Thursday, October 29, 2009

Party hearty.

My friend Faith was an incredible hostess during my week in San Francisco, so I had to do something to thank her. That something turned out to be dinner at The Slanted Door, a legendary Vietnamese restaurant that moved from Valencia Street to the Ferry Building a few years back.

Loyal readers and friends know that I have a weakness for Asian food, and that Vietnamese is my favorite of the bunch. I love the combination of Asian and Western flavors, and, in particular, the melding of French and Vietnamese techniques. The banhi mi is a classic example, with its French baguette and charcuterie paired with Asian herbs, pickles and sauces. I haven't eaten a lot of haute Vietnamese in my day, so I was very excited to try The Slanted Door.

You enter the restaurant through a door on the pier, just down the dock from where commuters flow onto ferries to Tiburon, Sausalito and other parts North, East and South. We arrived fairly early, just as sunset was kicking in, and the view across the bay was crystal clear and painted with golden light. The restaurant was fully-booked, so we decided to order a cocktail and wait for two stools to free up at the bar. I went for a Pimm's Cup, which turned out to be delicious and not at all lacking in cucumber.

Once we'd snagged seats, we ordered a load of food and sat back to enjoy the parade. First up, crispy imperial rolls, strongly recommended by my friend YaeRi. Filled with shrimp, pork, peanuts and noodles, they were rich and a bit heavy, but served with steamed noodles, lettuce leaves and the omnipresent nuoc cham sauce (fish sauce, sugar, and pickled vegetables), all of which lent a contrast in texture and lightened the rolls considerably.

Next up, the salt and pepper quail. I have to confess, I ordered these mostly to get at the pickled cucumbers with which they were served - never a good move. The quail was tasty enough, but nothing to write home (or to the internets) about. I didn't dislike it, but I wouldn't order it again.

Next, the jicama, cabbage and grapefruit salad. We LOVED this. Or, I should say - Faith LOVED this, and I would have LOVED it if it hadn't been quite so chockful of cilantro. I am one of those genetic unfortunates for whom the flavor of large amounts of cilantro is closer to dirty dishwater than it is to anything herbal, and there was a lot of cilantro in this salad. The cilantro-free bites I managed to concoct were absolutely delicious, though. I especially liked the combination of the tart grapefruit with the candied pecans - heavenly.

For our main course, we ordered a Slanted Door classic, the shaking beef. Made with filet, it rises far above the (still delicious) shaking beefs I've had. The beef is cooked in the wok with red onions and watercress and served with a citrus sauce on the side (you're meant to pore the sauce over the beef - or dip, if you like). Citrus and beef are an unsual combination in most Western food, but I find that I really enjoy them together. The acid in the fruit cuts right through the fattiness of the meat, brightening the flavor and creating a bit of a part in your mouth.

And I do like a party.

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building, #3
San Francisco, California

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