2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame: The Slanted Door

2009 Fine Dining Hall of Fame: The Slanted Door

ADDRESS: 1 Ferry BuildingCUISINE: Vietnamese, with Chinese, French and California influencesCHEF: Charles PhanOWNER: The Phan FamilyPhone: (415) 861.8032Website: www.slanteddoor.comOpened: 1995Per-person dinner check average with beverages: $45Seats: 150Average weekly covers: 3,375Best selling dish: Niman Ranch shaking beef, cubed filet mignon, Sausalito Springs’ watercress, red onions and lime dipping sauce

At The Slanted Door, clarity is a key concept. From the floor-to-ceiling windows that provide sweeping vistas of San Francisco Bay to the wide-open interior rife with sea-green glass, chef-owner Charles Phan demonstrates an unwaveringly clear vision for his restaurant, deftly conjoining the clean flavors of traditional Vietnamese cuisine with the choicest bounty of Northern California and a breathtaking waterfront site.

Another operative idea is stretching the envelope, pushing creativity and defying expectations. The restaurant was ostensibly named for the odd entry in the original Mission District location, but Phan explains that the real reason was to arouse curiosity and avoid creating customer preconceptions.

The current incarnation of The Slanted Door opened in 2004 in a spacious corner of the renovated Ferry Plaza Building, one of San Francisco’s premier destinations. It’s the epicenter of the city’s food-obsessed culture and home to a panoply of specialty culinary establishments and a large and lively outdoor farmers’ market.

It’s an ideal spot for an ambitious restaurant committed to locally sourced, top-quality ingredients and sophisticated presentations. Phan admits to inspiration from Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, winner of this year’s Fine Dining Legend award, and Zuni Café’s Judy Rodgers, both pioneers in modern California cuisine.

“My cooking is traditional flavors married with local ingredients and local sensitivity,” he says.

Born in Da Lat, Vietnam, Phan arrived in San Francisco as an adolescent in 1977. After studying architecture at UC Berkeley, he worked in high-tech sales and the family’s garment business, but food always remained an overriding passion. A self-taught cook, Phan attributes his food sensibility to his ethnically Chinese mother, known for her high standards and pursuit of culinary excellence.

“We were raised with really good, fresh food,” he says. “My mother speaks French and worked in a French hospital, so we learned French cooking as well as Vietnamese.”

French influences are apparent at The Slanted Door, particularly in desserts such as crème brûlée, macaroons and truffles.

Phan, assisted by a brother and an aunt, opened the modest first Slanted Door in 1995. Two locations later, it’s still very much a family affair, employing 20 Phan relatives. In addition to the flagship Slanted Door with 250 employees, there are two casual-takeout locations called Out the Door, a genre-breaking bistro at the new California Academy of Sciences, and Heaven’s Dog, a Chinese-focused restaurant.

The Slanted Door is known for Mark Ellenborgen’s unusual wine list; he finds that cooler-weather vintages like German and Austrian Rieslings pair particularly well with the restaurant’s food. The Slanted Door is also a leader in the Bay Area’s rampant cocktail craze, creating menu-friendly designer drinks from organic juices, herbs and premium spirits.

“The Slanted Door has catapulted authentic ethnic cooking into the forefront of the stylish restaurant world,” says San Francisco food writer Patricia Unterman. “It draws on every resource of the city—the ever-growing fresh market for ingredients, international and local wine distributors, tea importers, and artisans and artists who build and furnish places as well-designed as this.”

Menu Sampler

APPETIZERS Daikon rice cakes with shiitake mushrooms and shallots $11

Sweet white corn and Dungeness crab soup $6

Vietnamese crêpe with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and onions $10

Grapefruit and jícama salad with red cabbage, pickled carrots and candied pecans $9

MAIN COURSES Stir-fried chicken with gingko nuts, Chinese dates, raisins, walnuts and cashews $17

Wood oven-roasted Manila clams with Thai basil, crispy pork belly and fresh chiles $14

Five-spiced duck confit with grilled black mission figs, frisée and sherry-shallot vinaigrette $14

North Vietnamese halibut vermicelli with turmeric, fresh dill and pineapple-anchovy sauce $13

Caramelized catfish clay pot with cilantro, ginger and Thai chiles $17

Niman Ranch shaking beef, cubed filet mignon, Sausalito Springs’ watercress, red onions and lime dipping sauce $29

DESSERTS Coconut water tapioca with caramelized pineapple and coconut sorbet $9

Milk chocolate-malt roulade with passion fruit glacé $9