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