Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Slanted Door

The Slanted Door, Vietnamese cuisine with a lovely view of the Bay

We'd tried to go to The Slanted Door on a number of previous occasions. Either they were booked for reservations, or had an extended wait for walk-ins, so we gave up and said, "Some other time." But with my parents in town and anxious to go, we made reservations for the Friday night after Thanksgiving and finally got to experience it.
The first thing we noticed is that they've opened a takeout counter inside the Ferry Building itself (the entrance to the restaurant is not inside the building but on the bay side of it). It looks like a good place to get quick carry-out Vietnamese; we mentally made a note to come back sometime for that (it's right across from our beloved Taylor's Refresher--spring rolls and milkshakes, anyone?).

The restaurant itself is lovely, with huge windows opening onto a view of the Bay Bridge and Oakland that sparkles at sunset and glitters at night. Inside, the decor is modern and spare, with green glass, red wood, and flowers accenting it strategically. We were seated in a semi-circular booth that meant that all of us had a good view of the windows.

Our serving staff were uniformly friendly, if not always attentive. We waited a long time between drinks and ordering our food, and the food, when we did order it, came out at unpredictable intervals. That said, it was delicious without exception, from the spring rolls with pork and shrimp to the green papaya salad to the lamb and the shrimp noodles. The eggplant was cooked just right, with a sauce that we liked, though we preferred the Japanese eggplant at Three Seasons for its coconut sauce. In fact, the quality of most of the food at The Slanted Door was on a par with Three Seasons. What The Slanted Door has going for it that Three Seasons can't compete with is the location, the view, and the ambiance. If you are in San Francisco, it's probably not worth driving down to Palo Alto. On the other hand, if you're on the peninsula, it's probably not worth driving all the way up to San Francisco.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Canteen, French-American cuisine in a small diner-type room off the Hotel Commodore
(Image from the blog of Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle food critic.)

Canteen seats twenty-one, optimistically: three booths of four, one of two, and seven counter seats. The setup is reminiscent of an old greasy-spoon diner: you can look down the counter and see owner/chef Dennis Leary (not the comedian) working with his sous. They're connected to the Hotel Commodore, which appears to be a dormitory-like hotel for Academy of Art University students.

We got in for the 7:30 seating (they do three seatings a night) and looked over the menu for week 132. The menus change weekly, numbered by the number of weeks they've been serving dinner (they started as a lunch counter; they still do a Sunday brunch which immediately went on our list of brunches to try). Each menu has four appetizers, four main courses, and four desserts. Since there were three of us, that meant we'd only be missing out on three of the twelve dishes. Here's what we ended up getting (detail missing where they don't have the entree posted and I couldn't remember it):

Appetizers: Porcini mushroom soup; Squid poached, with lentils, spicy aioli and breadcrumbs; Treviso and Grapefruit with goat cheese crouton, coriander vinaigrette

Entrees: Roasted guinea hen with butternut squash puree; Brochettes de veau; Alaskan cod in a mild curry sauce

Desserts: Lemon croquettes with hazelnut sauce; Vanilla souffle; Semolina cake with buttermilk sorbet and last year's blueberries

(Treviso is a red lettuce that's a cross between endive and radicchio. We didn't know, and had to ask.)

Everything was delicious. The mushroom soup was creamy with a very nice mushroomy flavor, and the squid was the least squid-like squid we've ever had. Even the tentacles. The treviso salad had a hint of the bitterness you get with endive and radicchio, but not too much of it, and the dressing was really unique. The guinea hen tasted like a less gamey duck, very tender, and it went well with the butternut squash puree, which was one of the smoothest we've ever had. I loved the cod: it was really fresh, and the curry was light enough to let that taste come through. As for the desserts, it was a toss-up between the souffle and the semolina cake. The buttermilk sorbet (house made) tasted just about exactly as you'd think it would, but it still surprised me with its delicate flavor (which unfortunately got lost when overpowered with the tart blueberries).

The terrific food and the intimate setting make this a place we'd definitely recommend. It's walking distance from Union Square, just one block north and three west, and it's worth the trip.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Original Buffalo Wings

Original Buffalo Wings, in San Carlos
Pizza, burgers, cheesesteaks, and, of course, buffalo wings

The oddity of Original Buffalo Wings, located on Holly Street between 101 and El Camino (just before El Camino, on the left as you're coming from 101), is that it serves exclusively American food in what appears to be the living room of a Thai family(*). There are Thai-themed decorations all over, a bookshelf with pictures, a corner that appears to be a child's activity area, and the doorway back to the restrooms is surmounted by a wooden relief that wouldn't look out of place in a Thai restaurant.

The decor notwithstanding. OBW turns out to be a pretty good pizza/burger/cheesesteak diner. We tried the half-dozen buffalo tenders, which were tender as advertised. The buffalo sauce was rather mild, but nicely vinegary, and the dish was served with celery and blue cheese dip (rather than the oft-substituted ranch). The cheesesteaks and chicken steaks were both quite good, only lacking in the roll department. The flat sesame seed buns split all the way across did not really adequately contain the sandwich, though they tasted okay.

The interesting thing was that both the chicken and beef had a distinctly Asian flavor to them that we think might have been soy sauce. Whether or not this has a place in a Philly steak, it tasted pretty good. The fries also passed muster: hot and crispy, not too greasy. The main drawback to the meal was the $0.55 charge for refills of fountain drinks, which caught us all off guard in this age of free refills. We managed to nurse our small sodas through the meal and left quite sated.

It's not haute cuisine, but for a quick lunch, Original Buffalo Wings is pretty tasty. Definitely worth a repeat visit.

(*) The consensus among the luncheoners during our visit was Thai; I apologize if we, in our ignorance of Asian cultures, misidentified it.