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November 21, 2014

The Slanted Door

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

This is my favorite cookbook of the year. Nineteen years ago, Charles Phan, in spite of humble beginnings as a refugee with no formal culinary training, opened The Slanted Door. His vision was to serve fresh, flavorful and simple homestyle Vietnamese cooking that showcases California’s fresh, local produce. Over the years, the restaurant became so popular, it allowed him to grow, not just in size but also in the quality of his produce (now all organic) and ingredients, and develop an excellent beverage program in wines, cocktails (there’s a cocktail section in the book) and teas to match the exquisite cuisine. Dining out is often compared to theater, so the book is broken down into three acts, tracing the growth of the restaurant through its three locations with short stories punctuating the chapters chronologically. Act one sets the stage with starter recipes; act two stars cocktails, raw bar, salad and soups; and act three climaxes with mains and desserts. Through his recipes and stories, you experience the ardor of a man with strong instincts in both his aesthetics and willingness to take risks. The stories are concise and from the heart, each detailing the circumstances and people who helped Phan on his journey to success, including family, landlords, purveyors, developers, architects and staff. The Slanted Door is one of those restaurants that open your eyes to a cuisine and its infinite possibilities. I remember my first visit to the current Ferry Building location. Everything from the refreshing flavors, the friendly and professional service to the modern, warm atmosphere entices me to visit every time I’m in San Francisco. I’m so thrilled to recreate these dishes at home. The recipes in the book are as tasty as the stories, and you are guaranteed to become a popular host with these dishes. Opting for a simpler recipe, the seared scallops in Vietnamese beurre blanc is an absolute hit and easy to make. Also, try your hand at The Slanted Door’s signature shaking beef, which distills in a single dish why The Slanted Door is so beloved.

Shaking Beef

Shaking Beef

Charles Phan

Serves 4

Our signature dish has an interesting history. When we first opened the Slanted Door, I was always on the lookout for good deals on good ingredients, and I found one in the unlikeliest of places. Airline food service companies were purchasing medallions of filet mignon to serve on board, leaving local meat suppliers with the filet tail, which no one really wanted. Somehow, I got my hands on them, and our shaking beef was born. I started buying up all the filet tails around town, and when there were none left, I started buying whole filets. Over the years, we’ve continually increased the quality of the meat we purchase, and four years ago, we switched to filets from organic, grass-fed cows in Uruguay.

  • 1 ½ pounds filet mignon, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup mirin
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 3 green onions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed

2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup lime juice

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the salt and pepper. Stir well to combine. Let marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, mirin, light and dark soy sauces, fish sauce, and the remaining tablespoon of sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add 1⁄2 cup of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add half of the beef to the wok in a single layer and sear for about 3 minutes, until a brown crust forms on the bottom side. Flip the cubes and cook for 1 minute on the second side. Remove half of the oil and set aside. Add half of the red onions and green onions and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Add half the soy sauce mixture and shake the pan to coat the beef. Add half of the garlic and half of the butter and shake the pan to distribute evenly. Transfer to a platter and keep warm. Wipe the wok clean, add the reserved oil, and return it to high heat. Repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients.
  4. To serve, arrange the watercress on a platter and top with the beef. To make the dipping sauce, stir together the salt, pepper, and lime juice in a small bowl. Place alongside the platter for dipping the beef.
VietnameseSan Francisco