Piglet Community Pick: The Slanted Door

February 19, 2015

Read up on some of 2014’s most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.

Today: Gingerroot tackles the recipes in The Slanted Door.

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Although I have never eaten at the restaurant, I was eager to cook from The Slanted Door cookbook. I’ve met Chef Phan twice at the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival and have enjoyed delicious bites of his cooking -- one year an incomparable (although not Asian) fried chicken, and this past year, his take on the classic Vietnamese dish chả cá, marinated and fried fish served with rice noodles and spiced with tumeric and dill. So when Phan's cookbook was posted as a Community Pick contender for this year’s Piglet, I jumped at the chance to review it.

The Slanted Door is styled and designed well and full of beautiful photographs, which makes it as pleasurable to read as it is cook and eat from. The book, presented in three acts, tells the story of the restaurant based on each location it's had, from its inception in 1995 until today. Phan tells the story of his family’s arrival in San Francisco in the 1970s as boat refugees from Vietnam. It’s easy to like the chef, the tireless eldest of six children, who worked through high school to help his family make ends meet. As I read, I found myself appreciating his entrepreneurial spirit -- and wanting him to succeed.

Each section is filled with recipes for traditional Vietnamese fare (the kind Phan grew up eating), more modern dishes that use local ingredients, and those that are just plain delicious -- like his fried chicken. For purposes of this review, I decided to stick with more traditional recipes -- the ones that have been customer favorites at the restaurant since the beginning and are still on the menu today. 

More: Feeling inspired? Make this Vietnamese rice noodle salad tonight.

Knowing that many dishes would likely include ingredients that were also recipes, I thoroughly read through the book and started my testing journey by picking dishes that included the same sub-recipes as ingredients. For example, when I made shallot oil for his Spring Rolls (which he credits as the origin for the entire Slanted Door family of restaurants), I used the leftover fried shallots to make his Pork and Shrimp Wontons with Spicy Chile Oil next. For the record, the Spring Rolls do not disappoint. I can see why he believed he could build a restaurant around them. I recommend everyone make shallot aioli, slather your spring rolls with it, and give thanks to Charles Phan and his mom, just before devouring. They are that good. 

More: The Slanted Door's Clams with Lime-Butter Sauce is sure to brighten your day.

Other highlights from testing include his Chicken Watercress Soup, Braised Oxtail Stew, and Caramelized Claypot Chicken. Cleansing and slightly peppery from the watercress, the Chicken Watercress Soup is the perfect contrast to the flavor and texture of the chicken meatballs. As a bonus, his recipe for chicken stock is genius (Do you hear that, Kristen Miglore?) and unlike any that I’ve tried before: It calls for only roasted ginger, onion, a touch of brown sugar, and bony chicken parts, and it's fragrant, rich, and silky. 

The Braised Oxtail Stew, which I recommend for weekend cooking, is complex and spicy -- a hearty meal that is even better on the second and third day. For weeknight cooking, once you make the caramel sauce, Phan’s Caramelized Chicken Claypot is a cinch to pull together and tastes better than most meals I can put out in less than 25 minutes. 

Phan’s recipes are clear and easy to follow and, for the most part, are delicious and satisfying. However, my high hopes for his Vegetarian Crêpes were not met, as the time spent prepping the filling, plus my novice crêpe-making ability, did not justify the result. I was similarly frustrated by the level of effort required for the “Basics” section in the back of the book. These sub-recipes, such as chicken stock, peanut sauce, and caramel sauce, are not scaled to the recipes throughout the rest of the book. This means extra work for the cook to halve and divide the "Basics" recipes where needed. 

In relation to the slew of other fantastic recipes in The Slanted Door, these were only minor setbacks. In my mind, the mark of a good cookbook is that you keep coming back to it -- and I'm incredibly eager to continue cooking my way though this one. I have no doubt that many of these dishes will become part of my family's regular rotation. That's why I'm so excited to eat at Phan's restaurant when I travel to San Francisco this May. Returning home will be a little bit easier knowing that I can continue to enjoy his wonderful food in the comfort of my own kitchen.

First photo by Mark Weinberg; spring roll photo by Linda Pugliese; peanut sauce photo by Phoebe Lapine


The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!


See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • loubaby
  • Burnt Offerings
    Burnt Offerings
  • Shalini
  • gingerroot
  • hardlikearmour

Written by: gingerroot

My most vivid childhood memories have to do with family and food. As a kid, I had the good fortune of having a mom who always encouraged trying new things, and two grandmothers who invited me into their kitchens at a young age. I enjoy cooking for the joy it brings me - sharing food with loved ones - and as a stress release. I turn to it equally during good times and bad. Now that I have two young children, I try to be conscientious about what we cook and eat. Right about the time I joined food52, I planted my first raised bed garden and joined a CSA; between the two I try to cook as sustainably and organically as I can. Although I'm usually cooking alone, my children are my favorite kitchen companions and I love cooking with them. I hope when they are grown they will look back fondly at our time spent in the kitchen, as they teach their loved ones about food-love. Best of all, after years on the mainland for college and graduate school, I get to eat and cook and raise my children in my hometown of Honolulu, HI. When I'm not cooking, I am helping others grow their own organic food or teaching schoolchildren about art.


loubaby December 15, 2015
The Caramelized Pepper Chicken recipe is also excellent....great intense flavor from the sauce....I urge you to try it.
Burnt O. February 24, 2015
This was a great read! I got this cookbook for Christmas and can't wait to try the recipes you recommend.
Shalini February 20, 2015
Wow gingerroot, what commitment! Since you made so many of the recipes, we want to, too! Nice descriptions. I have never made this type of authentic Vietnamese food at home. But I would like to try!
gingerroot February 20, 2015
Thanks everyone, for your comments! It was a fun a delicious task to cook through this book.
hardlikearmour February 19, 2015
What a fantastic sounding cookbook! Great review. For some reason cooking Asian cuisine intimidates me a bit, but I think I should get over that -- this book seems like a must have.
cookinginvictoria February 19, 2015
Beautifully written review, Jenny! I too love that you made lots of recipes from this cookbook. There are so many dishes that you made that I want to cook too (especially the spring rolls with shallot aioli, oxtail stew, chicken in a claypot). And next time I am in S.F., I must check out Chef Phan's restaurant. :)
ChefJune February 19, 2015
I also recommended this book for a Community Pick for Piglet. We LOVED the clams, and also the Chicken Salad, which I will be making again and again.
savorthis February 19, 2015
I'm with Abbie....I knew I would have to get this book as well. I remember being so excited when the first Slanted Door opened in the Mission- it was one of my favorite restaurants in SF. Thanks for the review- and I enjoyed seeing your photos on instagram too!
arielleclementine February 19, 2015
Great review!! What an exciting array of dishes you cooked!
aargersi February 19, 2015
Oy Vey now I have to buy yet another cookbook!!! Great review, and I love that you cooked a LOT of things from this book.
garlic&lemon February 19, 2015
I also swore off buying cookbooks, but I agree with Abbie that I'm going to have to get this one. Thanks for cooking so many recipes from the book!
AntoniaJames February 19, 2015
Nicely done, gingerroot. Thank you. ;o)
healthierkitchen February 19, 2015
My mouth is watering from your descriptions! Must make some of the sauces!
aixpat February 19, 2015
Wonderful review! I had assumed that a restaurant cookbook would be less accessible, but you've convinced me to give this one a try.
ChefJune February 19, 2015
aixpat: this book is written for home cooks. And Phan's stories of his life in Vietnam and coming to America are inspiring.
EmilyC February 19, 2015
Wonderful review, Jenny! I love that you cooked so much from the book. I'm intrigued by the chicken stock, I must say!

luvcookbooks February 19, 2015
Wasn't sure I should buy this, but now I feel sure that I should!! A definite! Thanks for testing. :))