Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Return to Foreign Cinema

This is an occasional report on return visits to restaurants that I’ve already reviewed.

Like a Classic Film, Always Satisfying
2534 Mission St. (at 21st), San Francisco
Mission District
PH: 415.648.7600
Dinner nightly, weekend brunch
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

Original visit: April 2007

Last time I visited this San Francisco institution, I came for the dazzling brunch. This time I decided to go for the main attraction and visit Foreign Cinema for dinner.

It also happened to be Dine About Town—the biannual get-out-and-eat event by the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. (If you missed dining out during DAT, you get another chance in June.) So I gathered my regular dining group of guys: Ken, Tom, Doug and Billy as we checked out Foreign Cinema’s DAT offerings.

Foreign Cinema, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, has a warm-but-industrial décor with its brick walls and steel finishes. In the courtyard, heat lamps are set up for diners who want to eat al fresco as a film is projected onto the side of a wall.

Despite the beautiful night, we decided to eat inside with the fireplace, high ceilings and towering floral displays.

For Dine About Town, you get a three-course prix fixed dinner for $34.95 (before tax and tip). At Foreign Cinema, it offered the regular menu and designated three choices in each course as its DAT offerings.

As starters, there was a choice between a fromage de’affinois, Moroccan winter squash soup and a Caesar salad (which Foreign Cinema calls its “cinema Caesar” since a few dishes play on the movie theme).

I got the soup, which was beautifully presented with a striking red design made with harissa oil squirts. The harissa oil added a nice heat to the smooth and creamy soup punctuated with some roasted pumpkin seeds.

Others at the table went with the Cinema Caesar, which was made with sweet gem romaine that added a curly height to the dish.

The entrée choices included grilled mahi mahi, wild mushroom risotto and Madras curry fried chicken.

Billy and Doug ordered the fried chicken, which funny enough looked like two different orders. Billy’s plate was huge, looking like he got the breast of the chicken while Doug ended up with the wings and thighs. I thought it was unusual how the same order was plated so differently, but both guys said they enjoyed their chicken. (Not surprisingly, Billy took some of his chicken home.)

Although I’m not a fan of deep-fried foods, Doug let me try a piece of his chicken and it was so perfectly cooked. The chicken meat was tender and there was still a slight crisp to the skin even though it was softened by the curry. The curry was very subtle in taste, so it didn’t overpower the chicken.

Next to me, Tom ordered the risotto, which was a large plate filled with delicata squash, parsnips, and spinach. Tom said he liked it, but didn’t seem overly thrilled.

Ken and I ordered the mahi mahi (a white fish from Hawaii), which was served with an Indian slant. The grilled mahi mahi came with basmati rice and cucumber raita, which was nice and cooling but seemed unnecessary since I don’t recall the fish being especially spicy. The cranberry beans on the side made this dish hearty.

To end our meal, the guys split between the citrus granita and chocolate pot de crème. I was the only one who went for the chai-flavored crème brulee. (There really seemed to be an Indian-theme on this night’s menu. I blame it on “Slumdog Millionaire.”)

My crème brulee had a nice crystallized sugary top that had a loud snap sound as I cracked through it to get to the custard inside. The chai flavor was muted and seemed to be mostly in the crystallized top, but it was still an enjoyable version of the crème brulee.

Service is very polished at Foreign Cinema, and the technical skills of the kitchen seem to be spot on since all the dishes were prepared very well. Still, I wasn’t that convinced about some of the Indian influences (either go Indian all the way and make it spicy or don’t do it at all is my motto) but I applaud the chefs for experimenting with the menu.

Foreign Cinema is still a Mission favorite and an excellent choice to bring out-of-towners. It might be my age, but I feel like I’m more a matinee guy and probably would return to Foreign Cinema more for its brunch rather than dinner.

Update experience (previously 4.25 stars): Adjusting down to 4 stars overall. While good, I think I overcompensated in my initial rating because they do brunch so well.

Foreign Cinema on Urbanspoon

Other DAT meals:
Luce: “A Taste of Elegance and Style”
Yoshi’s: “Whetting My Appetite on Chef Kamio’s Genius”
Vitrine: “Elegant Fare in a Spa-Like Setting”


Carolyn Jung said...

I've tried the fried chicken there. Well, OK, Meat Boy ordered the fried chicken but I got a taste of it. Super moist, and I love the unexpected cumin and other Moroccan spices. A really nice, inventive rendition.

agent713 said...

I'd be torn between that soup and salad. They both look amazing. Souns like a wonderful meal.

Dine Out Vancouver is postponed due to the Olympics but I can't wait to try some new restaurants when it finally comes around!

Cookie said...

We love Foreign Cinema and I bet it's a great value during DAT! Did you happen to make it to the Zinfandel Festival last weekend? It seemed like something you'd be interested in.

Single Guy Ben said...

Agent713, I love Vancouver! I need to visit that city again soon!

Cookie, I had a conflict with ZAP so couldn't go to the zinfandel event. Next year!