In planning our San Francisco trip, we spent a long time looking at a tourist hot spot with spectacular views. After further consideration though, we decided to bypass views for rave reviews. We passed up crashing waves for the funky charm of the Mission District and the much touted Foreign Cinema, a place as funky and charming as the neighborhood itself. A slightly rough-walled outdoor space, is offset by beautiful wooden windows looking into the indoor dining room. Each day at dusk, a foreign or art house film is shown on the large white wall opposite the entrance. Matching the food when we were there was the delicious irony of the film: Mel Gibson in The Year of Living Dangerously.
We immediately loved the space. A clear plastic dome protects most of the outdoor space while still allowing the poofy white clouds to add to the decor. The best thing for a Southern boy was having to sit under a propane heater to keep off the chill of an August evening. A chill in August, heaven. My only regret is that we were too sated to remember to wander inside and check out the indoor space as we left. It did look lovely through the windows though. Our fellow bloggers Sam and Fred actually met at Foreign Cinema. If they had the kind of rapturous evening we had, it’s a miracle they even looked up long enough to notice one another.
We started with warm California and Mediterranean olives. Teh Boy was less than thrilled with one of the olives, but he tore into the rest. Mama and I loved them all. We had two appetizers. First was a sweet corn veloute with truffle cream. The soup was sweet and creamy, delicious even without the hint of truffle which made the dish even better. Next was beef carpaccio with waffled potatoes, fried capers and herbs, horseradish, and pecorino sardo. The plate was beautifully arrayed with everything tied together by a drizzle of lightly sharp horseradish cream. The carpaccio was see-through thin and decadently rich.
Squirelly, Jr., had an entree of two Tolemas Farms quail, haricots verts, warm cherries, hazelnuts, and grilled endive. Since then, he wants quail at every meal. The quail was succulent and the haricots verts were crisp and fresh. Teh Boy’s palate is still not open to the subtle bitterness of endives, but Mama Squirrel and I liked them. Mama had a huge lavender scented pork chop with golden chanterelles, romano beans, gypsy peppers, and Argentine salsa. Oh my goodness. The pork was meltingly tender and juicy with a deeply infused flavor of aromatic lavender. The peppers and salsa were a perfectly spicy compliment to the richness of the pork. I had garam masala roast chicken with crisp potato fritters, mizuna, spiced baby carrots, and kishmish. I love Indian seasonings, and the chicken was a delight, rich and smoky. The potato fritter was like a samosa with a fried crispy exterior instead of a pastry shell. This made the fritter lighter but just as satisfying.
The only service blip of the evening was a wait for the cheese plate we ordered before dessert. Our server quickly let us know that the garde manger station was backed up and that our cheese would be out as soon as possible. We didn’t mind waiting since we knew what was going on. Maybe it was in a pause like this that lucky Fred caught Sam’s eye.
Like a wine tasting, we love a cheese plate for the opportunity it provides to sample a variety of cheeses. Foreign Cinema’s cheese plate did nothing to help us pare our shopping list, though. All the cheeses and the items paired with them were marvelous. We had an English Shropshire blue with pear jam. A California goat’s milk “buche” from Pug’s Leap Farm was matched with cherry chutney and almonds. Condio, a cave-aged, three milk cheese from the Veneto region of Italy came with toasted walnuts and blackberries. An English Stilton was smoothed out with lavender honey. Finally, a chaorce, a triple cream cow’s milk cheese from France had its creaminess balanced with fresh raspberries and saba. Teh Boy was more than happy to finish off every crumb.
By the end of the cheese plate, we were only able to muster energy for two of Foreign Cinema’s enticing desserts. So that I could have my chocolate fix we chose the amazing gateau au chocolat with amareno cherries and whipped cream. More souffle than cake, the gateau was almost truffle-like in texture. For Mama and Teh Boy who don’t love chocolate as much as I do, we picked a peach ice cream sundae with peaches, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and toasted almonds. The sweetness of the peaches was a beautiful contrast to the bitterness of the chocolate sauce.
In addition to superb food, Foreign Cinema offers a manageably sized wine list with excellent by the glass and flight options. Several flights of half bottles are offered. Mama and I couldn’t agree on what to get, so I chose the evening’s by the glass flight, “A Taste of Alsace”. The flight is three small (three ounce) glasses of wine, very reasonably priced, less than many single glasses of wine. The smaller servings were perfect for me to sample and not feel tipsy. My flight began with a 2003 Bruno Hunold pinot gris that was pleasantly crisp with olives and appetizers. With my chicken, I had a 2003 Dirler reserve pinot noir, clean and lightly fruity, very nice to balance the dusky seasonings. Finally there was a 1994 Rolly-Gassmann gewurtztraminer. This was the best dessert wine I have ever had, lightly sweet and very aromatic, smooth and rich.
Mama went with two glasses of wine. First was a 2005 Chateau de Maimbray sancerre. Perfectly chilled and lightly fruity, the sancerre was a magnificent compliment to the first courses. The big finish was a 2002 Volker Eisele cabernet sauvignon. Everything we’ve ever learned about wine came into play for this one. The wine had great legs and a perfect nose. In the mouth, it was the epitome of “big” cabernet. Mama declared it to be the best wine she has ever tasted. I have to agree. We liked it so much that we have begun to search for more locally. If we don’t find it, we’ll just have to order from the winery.
We passed up the shore, but this time we found the beacon.
2534 Mission Street
San Francisco, California 94110