Charles Phan @ M.B. Post (Manhattan Beach, CA)

Charles Phan (The Slanted Door)
M.B. Post

1142 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Dining date: 8/12/13

Manhattan Beach Post (M.B. Post) has been a hot spot in the area since opening over two years ago (helping to spawn another restaurant, Fishing with Dynamite, earlier this year). Chef David LeFevre hosts a recurring guest chef series called “Can You Dig It?” that benefits partner charity Common Threads. For this iteration, he teamed up with chef Charles Phan of San Francisco’s The Slanted Door.

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Charles Phan is one of the old school notable Asian chefs in America; he’s best known for his flagship modern Vietnamese restaurant, The Slanted Door, which opened in the mid-1990s. His mini-empire now spans 7 restaurants in the San Francisco area. I don’t think he can be found in The Slanted Door kitchen as much nowadays, so this was an opportune chance to sample some of his cooking straight from the source. Chef LeFevre’s food has a lot of Asian influences and I was curious to see if he could adapt his cuisine to seamlessly fit in with Phan’s.

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The menu for this evening was a collaborative effort, with 5 dishes being prepared by Phan and 3 by LeFevre for $75. Phan brought a couple of notable The Slanted Door plates as well as a few new ones. As far as I know, LeFevre’s dishes were making their first appearance here at M.B. Post.

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Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 3/30/13

8604801749 6002b9344b Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

Red Medicine is easily one of the city’s most controversial restaurants and it doesn’t really have anything to do with the food. Indeed, I think the outing of LA Times food critic S. Irene Virbila and the public admonishing of no-show diners has brought the restaurant nationwide attention, but it has likely overshadowed the food. More quietly, I’ve heard that the food coming out of Red Medicine’s kitchens are some of the more interesting, beautiful and delicious in the city, finding an ideal balance between Vietnamese influences and more modern American cuisine.

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I first sampled Red Medicine at the debut of revolving pop-up Test Kitchen in 2010, just before its opening in November of that year. Soon after the opening I stopped in for lunch, but it took me just over two years after that last visit to stop in for a proper dinner meal. I’ve been many times for dessert, but a full dinner was long overdue.

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Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

Red Medicine
8400 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dining date: 2/21/11

This was my first time having President’s Day off since beginning my professional career (damn public accounting), and similar to Veteran’s Day, I wanted to make it count by hitting a lunch spot that I normally would not be able to. Enter Red Medicine, a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant that is undoubtedly more (in)famous for its treatment of the LA Times food critic than for its food. However, the food reviews I’ve read have generally been very positive from those who still opted to give the restaurant a try. While I did not like how that situation was handled, it didn’t stop me from paying a visit.

interior3 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

The lunch menu is much simpler than the dinner menu, more closely resembling the restaurant’s lounge menu. However, it still presented a number of interesting options and had a full dessert menu (a must here).

We started with iced oolong tea and iced Vietnamese coffee; both made in-house and both pretty good.

oolong 300x201 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)vietnamese coffee 300x201 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

CRISPY SPRING ROLL squash, fennel, caramelized onion, tamarind

spring rolls 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

I really liked the delicate crispiness of these rolls and the differing textures within them. I could see how one could find the butternut squash, caramelized onions and tamarind sauce to be too sweet, but I didn’t mind.

CHICKEN DUMPLINGS caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass, confitures

chicken dumpling 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

lettuce 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

These weren’t so much dumplings as they were chicken meatballs. I didn’t have a problem with that, as they were delicious – very moist and flavorful. Looking at the interior, it looked like white meat, so I’m not sure how these were so moist (well, pork fat helps). Accompaniments included fried shallots, lime, hoisin and sriracha sauces, and lettuce for added flavor and playfulness. One problem, though, was that the lettuce wasn’t large enough to cover the circumference of the ‘dumplings.’

BÚN CHÀ wagyu beef, chilled rice vermicelli, herbs, lettuce, peanuts, nuoc cham

wagyu bun cha 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

The server called the beef here “A5 wagyu,” which I’m pretty skeptical about. I liked the multitude of textures; the peanuts, bean sprouts and pickled vegetables gave each bite some chew, while the skirt steak and fish sauce brought the bulk of the flavors. Cool and refreshing, this would be a popular dish in the summer.

BÁNH MÌ heritage chicken lemongrass, carrot pickle, coriander, kewpie mayonnaise, green chili, cucumber

banh mi 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

I’ve heard much about this sandwich at Red Medicine, and this was definitely a solid variation. The baguette, from Bouchon, was toasty, warm and soft. I liked that the chicken was pounded flat, so that it could be laid perfectly in the sandwich; each bite had an equal amount of chicken. There wasn’t anything particularly special about this banh mi, but it’s not trying to be.

I couldn’t come here without trying some desserts. After all, chef Jordan Kahn made his name as a pastry chef, and his coconut bavarois at Test Kitchen’s debut was probably one of the strongest I had in 2010.

COCONUT BAVAROIS coffee, condensed milk, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory

coconut bavarois 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

This is the same dessert from Test Kitchen, with a couple of differences…nonetheless just as good. There are a number of flavors and textures involved; coffee, thai basil, peanut and coconut are the chief flavors, while the chicory and peanut croquant (like  Reese’s peanut butter cup) add the textures. These all melded together so well.  So good.

BITTER CHOCOLATE kecap manis, oats, parsnip, brown butter, soy milk sorbet

bitter chocolate 500x335 Red Medicine (Los Angeles, CA)

This was a new dessert to me, and also a good one. Kahn plays with textures very well, and we had some cookie crumble here which provided some bite. The chocolate was good as well, though this was somewhat overshadowed by our other dessert.

I was pleasantly surprised by this meal. I thought the strength was in the appetizers and desserts; the appetizers showed some different renditions of familiar dishes, while the desserts were imaginative, unique and delicious. I had no issues with the entrees at all, but they weren’t necessarily better than your go-to Vietnamese restaurant (which I’m sure is cheaper). Still, I am definitely planning a return visit…this time, for dinner.

Out the Door – 1/10/10

Out the Door
2232 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

La Boulangerie
2325 Pine Street
San Francisco, CA 94115

For my last lunch meal in San Francisco, my mother and I were very indecisive about where to go. We talked through a number of places but finally picked out this one. Out the Door is the casual sibling of famed Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door. This is their newest outpost in the up-and-coming Fillmore area.

The best way for me to describe Slanted Door/OTD is probably as “Vietnamese cuisine catered to the Americanized palate.” The menu is a mix of some of the typical dishes you’d find at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant, as well as some more modern creations. Chef Charles Phan does focus on using high quality ingredients including a number of local purveyors, so the prices are higher as well.

crispy imperial rolls, shrimp, pork, mint, rice vermicelli, peanuts

imperial rolls 500x335 Out the Door   1/10/10

I’ve had these rolls before and enjoyed them. Same story here – they were really crispy with a good filling of pork, cabbage, carrots and herbs.

beef phô, prather ranch eye of round, thai basil, thin rice noodles

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My mother was feeling like pho, so she got this bowl. I’m pretty confident you won’t find many bowls of pho with such high quality beef (Prather Ranch, in this case). The broth had a nice, deep flavor and the noodles were good as well. Definitely on the pricier side for a simple bowl of pho, but a really good one.

grilled lemongrass pork over vermicelli noodles, crispy imperial rolls

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I liked the tender, meaty chunks of pork here – they were grilled and slightly charred, giving them a little bit of smoky flavor as well. I liked the cool noodles, as well as the crispy carrots for some texture. The restaurant’s fish sauce is definitely less pungent than normal, which I liked here. And…more of those imperial rolls! Yum.

chicken porridge, rau ram, crispy shallots, black pepper

chicken porridge 500x335 Out the Door   1/10/10

This was the last dish we ordered. This was one of the best (okay, and most expensive) rice porridges I’ve had. It’s a pretty simple dish, but there were a number of different flavors within each scoop – the crispy shallots, the rau ram (like cilantro), and the tender chunks of chicken. It had the perfect amount of salt and the consistency was spot on.

For the flight back to LA, I picked up both “dessert” and “breakfast” for the next morning at one of my favorite bakeries in the city – La Boulangerie of the Bay Bread Co.. It’s just a block away from the restaurant.

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The breads are great here, but I really like the croissants. I picked up a chocolate and hazelnut chocolate croissant. Eaten fresh or warmed up quickly in the oven, these were delicious.

I was pretty happy with this meal at Out the Door. It definitely met, and probably exceeded expectations a little. The food was comforting, tasty and executed well. Yes, it’s a little more expensive for Vietnamese, but I thought it was worth it.

Slanted Door – 8/30/10

The Slanted Door
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111

The Slanted Door was one of my favorite restaurants growing up in San Francisco. It’s been at its current location for a while now, in the Ferry Building Marketplace with great views of the San Francisco Bay.

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The chef is Charles Phan, who has arguably become the most famous chef of Vietnamese cuisine in the country. Serving upscale Vietnamese food, the restaurant’s been popular ever since it opened in the Mission District in San Francisco in 1995. It continues today as the restaurant was packed for a Monday lunch.

spicy ahi tuna tartare with english cucumber, ginger and toasted sesame

tuna 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

We started with this tuna tartare, which was fairly typical.  I thought the shrimp chips were a nice addition, being the main textural component in this dish.

wild california yellowtail with crispy shallots and Thai basil

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I enjoyed the crispy shallots in this dish, adding a nice crunchy sensation to each bite. The Thai basil brightened up the flavors as well.

slanted door spring rolls with shrimp, pork, mint and peanut sauce

spring rolls 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

This is a classic dish – solid though nothing special. I would compare them to spring rolls you can get at a good Vietnamese restaurant, but these were rather steep at $9.

crispy imperial rolls with shrimp, pork, glass noodles and peanuts

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I enjoyed these imperial rolls especially for their delightfully crispy exterior. The pork added a meatier flavor which I always enjoy.

vietnamese crepe with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and onions

pancake 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

The crepe was thin and very crispy – perfect. Filled with pork and shrimp, I enjoyed this savory crepe. The fish sauce brought it all together.

pho bo vietnamese beef soup with prather ranch london broil and wide rice noodles

pho 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

Considering Slanted Door’s prices are rather high, I was surprised to see a bowl of pho for $6. However, it all made sense when the bowl came out, as it was about four inches in diameter. Still, a well made pho with a deeply-flavored soup.

caramelized tiger prawns with garlic, onions and chili sauce

shrimp 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

The shrimp were overcooked, making them a little mealy. The flavors were good though, with a sweet soy-based flavor and mild heat from the chili peppers.

hodo soy beanery yuba with glass noodles, parsnip, and pioppini mushrooms

noodles 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

I enjoyed these noodles, served warm. The glass noodles have a nice chewy texture to them. The dried beancurd (yuba) added to the lightness of this dish.

grass-fed estancia shaking beef cubed filet mignon, sausalito springs’ watercress, red onions and lime sauce

shaking beef 500x335 Slanted Door   8/30/10

This is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. I’ve tried duplicating this at home using one of Phan’s published recipes, to no satisfaction.  I don’t think this was worth $32, as there isn’t really too much meat. The meat was cooked a medium-well, but with a fantastic crust. There wasn’t a ton of flavor in my opinion, though.

My meal at Slanted Door had its up-and-downs. For the most part, I thought the food was good and nothing was ‘bad.’ In time, I will likely return, but I’m not in a hurry. The Ferry Building Marketplace itself has so much to offer, and I plan to explore more of those stalls first.