurants have moved and their original clientele invariably feels that the food has somehow suffered in the transition. I don't know if that's because the customers don't realize how much of an impact the old environment had on their enjoyment or if in an attempt to scale the kitchen lost its vision. Either way, it's a typical tale. Slanted Door's new digs are a little bathroomy. Lots of white tile. The floors are gorgeous, and despite the lavatory-ness it still felt like a downtown restaurant that had preserved a little bit of uniqueness in terms of its look and feel.

We had a weird moment with our waiter. Alex had seen an item on the menu referred to as a crepe when we stood in the foyer of the restaurant. Upon examination of our lunch menu he couldn't find it. When we asked our waiter he responded that they were a Vietnamese restaurant, so why would they be serving crepes. It turns out after some investigation that they did have a vegetable filled crepe on the dinner menu. I'm no expert on Vietnamese food (or for that matter on any food really) and our waiter had only been there for a month. That said, I did wonder whether I was more annoyed with his lack of knowledge of his restaurants own menu, or his total lack of knowledge of any colonial history between France and Vietnam and how those events influenced Vietnamese cuisine. (I don't even know if crepes are found in Vietnam but I know of some French influences on Vietnamese food - baguettes used for Saigon style sandwiches) Whatever.

Lunch started off with the Slanted Door Spring Rolls which were very good. These were the kind wrapped in rice paper and not deep fried. They were fresh and tight. The accompanying peanut sauce was already spicy - a nice touch. Things continued nicely with the Grapefruit and Jicama Salad with Candied Pecans. Lauren said it was "spectacular". Sweet, crispy, fresh, sour, yum.  The Vegetarian Spring Rolls were also decent. However, Peyman felt that the Green Papaya Salad with Rau Ram and Roasted Peanuts was bland.

Since we were eating Vietnamese food I of course had to try their Pho. It was different than the typical Phos I'd had.  The noodles were wide unlike the typical thin rice noodles. The broth was different as well (or just not great). It seemed a little muddled to me. The flavor wasn't super bright. The broth itself also wasn't super clear.

We got some additional dishes: Grilled Five Spice Chicken with Tamarind Dipping Sauce - the chicken was dry and burnt, even the sauce couldn't help; Spicy Japanese Eggplant with Green Onions and Coconut Milk - the eggplant was undercooked and inedible; Fresh Thick Rice Noodles with Fulg Shrimp, Green Beans, and Bean Sprouts - these were not very flavorful and a touch oily; Caramelized Shrimp with Garlic, Organic Onions, and Chili Sauce - the shrimp were sticky sweet in a good way, yummy; and a delicious order of Organic Baby Spinach with Caramelized Shallots.

In the end the meal was kind of a bummer. Lauren who'd recommended it was the most bummed of all. She felt that The Slanted Door had at one time been innovative and funky, but felt that since it had moved, it had jumped the shark. This was more of a comment on the atmosphere than the food I think. (It constantly surprises me how much they can affect each other). We could definitely see the potential in the place as a couple of the dishes were quite nice, but overall it just didn't meet the bar. That said, the staff did appear to be trying hard. Since we'd asked for crepes the kitchen made us a vegetarian crepe dish that was off the menu. This was really nice of them, and it was clear they were just trying to make us happy. The dish was interesting, but unfortunately it didn't have huge flavor. The texture was great though. This was clearly a dish that had the potential to be great. And in some ways it was a metaphor for the entire Slanted Door experience.

 


 

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