The Slanted Door, a cookbook by Charles Phan
I was thrilled when Charles Phan released his first book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking”, that introduced his reader to the world of Vietnamese food. The book, published in 2012, was heavy on technique and went in depth with the description of the ingredients that make up this fabulous cuisine. It was a primer course, if you will, complete with a comprehensive glossary and detailed instructions that still managed to remain personal and intimate. As a long time fan of ‘The Slanted Door’ I was delighted again this year to find that Charles has released a second book titled “The Slanted Door” that is dedicated to this beloved San Francisco institution. As the name would suggest this book is all about the restaurant.
‘The Slanted Door’ restaurant has received numerous accolades over the years including the 2014 James Beard Award for “Outstanding Restaurant of the Year”. Critics love it and diners have made it the highest grossing independently owned restaurant in the country. If you love eating like I do, or if you’ve never gone to the restaurant but want to share the magic, then this is the book you need to have.
The first thing I noticed about the book is that it’s a great looking book (not unlike its namesake). It would look as good on the coffee table as it would on the shelf. However, if all you do is admire it on the coffee table you are making an egregious error, because so much of the great food that we have come to love at the restaurant is in the book! I’ve always thought that ‘The Slanted Door’ perfectly reflects all that is good about the San Francisco Bay Area food scene. The menu was groundbreaking but still managed to stay true to its roots maintaining an emphasis on local fresh ingredients to create heathy, balanced, exciting and original offerings. If he didn’t invent modern Vietnamese cuisine, Mr. Phan pioneered it. Fans of the restaurant will be happy to see that many of the most popular dishes are in the book. Dishes like ‘Caramelized Chicken Claypot’ and ‘Shaking Beef’, as well as relatively new dishes like the ‘Roasted Mushroom and Yuba Salad’, have been bringing people back to the restaurant since the beginning. Another favorite included in the book is the ‘Vegetarian Imperial Rolls’ along with the subtle tips that make them consistently crunchy. The recipes are all well written and easy to follow particularly if you are already familiar with some of the more exotic ingredients you will need. If you are completely new to this type of cuisine, you may want to start out with Charles’ first book, ‘Vietnamese Home Cooking’, as an introductory course. Then again, maybe you won’t…one look at the beautiful photography by Ed Anderson will more than likely have you running to the kitchen to get started.
Another groundbreaking aspect of ‘The Slanted Door’ experience has been its wine pairing which is touched upon in the book. When the restaurant’s location was moved from the Mission to Brannan Street, cocktails became an integral part of the ‘Slanted Door’ experience. In addition to the great advice on pairing Asian food with wine, there is also a chapter dedicated to cocktails. Here you will find familiar Slanted Door favorites like ‘Ginger Limeade’ (made with Hangar 1 Kaffir Lime Vodka from St George Spirits in Alameda). I was also pleased to see the ‘Mai Tai’ recipe that was originally invented in Oakland, California in 1944 at ‘Trader Vic’s’ (although oft times disputed). The cocktail chapter also features many of the restaurant’s desserts. Anyone not familiar with ‘The Slanted Door’ might be surprised to find that the desserts are not Asian at all. ‘Crème brûlée’, ‘Chocolate Soufflé Cake’, and ‘No-Bake Cheesecake with Walnut Cookie-Brown Butter Crust’ all seem to be a throwback to Vietnam’s imperial history with the French. This east-west fusion can be seen in other recipes as well such as the ‘Clams with Butter-Lime Sauce’. In this dish, traditional Asian ingredients are wonderfully balanced by the introduction of butter. This perfect union between east and west is one of my favorite characteristics of Vietnamese food.
For someone with no formal chef training, Charles Phan has become a remarkable success and inspiration. This book is a chronicle of his journey from the humble beginnings on Valencia Street to its present location in the San Francisco Ferry Building. If all the book contained were great recipes that would have been enough. But what really made this book fun to read was learning all the background on the many great dishes I have enjoyed for years and hearing some of the great stories that have gifted San Francisco with this wonderful restaurant.
Pros: Great looking book, well written recipes, inspirational food and beverages. A must for fans of the restaurant.
Cons: Not a great start for people unfamiliar with Asian cuisine and ingredients, but nothing Google couldn’t solve.
Bottom Line: This book is much more than a pretty face. I’m sure the recipes in here will fast become part of my regular repertoire. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.
I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. The opinions and views that I have expressed are my own.