Saturday, September 22, 2018

Foreign Cinema: Where Food Meets Film

The San Francisco Mission District is so strange. If it weren’t for the trendy restaurants, awesome burritos and cool nightclubs, I wouldn’t ever want to go there. It’s a rough neighborhood in so many spots, but there are a ton of great places to eat, drink and party in that part of town, so much so that it’s not just a destination, it’s a culinary and entertainment haven. Foreign Cinema is a perfect example of this phenomenon. When you first walk up to the place, you’d swear it’s a tattoo parlor or a porn theater. You fully expect to see a couple of junkies and/or winos laid out by the front door. Then, after walking down a long hallway with white candles, you enter the place and it is paradise. Foreign Cinema, which is attached to the Lazslo Bar, is a superb restaurant with exquisite, imaginative food and a totally unique approach to dining out. This spot was the one of the hottest places to be seen at in the late ’90’s by people who knew. When the dot comedy became a dot tragedy and Internet-related companies began folding like crepes, Foreign Cinema became less hip and easier to get into. I think that’s great, because now you don’t have to know somebody to get a reservation or wait two hours for a table. The place is currently accessible to everyday working stiffs like you and me. This French bistro is where Chez Panisse holds their Christmas party every year, so right there you should know that the food is no joke. The twist here is that they show films in their courtyard, so you can dine, wine and watch classic cinema all at the same time. It’s been called a drive-in for foodies -- where film meets food. Where you can see celluloid and gather cellulite. They have a different movie every week at Foreign Cinema – from “Annie Hall” to “Cabaret” to “2001 A Space Odyssey.” They project the films up onto a blank wall in the back, and the sightlines are great, but when it’s packed on weekends, it’s difficult to hear the dialogue. They have those old drive-in speakers all around the place, just like the ones that you’d hang on your car windows at the real drive-in back in the day, before the way they do it now where the audio comes in over your car radio. Chef John Clark, formerly of Zuni, and Chef Gayle Pirie, formerly of Chez Panisse, are true artists and the menu is astounding. I’ve heard they have an incredible brunch, though I’ve never been and they also have a kid’s menu, which is a special rare treat if you are toting brats. The film aspect of Foreign Cinema is a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong. But, people come there for the food, plain and simple. The menu reads like an award-winning movie script. First, there are the appetizers – they set up the story and get you hooked into the plot. Foreign Cinema has 20 different types of oysters featured at their oyster bar, from Hog Island Tomales ($18/dozen) all the way to the very rare and extremely expensive Wescot Bay Flats variety ($22/dozen). The night we were there, we had the Chilled Foreign Cinema Gazpacho with Crème Fraiche ($6.50), and although I usually don’t care for cold soups, this was so good I licked my bowl and the person’s next to me. If I had known the person it probably wouldn’t have been quite so embarrassing. The salads are all special—unique yet simple. They have an Artichoke and Green Bean Salad with Oil Cured Olives that comes with a lemon vinaigrette and Parmesan cheese ($10) that is light and fresh. The Beef Carpacio with Fried Herbs, Waffle Chips, Fried Capers, Manchego and horseradish sauce ($10) was a complete delight and I could have eaten three of them. For featured dishes, we had the Seared Sea Scallops with Heirloom Tomatoes, Haricot Vert Bacon, Aioli, Basil Sauce and Breadcrumbs ($23). I have had more sea scallops than your average SF Fisherman’s Wharf sea lion, and I have to tell you this is the best way I’ve ever had them prepared. They also have a renowned Mixed Grill at the Foreign Cinema, and on the night we were there, it consisted of Moroccan Duck Breast, Quail and Chicken Sausage, Roasted Grapes, Canellinni and Liver Toast ($23). They also have a steak to die for, a Grilled Natural Rib-Eye from Meyer Ranch in Montana, that comes with grilled potatoes, romano and yellow wax beans and an Argentine salsa ($30). Foreign Cinema is a wonderfully one-of-a-kind restaurant, and when you leave the place you’ll have to stop yourself from saying “That’s a wrap,” because it’s film, food, drinks, fun, art, and people-watching all wrapped up into one big storyline. Foreign Cinema will leave you happy and begging for the sequel. Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission Street, SF (415) 648-7600.

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Ed Attanasio is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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