Monday, March 06, 2006

Making a Slanted Face at the Slanted Door

After spending $70+ hoo-hahs on my dinner at Jardiniere, I decided to continue my exorbitant spending and dine at the Slanted Door in the San Francisco's picturesque Ferry Building for lunch with my co-worker's last week. First, let me give you a little background on the Ferry Building. After being renovated and transformed into one of the city's architectural masterpieces, the Ferry Building is the ultimate gathering ground for a Bay Area gourmand. The Ferry Building restaurants alone merit the Passionate Eater Seal of Approval. In addition, the weekly farmer's market attracts throngs of eager crowds who congregate around the abundant vegetable stands. The fragrances from pollened blossoms, and voluptuous fruits are invigorating for any passerby, chef or non-chef.

Getting back to my lunch experience. . . I had towering expectations for the Slanted Door. Although I am not the type to fervently hop on any ole' bandwagon, I tend to trust restaurant hype from my friends, and I had heard good things about the Slanted Door.

To start, our table ordered the "friend-recommended" green papaya salad with tofu, rau ram and roasted peanuts. The salad was fresh and light, and absolutely wonderful. The tofu had absorbed all of the acidic tang from the fish sauce and citrus flavorings, and the roasted peanuts provided a delectable crunch.

Our order of spicy Monterey squid with pineapple, sweet red peppers, peron chilies and Thai basil was equally fabulous. The chef immaculately balanced the contrasting flavors of spicy, sweet, and salty with the unique and rubbery texture of the fresh sea squid. However, because I kept hearing the echoing voices of my Vietnamese family remaking on the hefty price tag of the dish, it was a little less pleasurable than it would have been otherwise.

Unfortunately, my experience quickly turned sour. I was disenchanted by the grilled chicken over rice noodles with imperial rolls, cucumber and mint. I mean, come on now. I order this stuff take-out from the Vietnamese restaurant next-door at least once a week, except there, I only pay $3.99 for it, and not $9.50. Now I am not one to "bag on my ethnic homie," but I was not impressed. A restaurant of Slanted Door's stature should not be making this dish without some sort of gourmet twist, unique ingredient addition, or ostentatious presentation.

I felt the same about the spicy Japanese eggplant with green onions and coconut milk. My Dad makes this stuff for under $5 bucks for the entire family of four, and you're telling me I paid what?!?

As I polished off my meal, I came to the wise conclusion, that when you set your expectations too high, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. My Slanted Door experience had been marred by the vehement praise of the many Slanted Door lovers that came before me. Ironically, my overall dining experience wasn't bad. I enjoyed the food, but it is just hard for me to get used to treating common foods that I grew up eating as "haute gourmet cuisine."


  1. Yeah sometimes it's hard to feel that you're getting good value for money when you eat something supposedly 'simple' at a restaurant. I find that with dishes like fish and chips, or spaghetti bolognese. They put it in a fancy bowl (sometimes not even that!), chuck some extra garnish on it and *surprise!* It costs at least $10 more than you're happy to pay! I stick to my local fish and chip shop and Jac's spag bog now, anyway!

  2. I'm so practical I find it hard to pay for 'fine dining'. I sit there an calculate (in my head) how much I could have made this for at home and usually how much better it would have tasted! It's my frugal Mennonite ancestor voices in my head!

  3. This seems to be the thing w/ more 'haute' asian cuisines. They'll take a dish you're familiar with and add a miscellaneous boost: duck noodles with foie gras tempura= $18.50. We have vietnamese restaurants in the westside that charge 2-2.5x's the regular cost of the dish. and you know what, it is often unappealing in taste. i remembered paying $10 for a bowl of pho - disappointing.

    i had heard about the slanted door when i was up in SF. good thing i didn't try it.

  4. Very well put The Food Pornographer! Hilarious comment about the "fish and chips" and "spaghetti bolognese"! I mean, what are those dishes anyway except for deep fried fish and potatoes (relatively cheap) and noodles and ground beef (even cheaper)! It is like a MasterCard commercial: Canned Spaghetti Sauce, $1.00; 1 lb of Ground Beef, $2.00; Dry Pasta, $1.50; Spaghetti Bolognese--priceless! ... Or too pricey at a posh restaurant.

    Very cute Rachel, I know what you mean exactly! My mom taught me how to do that. For some reason, I have no math skills when it comes to calculating tax and tip, but when it comes to calculating how much money I would have saved had I eaten at home, my mind is like an abacus!

    Oops. I'm sorry Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, I think I may have been the one who recommended the Slanted Door! (But I promise, that I did so only because three of my ultra-close friends recommended it to me first!) Well, now those friends have become enemies. JK!

  5. Excellent post as always. And I know what you mean. I have a theory that enjoyment of Vietnamese food and Mexican food is inversely proportional to the price you pay for it.

  6. Thank you for reminding me why I've never been to the Slanted Door! Beautiful job -- again.

  7. Great theory Elmo Monster! I agree entirely! I like your idea so much, that from now on, I am going to refer to it as "Elmo Monster's Theory." Theories always must be prefaced with the names of their intelligent originators!

    You're welcome Cookie Crumb! ... I feel terrible if I am taking away from the Slanted Door's business. I'd go there for the ambiance and the service--but hey, why pay more if you can get the same at home or next-door for cheaper? Maybe it's like that saying: "Why buy milk if you have the cow at home?" (I hope I got the saying right...)

  8. Hi Jone -- have to chime in on this one. I exepcted more creativity out of Slanted Door. It's not my fusion spot -- my recommendation in that vein is EOS in Cole Valley. The decor is really nice, though. Hope all is well in SF -- when you are coming out to NYC? :<)

  9. I'm glad that you added your thoughts to the discussion Shane. Thanks for your recommendation--I trust your tastes in terms of restaurants! As for SF fusion places, I have tried Roy's and Tangerine, and I dislike Roy's and think Tangerine is pretty good. Other than that, my experience is limited.

    Also, as for NYC, I don't think that will be happening any time soon. Maybe the summer? Thus, seems like the next time I'll be seeing you is in the Bay Area!!

  10. I'm sorry to hear one more negative take on Slanted Door. It seems that when Phan started out, he was very much the purist and he was in spaces that allowed him to charge less.

    Now he has the overhead of one of the hottest locations in town, and less custom from knowing diners, more from tourists. This does not in any way excuse the comments I've heard about terrible service, small pours in the wine department, and less that stellar food.

    Too bad. He's a very sweet man. I have enjoyed so much the dishes prepared by him at several organic benefits.

  11. I agree with you Kudzu, in that he is definitely catering to a different set of clientele, and that Phan is a talented gentleman. He was featured in one of the Summer 2005 issues of Food & Wine magazine, and I was impressed with the recipes that he contributed to the article and his interview responses. However, I'll have to stand by my experience, in that I enjoyed his food, but wasn't particularly impressed.


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