Lunch at the Slanted Door, San Franciso
After my visit to Vietnam a few months ago, my awareness of its cuisine grew considerably. I had dined at the Slanted Door several times prior to going to Vietnam and wondered if my new lens would alter my view of the restaurant.
Although Charles Phan is the Executive Chef, Michelle Mah heads the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine. She attended the California Culinary Academy and brings many years of experience with French and Pan-Asian cuisine with her.
When I visited for a late lunch with my daughter, it was completely full, inside and outside too, even though it was chilly. The high demand attests to Chef Charles Phan’s success in offering Vietnamese cuisine made with locally sourced fresh products. The spacious dining room’s floor-to-ceiling glass offers a view of the Bay, enhancing the experience.
Our appetizers were vegetarian imperial rolls and Daikon rice cakes. The rolls had taro root, cabbage, roasted peanuts and vermicelli noodles in rice paper dipped in honey, double fried to a crispy golden brown, the crunch moderated by the dipping sauce, letting all the flavors merge in the mouth. The rice cakes were made of grated Daikon (a radish) mixed with rice flour, shiitake mushrooms and shallots, then deep-fried and served in sweet chili soy, yielding a chewy, complex taste that lingers.
Chef Phan has experimented to perfect his recipe for banh xeo, a stuffed crepe better than any I had in Vietnam. He refrigerates the Mung bean and rice flour batter overnight to let the starches blend and fries it in a non-stick pan to retain its crispiness even after it’s filled with tofu, tree ear mushrooms, cabbage and a generous dollop of bean sprouts. The pieces of the crepe are then sandwiched in lettuce and mint leaves and dipped in a sweet and spicy sauce, a maneuver needing several napkins to wipe hands and face. The end mixture of flavors, sounds and smell is more than worth the trouble.
Our final dish was cellophane noodles with green onions and chunks of Dungeness crab stir-fried in oyster and fish sauces in sesame oil, served garnished with cilantro sprigs. The noodles absorb the sauces and oils, becoming golden-brown like the rolls. They simply melt in the mouth, releasing the composite mixture of flavors.
Preparations by Phan and Mah retain the cuisine’s Vietnamese roots, but are embellished by new procedures and adaptations to local products. Service was quick, despite the full dining room, and attentive—altogether a truly enjoyable dining experience.
The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building, Ferry Building Marketplace
Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111.
Reservations are highly recommended, as it’s not easy to get one. Even after our reservation was confirmed, I got calls and an email requesting re-confirmation. Street parking is available with a search.