Fall for this illusion,
And you will never rise.
Some nights, you just got to give it to the curvy architecture of iconic cities for dripping in romanticism with the nightly lights. For feelings are less an outcome of decisions or deliberations, but consequential to unplanned happenings. At least that’s what I felt in the sultry bay of San Francisco.
For San Francisco, idolized for its brainpower, is often overlooked for its glittering singles scene and sumptuously designed Embarcadaro shoreline. Overlooking the bay bridge which one could stare at to hypnotic levels. Perched on the edge of this was our venue of choice for a nightly weekend ritual. Clad in studs, Gastronomypix and I ventured into her foray of Asian dining with Slanted Door, touted for its hard to get reservations for its Modern Vietnamese style cuisine. The tag of best restaurant by James Beard for 2014 didn’t hurt either.
Decked like a cantina with an open kitchen format, the unnecessarily crowded wooden tables were more reminiscent of a food court than a fine dining spot. But the outfits of the guests were perhaps an indication that our studs were well fit. The food story was not unique but the family owned touch was apparent from the flavors and portions. With a goal to blend Vietnamese cooking techniques with local ingredients, the chef served organic and ecological food, with a list of purveyors made apparent by Executive Chef Charles Phan. I heard that he would travel to the source of the region of every item on the menu and then recreates it in a contemporary way with fresh ingredients.
I started with my staple hot water, only to be enticed with a blooming jasmine tea. While oddly served in a wine glass with an open mouth and an intolerable ability to maintain hot temperatures. Nonetheless, the green to pink bloom was enticing to watch, despite the fact that it was solely aromatic sans much flavor. But in the dim twilight, it contributed to the adoration in the ambiance.
With a penchant for colorful salads, the grapefruit and jicama salad was likely named for me: with red cabbage, pickled carrot and a heap of candied pecans, it was ornately dressed in my favorite warm hues, adding to the love quotient of the night. The sour and citrus flavor dominated, uncut by the sweetness of the pecans. Which was a good thing.
Starting fully authentically Asian were the daikon rice cakes, cuboidal in shape for contemporary styling and flavored with shiitake mushrooms, shallot, sweet chili soy. Texturally they reminded me of idli from South India, with a succulent tangy broth which I could slurp all of. With a sweet, spicy and citrus blend, it was exactly what I would aspire for vinegar to taste like when I accidentally sip it on tumultuous nights.
The broccoli came with immense promise: catalan farm spicy broccoli with pressed tofu and lion’s mane mushroom, all ingredients with extra surnames that I couldn’t immediately relate to, but could appreciate. What arrived was well cooked dark green broccoli with spicy overtones, and textural contrasts in the for of chewy bits of protein.
The chue farm baby boo choy with brussel sprouts and baby shiitake mushrooms was a lighter green equivalent, brimming with sour and bitter Vietnamese flavors, likely due to the plethora of vegetables and mushrooms. While slightly greasy, the health quotient was apparent in this fibrous and fresh dish.
The potato and coriander curry with vegetables was a Vietnamese take on massuman curry from Thailand. Only it seemed to be more reminiscent of a fascination with Indian curry stew with the thicker texture of its turmeric and chili spice drenched broth. It was yummy nonetheless, for who doesn’t like starches soaked in spice?
Going double for desserts obviously, we went with traditional desserts flavored with Asian fruits. So as to satisfy palettes of both parties. Like an addictive lychee cotton candy, where the undertone of sweet lychee was intoxicating. Or the mesmerizing stout chocolate cake with mango lemon cream and a citrus frozen yoghurt, a perfect and unsweetened balance of indulgent density with fluffy tanginess.
And so we melted out into the lights of the night in the most iconic bay of the world. With a mixed bag of succulent tastes but underwhelming ambiance, with spot on flavors but under-impressive food ideas, we mutually felt that hype would be an apt description for this slanted door.
And soon, the thoughts were forgotten under the bay bridge. A place where I created memories.
For memory is the diary we all carry around with us.