: views from the Hill

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

[FOOD] Hot Vietnamese coffee and more at The Slanted Door

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco

His nibs has no patience for sitting at the end of a telephone line listening to it ring at the other end. Our schedule's fractured 'twixt here and there and we don't always know where we'll be on any given day. Getting into The Slanted Door was not an easy task.

We still haven't made it for dinner -- we're thinking of making a special effort to eat there with our friend Sally, who first raved to us about the place when it was down on Valencia in the Mission District, before it moved to the Ferry Building. We watched the restaurant taking shape, but hadn't been able to get in since it opened in early April ... until Sunday.

His nibs made reservations for 1:15 p.m. I spent the morning racing back to Dale to pull all the stuff I had spread out on the patio by the pool back into my office, to shelter it from unseasonable and unexpected rain. I dashed off after breakfast and made it back with time to spare enough to change and to walk down the Steps and over to the Ferry Building. We arrived at 1:16 p.m.

We had to wait a few minutes for our table, an expected occurence when you're at the tail end of the lunch hour in a packed restaurant. The folks before us probably dawdled, as we did, over the food. We were lucky enough to get a table for four, with room to spread out. The dining room manager suggested we both sit with our backs to the window that faced toward Pier One, so we could both see the view of the Bay Bridge through the huge windows that face the Bay.

His nibs leaned over after she left and added, "plus it makes it easier to serve us."


The tables are thick 3" blocks of rough cut, polished wood. The table next to us had interesting carving designs on the edges caused by sub-bark wood varmints of some sort. The tables were set with simple square off-white plates, a folded white cloth napkin and a pair of dark wood chopsticks.

On the wall opposite us was a huge photograph of a Vietnamese woman. Her head tilted back, she was covering her mouth with one hand. She was laughing, I thought. Just the look of her cheered me. His nibs said, "Maybe she's sneezing."

"No," I answered. "She's giggling. The photographer said something about how beautiful she is and she's averting her eyes and laughing behind her hand."

We decided that the photograph would make a good psychological test. What do you see in this picture?

Our staffer was excellent. He was slim with various piercings and tattoos and a great looking short mohawk. (Most of the male wait staff either had shaved heads or "interesting" haircuts as did some of the female wait staff.) Our staffer patiently explained the menu setup and answered any questions we had. He pointed out that the main dishes come with rice but no vegetables, so if we were wanting a vegetable, we should order a separate dish.

One of the pair of women next to us was trying to decide which white wine to have with their lunch. He brought two glasses to her, each with a couple swallows of white wine in it so she could have a taste test and choose which one she preferred. I don't often see that.

We chose a chinon (cab franc) from Domaine Baudry, a Loire wine. The wine list was replete with rieslings, which apparently pair well with Vietnamese foods. His nibs mentioned that the current Wine Spectator has a spread on Slanted Door, paying tribute to their reknowned wine list.

crispy imperial rolls

The roll comes cut into 1" slices on a serving dish with sprigs of mint, a mound of glass noodles, a dish of dipping sauce and lettuce leaves. You take a lettuce leaf and layer the mint, piece of imperial roll, and noodles on the leaf, roll it up and dip it in the sauce. Or dip the roll in the sauce before you roll up the lettuce. The lettuce leaves were too small for the fillings, but the tastes of the shrimp and pork with the mint and sauce were superb. Finger food and messy, but delish.

Vietnamese crêpe

Like the imperial roll, you package bits of the crêpe up with sauce and mint in a lettuce leaf. The crêpe was light and crunchy on the outside and packed full of pork and shrimp, bean sprouts and onion. Cut the crêpe into manageable pieces, package it up. I preferred to spoon the sauce [a different sauce from the imperial rolls] over the lettuce contraption before I wrapped it up, but dipping the wrapped leaf would work too. The lettuce pieces weren't large enough to do a thorough wrap and, again, this was finger food and messy.

Perhaps we should've chosen a completely different sort of appetizer for our second, but both were so good, we didn't care.

grilled five-spice chicken with tamarind dipping sauce

The chicken is served with steamed jasmine rice, served in a lidded bowl with a sprinkling of green onions on top. The rice was wonderful. The chicken and the tamarind dipping sauce were tasty, but gave me no reason to opt for the dish again the next time we're back in lieu of trying something different. The menu looks like it would be wonderful to work through dish by dish.

spicy organic haricot vert with honshimeji mushrooms

The beans were skinny, small, uncut beans. Delish. Spicy, but not too. A repeatable dish. Definitely.

The women to our right had been watching as each of our dishes arrived, asking us what the dish was and asking whether it was vegetarian. I pointed out that the imperial rolls and the Vietnamese crêpes both come in vegetarian versions.

When the beans arrived, they said, those look like beans. Where are they on the menu?

At the top of the Vegetables section, I replied. Then realized that if you don't know what an haricot vert is, you'd probably miss knowing what was being offered.

The lunch was wonderful and we were ready for a dessert to share. We had a hard time choosing from the dessert menu but finally decided to be adventurous and try

Thai basil panna cotta in mango soup

This dessert was incredible. The panna cotta was excellent and the Thai basil flavoring was intriguing. I, for one, despite my love of basil, forget that it is a kissing cousin to mint. This dessert reminds you. The mango soup had chunks of mango in it and was a perfect foil for the panna cotta. I'm going to have to try to create something similar for home meals.

Along with dessert I had a hot Vietnamese coffee, which I'd never had before, and his nibs had a pot of Liu An tea. The Vietnamese coffee is served in a glass with an inch or so of sweetened condensed milk in the bottom. The coffee is dripbrewed on top of the milk, which is thick enough that you're left with a two-toned glass of milk and coffee when the coffee is through brewing. Take the long-handled spoon and stir up the concoction. Drink. If you order the coffee iced, it comes with a separate glass of crushed ice and you pour the coffee over the ice when the brewing is complete. We were both happy with our choices of drinks -- perfect endings to a delish meal.

Some two hours or so after arriving, we walked out, stopping by the Ferry branch of Book Passage on our way home.

We will definitely be exploring Slanted Door's expanded dinner menu some time, hopefully not too far in the future.

1 comment:

Sal said...