Tips frosted, Guy Fieri swipes a spoon in brown sauce. He raises the spoon to his mouth, licks. Looking small beside him, Hue Tran watches. Tran is chef-owner at Slanted Rice, a Vietnamese restaurant in one of the strip malls on Scottsdale Road. Tran has mixed the sauce from soy, sesame oil, and other mostly Asian ingredients. It looked about as standard as cocktail sauce, as plain as mayonnaise.
But wait. Ladies and gents, never mind! A wave of pleasure breaks over the mayor of Flavortown's face. His enthusiasm bursts from the frame and into 10 million living rooms.
“Okay, I’ll have that on a shoe," Fieri exclaims.
At this moment, my curiosity surged. How could that simple sauce warrant such a reaction? How could simple egg rolls have blasted Fieri straight to Andromeda? What was this restaurant?
Slanted Rice isn’t a diner, drive-in, or dive. I know Fieri is on season 27 and there are only so many Ds, Ds, and Ds in the States. Are they still good, or is he manufacturing hype? Until this episode, this spot hadn’t blipped onto my radar, and I’m a local food editor who loves Asian food.
A visit to Slanted Rice was in order.
So I went, and I ate everything Guy did.
Writers in food media give Guy Fieri hell. I don’t know why. The man likes to get jazzed about food like we do. He also is adept at analyzing flavors and communicating his analysis in a way digestible to the average viewer, who may not know culantro from culatello. So what if he doesn’t act a certain way, or doesn’t fit a “refined” mold, or hasn’t been cookie-cut from highfalutin cultural cloth? If anything, one must admire that Fieri rocks an out-of-fashion frosted dome with such gusto that, watching him work, it feels like 1997 again.
Tips looking sharp, Fieri rolled up to Slanted Rice. And the mayor looked hungry.
The outdoor seating at Slanted Rice overlooks a parking lot. You can see palm trees, a Chase bank, and most of Camelback Mountain, purpling as the sun sinks behind the hump.
Not long after I arrive, plate number one comes: egg rolls.
The twin rolls are long, smooth, and fried. They come on a bed of romaine lettuce and mint, and beside a dipping sauce that wafted sweet traces of marine funk. “A lot of pork, a lot of seasoning, really crispy,” Fieri had promised.
On the tube, Tran showed Fieri how to eat the fried spring rolls. He wraps lettuce and mint around a roll (way more mint than I received), and then he went in for a monster chomp. “But the whole kicker is this rolled in the lettuce, and then hit with the mint,” he says, “and then you get this sweet tang...”
The egg roll, filled with pork and glass noodles, has a dominant flavor of fried rice paper. The crisp exterior shatters like busted plate glass. The pork certainly doesn’t call to mind a robust intelligent creature that has spent life rooting for nuts and acorns. The egg rolls are just above average. I don’t know that, like Fieri I’d nosh them to "food coma."
Not too long after, I hear the next triple-D dish coming. It’s a molten clay pot hissing like reptile, blazing my way thanks to a waitress and a long stay over the blue flame of a stove.
As Fieri watches Tran make this dish, he hints she may be cooking the rice too long. She starts sizzling chicken. She messes with 'shrooms and bok choy. The dish, kind of like Korean bibimbap, hurtles toward doneness. “And the whole time, we’ve been blasting the rice over there in the clay pot,” Fieri says.
The hot pot is scalding. Even if you wait five minutes, the jasmine rice flambés your tongue as if it were black pavement in August. Fieri was right.
He was also right about the mint. It did make the egg roll. Without the mint’s brightness, the fried cylinder wouldn’t have been more than what you get from a standard takeout joint. The sweetness at the end, too, with the smidgen of funk brought welcome dimensions. Fieri was right again. The mayor knows his flavors, and he makes some astute comments.
He also makes tactful comments. The hot pot with chicken and rice was decent. It was a solid, hearty, workaday bowl of food of the kind that sustains millions of people on the other side of the world. That said, it was on the plain side, and I know that Fieri knows this.
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I don’t know why he chose the Slanted Rice dishes he did. He should have gotten yellow curry, sipped a Thai brew al fresco, and watched the sun dip behind Camelback. But he has an audience and perhaps his core viewers don’t like Vietnamese dishes like shaking beef.
Fieri isn’t an idiot. He knows frosted tips are out of style.
His decisions about what to eat, his reactions, and the way he treats people are calculated, and their sum is good TV. The fact that he bursts from the screen with insightful commentary and radiates positivity should be celebrated. But there is a danger to being out of places to visit, to nevertheless pumping up the hyperbole until your words dilute, and to reaching a point where, arguably, you aren't providing criticism but something more insipid. At bottom, though, it's pretty hard to rag on a dude who, like a dish or not, chooses to be a good guy. Which is more than we can say about the people who cover him.
Slanted Rice. 6149 North Scottsdale Road; 480 696-3116.
Daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.