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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Recipe: The Slanted Door's Shaking Beef


The Mission District of San Francisco is today known as a kind of proving ground for restaurants, a place where chefs can introduce new concepts and cuisines and then test, refine and perfect them before exposure to a broader audience.   The restaurant that arguably ushered in and cemented this reputation more than any other is The Slanted Door.

Opened in 1995 near the corner of Valencia and 17th Streets, The Slanted Door quickly became a phenomenon as word spread about Chef-Owner Charles Phan’s delicious Vietnamese food prepared with a California influence.   The original space was small and sparse, with concrete floors, unadorned cement walls, and virtually deafening noise levels.   When Phan decided to expand the Valencia site in 2002, he temporarily relocated the restaurant to a vacant and larger spot at the corner of Brannan and Embarcadero.   This location had a completely different feel than the original, with white table cloths, casually elegant décor, and a warm, relatively quiet atmosphere – a marked improvement, in my opinion.   By 2004, however, Phan had decided not to return the restaurant to its original home, but to take up residence in the San Francisco Ferry Building instead.   This custom-designed setting offers sweeping views of the Bay, but the table cloths and quiet elegance of the preceding location have given way to a sparseness akin to that of the original.

Many have said that The Slanted Door has lost something along the way, and I unfortunately have to agree.   Put simply, the current incarnation of the restaurant is cold and impersonal.   The décor consists of stark colors with little warmth, modernistic furniture with no sense of refinement, and a palpable dearth of noise-muting fabrics.
The host staff can often be downright rude, acting as though they are doing you a tremendous favor by merely allowing you to eat there.   For example, despite a posted sign indicating that the restaurant will open at 11:00 a.m. for lunch, the host staff will often open the door whenever they please – the long line of guests outside be damned.   And the wait staff, though not affirmatively impolite, are frequently indifferent and inattentive.

Yet, the one thing that cannot be denied is the quality of the food.   Yes, it’s true that price and quantity seem to be moving in opposite directions as the years go on, with the former rising as the latter falls.   But while the value of the food may legitimately be called into question, the taste of it cannot.   Spring Rolls, Cellophane Noodles with Crab, Caramelized Shrimp, Claypot Chicken, Sugar Snap Peas – all have held up extremely well since those early days on Valencia Street.   But the very first dish from Phan that captivated me, the one I still view as a must-have on any visit and that tastes as good as ever, is the Shaking Beef.   Tender cubes of filet mignon are sautéed with red onions and a soy vinaigrette, and then served with a pepper and lime juice dipping sauce.   The result is outstanding.
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There's more...
Phan has published his recipe for Shaking Beef several times, most recently in an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle.   The recipe, which is set forth below, is not at all difficult.   But before you get too excited, I must warn you that even if you follow the directions precisely, you may not end up with a dish that tastes exactly like the original.   This may be because some of the ingredients are listed only in generic terms (e.g., light and dark soy sauce); it may be because the specific brands that Phan uses make a big difference in the ultimate flavor.
It may even be that Phan has slyly left off a key ingredient or two.   Nevertheless, the below recipe yields a delicious dish, so I encourage you to try it.   And who knows – with a little experimentation and tweaking, you may be able to get even closer to the version served in the restaurant.

Shaking Beef
Charles Phan, The Slanted Door

The Meat
2 T chopped garlic
1 t sugar
1½ t salt
¾ t fresh black pepper
2 T neutral cooking oil, such as canola or corn oil
1½ lbs filet mignon, cut into 1” cubes

The Vinaigrette
¼ c rice vinegar
1 T sugar
¼ c rice wine
4 T light soy sauce
1 T dark soy sauce
1 T fish sauce

The Dipping Sauce
Juice of 1 lime
½ t kosher salt
¼ t fresh black pepper

The Stir-Fry
4 T neutral cooking oil, such as canola or corn oil
3 stalks green onion, cut into 1” pieces
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
2 t butter
2 bunches watercress, for garnish

1.   Prepare marinade by combining garlic, sugar, salt, pepper and oil in a large nonmetal bowl.   Add filet mignon, combine and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for two hours.

2.   Prepare vinaigrette by combining rice vinegar, sugar, rice wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and fish sauce.   Set aside.

3.   Heat a wok over high heat.   Divide beef, green onions and red onions in half, as you will cook in two batches.

4.   Add 2 T oil to the wok.   When the oil starts to smoke, add first portion of the beef in an even layer.   Let it sit until a forms a brown crust, about 2 minutes.   With a spatula, flip the beef over to brown the other side, about 1 minute.

5.   Add first portion of the green onions and red onions and cook for 1 more minute.   Pour half of vinaigrette down the side of the wok, and then shake pan to release the beef and toss with the vinaigrette.   Add 1 t butter and continue to shake pan until butter melts.   Remove the meat and onions from the wok.   Keep warm.

6.   Repeat steps 4 and 5 with second portion of meat, green onions and red onions.   Place the watercress in the middle of the serving plate and spoon hot beef and onions on top.

7.   Prepare dipping sauce by putting salt and pepper in small ramekin and squeezing lime juice over it.   Serve alongside the beef.   Serves 4.




5 Comments:

Blogger paul said...

and to think that I work within spitting distance of the ferry building and settle for the "bay cuisines" food court for lunch. Agh!!! Shaking Beef every day!

July 19, 2005 8:34 PM  
Blogger NS said...

It's such a popular dish that I've never understood why Phan doesn't sell it at "Out the Door" (his Ferry Building takeout counter). He does sell a Shaking Beef "kit" there, with all of the ingredients included and pre-measured so that you can cook the dish yourself, but that doesn't do the lunchtime crowd a whole lot of good.

July 20, 2005 10:13 PM  
Anonymous tiffany said...

As fabulous as Slanted Door is, if you feel like high-quality, authentic Vietnamese without hurting the pocketbook (and are willing to venture out of SF), I highly recommend Vung Tau. I've been going to this set of 3 family owned restaurants in Newark, San Jose and Milpitas since I was a little kid, and can't go more than a month without having their sugar cane shrimp or shaking beef. It's the Gombei of Vietnamese food as I like to tell folks who know their way around the Bay Area Japanese food scene :)

On a side note, one of the daughters in the family went upmarket with the opening of Tamarine in Palo Alto, which offers more "gourmet" interpretations of Vietnamese dishes, e.g. shaking beef made with filet mignon, while maintaining classic Vietnamese flavors.

August 25, 2005 1:49 PM  
Blogger NS said...

Tiffany: I have heard several people rave about Vung Tau, and I've been meaning to try it for some time now. I will definitely check it out.

I have been to Tamarine a few times; I thought it was quite good, although a bit on the pricey side for what you get. Maybe I'm not remembering this correctly, but I thought that the dinner prices were not that far off from those of The Slanted Door.

August 25, 2005 3:11 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Anybody actually try the recipe yet? How did it turn out?

March 30, 2009 12:14 PM  

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