Few awards mean more to a chef than a James Beard Foundation Award. But it can be particularly meaningful for those chefs who have grown with a restaurant for more than 10 years — an accolade saved for the Outstanding Restaurant Award, presented by Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water.
This year’s nominees run the spectrum of location and cuisine: August in New Orleans; Blue Hill in New York City; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.; The Slanted Door in San Francisco; and Spiaggia in Chicago. We teamed up with Acqua Panna to go to each restaurant, share a meal, and discuss with each chef how their restaurants have maintained their quality and continually evolved over the years.
After sampling the fare and talking to the chefs at Blue Hill, Spiaggia, August, and Highlands Bar and Grill, our last stop was sunny San Francisco to check out Charles Phan's The Slanted Door. The iconic Vietnamese restaurant introduced the city to a more contemporary, chef-driven take on Asian cuisine and has been a staple of the city for more than 18 years. Phan is no stranger to the Beard Awards — he was recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation "Who's Who of Food & Beverage" and also won Best Chef California in 2004.
At my recent meal, I felt immersed in two cusines. Some of the dishes were light and all about the Bay Area's products, like one of my favorites, wild California uni with black tobiko, avocado, and cucumber. Others felt like a trip to Vietnam, most notably the shaking beef with cubed filet mignon, watercress, red onion, and lime sauce. The dishes at The Slanted Door are equally a celebration of California products and Vietnamese traditions.
We sat down with Phan to discuss the restaurant's evolution — from its original space to its current home in the sun-filled Ferry Building. Phan is still surprised by the resturant's success. "We opened in '95, [in a] little hole in the wall place in the Mission District," he said. "I was hoping we'd sell $200 a day. That was my goal and we've come a long way."
For more from Phan, watch the video above! And don't miss The Daily Meal's coverage of The James Beard Foundation Awards on May 6!