Check out SAVEUR magazine's April 2009 dining issue for a select listing of 12 restaurants in the United States that are significant and influential. In the listing is Charles Phan's Slanted Door in San Francisco.
I interviewed Charles and wrote the commentary for the issue. Charles has received a James Beard Award and has also been nominated on many subsequent occasions for the award. But the SAVEUR listing is unusual and historic. It includes Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, Rick Bayless's Topolobampo in Chicago, Musso and Frank's in Hollywood and David Kinch's Manresa in Los Gatos. These are establishments that model culinary innovation and craftsmanship, hospitality, and overall excellent restaurateurship.
Slanted Door serves over 800 people a day. That's 2 seatings for lunch and dinner. I've worked in a restaurant kitchen before and that's a lot of covers/orders to fulfill each day. Charles and his family run the empire (there are about 20 Phans involved) and they are presenting Vietnamese food that embodies its essence but also highlights its potential. Great, local, organic ingredients are used. The service is professional and attentive -- what you would/should expect at any restaurant of this caliber. The room is modern and sophisticated. The view is of the spectacular San Francisco Bay.
Indeed, the food isn't what you'd find in Viet restaurants in our 'hoods. It's higher priced, though I've no problem with Vietnamese restaurants charging more because that helps to further the quality of the food, service, and decor. And, Slanted Door has an amazing wine director, Mark Ellenbogen. His list is not only educational in terms of Vietnamese food -and-wine pairings, but it features lots of uncommon Old World bottles from France and Germany; the restaurant not only propelled shaking beef but also pairing Viet food with Rieslings and Gruner Vetliner.
Slanted Door offers a complete, fun dining experience. You're not just grabbing a quick bite and running out the door. You want to linger and sip a cup of fine tea and gaze out at the ocean. Or, slip in for an evening cocktail.
Slanted Door isn't looking to represent a post-card image of Vietnam. It looks forward and exists in its own orbit, as a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. In that sense, Slanted Door models what it means to be a successful, modern ethnic restaurant in America. You're not tethered to the past but you do respect it.
What do you think a modern ethnic restaurant in America (or elsewhere) should and could be like? Have a favorite to pitch? I'd love to know your thoughts!
Slanted Door has put shaking beef (thit bo luc lac) on the map for Vietnamese crossover restaurants. Get Charles Phan's recipe for shaking beef, which employs beef tenderloin (filet mignon). Here's a shaking beef recipe I posted on this site that uses less expensive cuts of beef steak.