Here's my angle on Slanted Door. Vietnamese food gentrified and made more accessible by a bright dose of Californian freshness and style. After a gentle and brief application of a shrink ray, the dishes strike a poised pose on the plates. Vogue-ish, modern and trendy.
Jicama salad was light and crisp, a pleasant ethereal slaw filled with thin snaps from the julienned veggies sweetened on the side with toasty candided pecans. Also a pretty eyeful, a nest of vegetables the color of peacock feathers.
Simplicity and impeccable execution characterized the daikon rice cake in a soy-based sauce. A beautiful lacy crispiness on the surfaces of the smooth cakes. This typical street dish is nicely dressed for the setting and occasion. Reminds me of the time I was given a jacket at Lucas Carton so I could be presentable in the dining room. (grin)
Slanted Door spring rolls (filled with shrimp, pork, mint and rice vermicelli) are about as good as it gets. Only catch is, they're about as good as it gets in a whole bunch of divey Vietnamese places too for half the price. Faultless, but not worth it.
Sweet corn with pork was a winner with me, for a sharp water chestnutty crunch in the sweet sweet corn.
Maine crab with vermicelli was merely ok. Despite nice notes of black pepper and garlic dressing up the savory vermicelli, the crabmmet was slightly on the scarce side and very slightly overcooked.
Shaking beef signs its name on the palate. Wonderful lime tamarind sauce too. But the exact same dish with the exact same quality can be found for a 25% discount at Le Jardin on Polk.
A stir-fried squid with jalapenos, onions and dried tofu stripes was average and unexciting. The squid could have been more delicate, and at an upscale place like this, I expected them to be "flowered" with cris-crossed scoring for a more multi-dimensional texture. But no sign of that.
Snap peas were sweet and snappy, but the kitchen was rather stingy with the accompanying maitakes - hardly enough of the mushrooms to add their own airy musk to the dish.
BTW, the tiny stubby glass of ice tea was excellent but ephermeral -- gentle smooth and held a nice nose. A tall glass would have been a better setting for the tea.
Desserts are a weakness, with the exception of the lemon cake. This sweetheart was the clear star of the dessert array, with the muscato gelee shining brightly. Sweet winey complexity added so much to the cake, ice cream and berry-based sauce.
Apricot pudding was unremarkable for its thin flavor and flat texture; an interesting crunch from wood-ear fungus tried hard to save it but failed. Pineapple with a sesame crisp and ice cream was fine but not outstanding. Flourless chocolate cake with berries was satisfactory but otherwise undistinguished.
There's a fabulous trio of ice cream from Marco Polo: green tea, jackfruit and lychee. Of course one could buy a pint or more at the same price at Marco Polo.
Tax and tip came to about $160-something for 5 people, with no alcohol. Not cheap for the small portions that made up a light dinner, but not outrageously overpriced either.
Service was satisfactory, and I felt taken care of, although the waiter got one of our desserts wrong and there was a long pause for the final entree of crab and vermicelli. Nothing serious really.
If only the servings were less precious here, it would be a gem. In the end, I won't slip my highest praise through this Door, but it's still a fine place with an undemanding menu.