Vietnamese food isn't supposed to be fancy - or so I thought.
When I crave Vietnamese food at a restaurant or my mom's cooking, it's usually simple, fresh and homey. In the Midwest I never paid more than $7 for a gigantic steaming bowl of pho (a Vietnamese beef noodle soup). Most restaurants serving Vietnamese food I've dined at are a far cry from four-star New York restaurants. Linen top tables are replaced with plastic tables and plates are more utilitarian than stylish.
But ever since reading about Charles Phan's Slanted Door in San Francisco five years ago, I've been dreaming about dining there. I got the chance on recent trip to the Bay Area.
I'm not here to review his restaurant, but I will say the restaurant met my high expectations after having read about Phan's restaurant in numerous food publications. I was impressed by the sophistication of the restaurant, its popularity and most of all, the great food.
I had never seen a Vietnamese restaurant pay so much attention to everything - from the locally-designed ceramic tableware and seasonal ingredients highlighting the menu to flattering light and fortune cookie-free dessert options.
My friend wanted fresh spring rolls, and I wanted to roll my eyes (but didn't since I wasn't paying). But one small bite and I was convinced we were off to a good start. The rice wrapper had a perfect chewiness to it while a hint of scallion oil brightened up the combination of pork, shrimp, mint and peanut sauce. (I should have photos of our other dishes posted above.)
I can see why this restaurant was hopping. We could only get a 5:30 p.m. dinner reservation three weeks in advance and when we showed up 15 minutes beforehand, there was already a line of at least 50-people deep. Incredible.
As good as the meal was that night, I felt inspired walking out of Slanted Door. Phan's restaurant started in a humbling setting in San Francisco but his food brought customers back time and again.
It's comforting to know the food I grew up on is goodin a hole-in-wall spot or an acclaimed restaurant like Slanted Door.