The food at the Slanted Door was so good I stopped reading.
I am incapable of dining alone without reading material. And I go to great pains to make sure I have reading material when I’m going to be dining alone. Let alone a table with light. And when a dining companion excuses him/herself for a temporary abscence in a restaurant, I often take out a book. Once while eating katsudon* in a Japanese restaurant in New York, the two Japanese people at the table next to me were having a debate (in Japanese) as to whether I was Japanese or not, because it was inconceivable to them that a Westerner could read and eat a somewhat complicated dish with chopsticks at the same time.**
The last time I visited San Francisco, the concierge at the Hilton found it quite amusing that I asked whether I could get a dinner reservation at the Slanted Door sometime that week. So as soon as the trip came up, I made a reservation.
The place bills itself as Vietnamese. I don’t have a lot of experience with Vietnamese cooking, but the food here was amazingly approachable. Believe it or not, the highlight of the meal was a side dish of brussel sprouts with trumpet mushrooms stir fried in a garlic-scented oil. Now I’ve never been a big trumpet mushroom fan, and I’m only OK with brussel sprouts. But this was a “wow.”
When eating at the restaurant, I tried to figure out what made things so good. It was as if the flavor settings on all the dishes had been dialed up. But there were no secret ingredients. It was just outstanding material, in well thought-out combinations, executed with craft and skill, beautifully presented in an audience-friendly fashion. Hey, that sounds like what cabaret should be, doesn’t it?***
* A fried pork cutlet, sauteed onions, and egg over rice.
** Actually, when I studied in Tokyo, other Western students constantly encountered amazement by the Japanese when they demonstrated an ability to eat with chopsticks. Is there any Western person out there who has been impressed by an Asian being able to eat with a knife and a fork? (Which I might add takes coordinating instruments in two hands, not to mention the fact that you don’t get to hold a bowl up to your mouth!)
*** You knew this piece would eventually get to cabaret, didn’t you?