See that view up there? Well it’s what you get to see when you are lucky enough to be seated at the window seats at The Slanted Door in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. And the view I ultimately really wanted to have when we dined there on our brief stop in San Francisco last month. Alas, it was not meant to be, because whilst I was able to score a reservation for us at a reasonable hour, they seat you as tables become available, meaning you can’t request a window table. I had actually asked for one for two reasons – the light, so I would be able to take pics of the apparently awesome food as discreetly as possible and secondly, so that we would not be surrounded on all sides by people and tables. My dad can’t stand overly noisy restaurants and we were dining with Neil’s mum who is 85 and very softly spoken, so I wanted to alleviate as much as possible the prospect of a dinner where we couldn’t hear ourselves think. Again, not meant to be.
We were seated at a table very close to the back of the large room, where we were surrounded on all sides and in dim lighting. (It’s atmospheric, yes, but failed on both the noise and lighting factor). I spotted a small table for 2 and a table for 4 empty near the window and requested that we be seated there but they insisted that 5 people could not occupy space for 6. Then proceeded to seat 2 at the table for 2 and 3 at the table for 4. Who were all there as long as we were so really, we could have sat there, no problem. Many of the wait staff treated my request with disdain, even though I had requested both at the time of booking. I guess rules are rules but as the night wore on, the “cool factor” of the restaurant (i.e. turning as many tables as they humanly could) became a little wearing… The table for 4 behind was given to a party of 7, making the noise factor nearly unbearable. So, ok, maybe I am not cut out for cool restaurants anymore which is not your problem dear reader, but I hear you wanting to know about the food…
Thankfully, the food was phenomenal. Some of the best Asian food I have had recently, and considering the cool factor and the location (and potential view), it was pretty good value too.
Starters from top left: Crispy imperial rolls with shrimp, pork, glass noodles and peanuts ($10), Dumplings steamed in banana leaf with shiitake mushrooms, pork and dried shrimp ($12), Daikon rice cakes with shiitake mushrooms and shallots ($12), and complimentary Chilled greenlip mussels mussels steamed in white wine and lemongrass with roasted chili aioli. A nice gesture, the mussels to make up for our disappointment at lack of window seating. Pity I don’t like mussels. Apparently they were lovely.
Of these apps, the spring rolls were superb. Crispy and flavourful. The rice cakes were surprisingly tasty and we were universally underwhelmed by the dumpling. Too slimy.
For mains, we ordered a selection of dishes and to be fair to our server, he was super observant to the point of a couple of dishes in, suggesting he halve a couple of the upcoming dishes as it might have been too much. A thoughtful touch that was appreciated. He was very professional and we found him very attentive.
I apologise for the awful photos. Yes. there was a flash involved at some points.
Our mains, from top left: Green papaya salad with tofu, rau ram and roasted peanuts ($11), Cellophane noodles with fresh Dungeness crab meat ($18), Chue farm baby bok choy with baby shiitake mushrooms ($10), Caramelized tiger prawns with garlic, onions and chili sauce ($20).
We loved all these dishes. The Dungeness crab did not fail to disappoint (I had many people telling me it was a “must”) and the prawns were cooked to perfection.
Chicken claypot with caramel sauce, chilies and fresh ginger ($19), Chue farm Japanese eggplant with green onions and coconut milk ($10) . These two dishes were pretty tasty too. I especially love the way the Heath Ceramics bowl coordinates with the Japanese eggplant!
By this time, we were totally replete and couldn’t fit in a dessert if we tried. We were given a complimentary tapioca dessert (again, something I don’t eat, especially when I am already pleasantly full from dinner!) which was a nice touch but didn’t make up for the fact that there we were so close to the lovely view, but so far, and not for want of trying.
So it it worth it? Worth the wait, worth the random seating? Does it live up to the hype? If judging solely on food, I would say yes. Unfortunately, for me, dining is also about the atmosphere, the experience, so on both those counts, not so much. It’s hard to really enjoy even outstanding food when at least one of your party can’t hear the conversation and another speaks in a whisper rendering her impossible to hear above the din. We might have been better off heading there for lunch, although I suspect it’s jam-packed at all times. Go for the food, not the view, and certainly don’t go for a romatntic tête-à-tête, unless you don’t care about conversation. The food? Guaranteed fabulous. The view, not so much guaranteed.
The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111
Apparently, a trip to San Francisco without a meal at Zuni Café would be a big no-no for a foodie so I made a reservation there for our last night. I was only able to book for 4 on the website and as we ended up being a party of 5, I phoned them to see if I could add the extra person. Apparently, no, this was not possible. That table for 4 simply couldn’t take 5 people and there were no others that could at that time either so we would just have to show up for our 8pm reservation and take our chances. Seriously? Since we ended up being seated at a table more suitable for 4 than 5 anyway, this made no sense to me.
We arrived at 7.50pm and waited at the bar with some lovely drinks.
And we waited. And watched the open kitchen at work…
We were finally seated at 9.10pm. I have a very hard time believing that there were no tables at all that could have seated us before then. It’s a huge space and I still can’t wrap my head around the difference between a table for 4 and a table for 5 (since in the area we were seated, the tables were the same size for either sized party). Thank goodness they allowed Neil’s mum to sit at the end of the bar as we waited.
This put paid to our plans to order Zuni’s famous “Chicken for two” since that needed at least an hour’s notice. No way were we waiting until nearly 10.30 to eat a main course (I had a 3.30am wakeup call the next morning).
We were pretty happy with our starters – we got some of the famous shoestring potato fries to share, I ordered an heirloom tomato and beet salad and Neil had the classic Caesar with fresh anchovies (below, top row).
Our mains were very very good, with the exception of the rabbit (middle row, far left). Not a meat that lends itself to roasting as it tends to dry out, this dish was tasty but terribly tough. The salmon and beef (middle row) were both excellent and I ordered a small portion (a starter) of fried fish which was melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious with a perfectly crispy batter. Neil ordered the lamb tajine (not pictured) which was North Africa in a bowl. The desserts were also exceptional – a honey ice cream with a sesame brittle and a “gâteau Victoire” with whipped cream (what I would call a moelleux au chocolat in France – lightest chocolate cake ever).
So yes, the food was good. Great, even. But this whole reservation shenanigans? I am so over that. Call me old fashioned, call me uncool but having to wait over an hour for a table that was reserved (albeit a reservation that I changed after the fact, though it’s not as though I added 5 people to the table, it was one) is just not ok with me. Doesn’t matter how great the food is. But who knows? Maybe I am on my own here?
What about you? Does it bug you when restaurants have quirky reservations policies?
1658 Market St
San Francisco, CA 94102