Is The Slanted Door Still Worth the Hype?
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Worth the Hype? is a column by longtime food and drink writer Geri Koeppel, who will check out bars and restaurants (some new, others popular or exceptional in some way) on her own dime and tell you whether she thinks they’re worth the hype or not. The deciding factor: Whether she’d go back and spend money again. She might not be exactly broke-ass, but she’s definitely cheap-ass and doesn’t put up with a rip-off.
Where is it?: The Slanted Door is at the north end of the Ferry Building; the entrance is from the outside on the Bay side.
What is it?: Upscale Vietnamese using market ingredients, prepared with a modern sensibility and artistic presentations, in a serene yet comfortable contemporary open space, with floor-to-ceiling Bay views.
How much is it?: Most lunch dishes run in the $10s to low-$20s for soups, salads and noodles; entrees are $25 to $43. At dinner, appetizers are mid-$10s to mid-$20s and entrees range from high $20s into the $50s.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday; dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily; bar menu, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Worth the hype?: Yes.
Why? This is one of those places that’s worth a splurge, but lunch and the abbreviated afternoon bar menu are reasonable and filling—you can actually have lunch with tax and tip for under $25 if you play it right (not including drinks).
Standouts include the Vietnamese crepe ($17) with Gulf shrimp, pork shoulder, bean sprouts and onion. I shared that and the Slanted Door spring rolls ($15) on one visit with a friend and we were happy. Everything was at the peak of its flavor, which is what you’d expect when you regularly see the chefs outside rolling their carts up to the farmers market booths. The sauces weren’t an afterthought, either: sweet and nutty peanut sauce for the rolls and a delicate, tangy dip for the crepe, with lettuce wraps.
Another time, I shared the spring rolls again—yes, again, because these are the rolls all other rolls can only aspire to be when they grow up. The plump, sweet Gulf shrimp didn’t get lost among the other fillings (savory pork, mint and shallot mayonnaise), as lesser shrimps often do.
In addition, we ordered grilled wild Gulf shrimp over vermicelli noodles with cucumber, mint and peanut ($18). No sticky or soggy noodles here; only silky, lovely strands topped with more of those incredibly sourced ingredients.
You can also eat for less by taking advantage of half portions, available for several of the dishes. On a gray May day, I slurped down what was possibly the best chicken soup in the city ($11 for full portion), with tender hunks of meat and those lovely vermicelli noodles, along with half of a green papaya salad ($7 for half portion), popping with sweet and savory flavors thanks to the pickled carrots, crispy shallots, rau ram and roasted peanuts.
As well as wonderful cuisine in a beautifully designed space, service is a star of the show here. The staff all are well-trained professionals who check back frequently and genuinely care about your experience. My one friend, who is not the most adventurous wine drinker, asked for help choosing a glass of white, and the server dutifully brought out three separate tastes to ensure she got one she liked. That’s admirable, especially during lunch rush.
One weak spot is the cocktail program. It’s not terribly inventive, and some concoctions have been unbalanced and unsatisfying, and I feel I can be picky when shelling out $14 for a small pour. Despite that, the bar seating is a terrific option if you pop in solo or you want to dine more casually with a pal.
I’ll be honest: The Slanted Door wasn’t on my regular rotation for many years after a memorably disappointing and astronomically priced plate of shaking beef ($43) turned me off. I’m glad I gave it another go. I’ve been ecstatic with how it’s remained a vital, exciting destination with a knack for keeping up with tastes and trends, while staying true to its roots. Chef Charles Phan has not rested on his laurels.
Of course, the restaurant’s sister take-out stand down the hall, Out the Door, is a good stop if you’re on the go or light on cash. But if you haven’t been to the original in a while, treat yourself sometime.