Friday, April 13, 2007

Dish on Dining: Foreign Cinema

Now Playing: An Innovative Brunch Matinee
2534 Mission St., San Francisco
Mission District at 21st Street
PH: 415.648.7600
Dinner nightly; Saturday lunch, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Reservations, major credit cards accepted

This venerable Mission District restaurant packs them in for dinner, as people tickle their taste buds with fresh French-California fare while movies like “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” play against a white courtyard wall. But while Foreign Cinema doesn’t have any matinees, the food still shines during the day. Especially for Sunday brunch as I discovered recently with my friends John and Jessie.

Since the movies are shown outside in the courtyard, it’s logistically impossible to have any playing during the day when the sun is out. Still, you get the whole film homage with the velvet rope in the front and the theater façade at the entrance. It’s all so Mission glamour on the red carpet.

You walk through a cavernous hallway to the reception area and then inside this beautiful loft-like dining room with brick walls, high ceiling and a cozy fireplace at the center. The interior really feels like a room in the Financial District rather than the Mission. Of course, there’s a bunch of outdoor seating where the movie plays and heaters work at full blast at night.

We started our brunch with some bloody mary’s because I just love them. But Foreign Cinema offers a variety of Champagne mixes with a movie twist such as the Bellini (wine and peach Schnapps) and French Kiss (vodka with Lillet and a splash of Brut Reserve champagne).

I was meeting with Jessie and his partner, John, because I’m helping to design John’s Web site. (He designs exquisite jewelry using gems he gets from his travels to Thailand.) But it’s been awhile since we’ve gotten together so we were too busy catching up, much to the chagrin of the server who had to come back a few times before we were ready to order.

Foreign Cinema’s menu changes daily and it often features seasonal ingredients. The chefs, Gayle Pirie and John Clark, are both graduates of the Zuni Café kitchen, so there are quite some similarities in the styling of the food—fresh, simple, green. And there’s also a nice oyster bar selection, similar to Zuni.
When we finally ordered, I went with the Two Poached Eggs with Grilled Duck Breast. My MO is always order duck when it’s on a restaurant menu because I love it and don’t like dealing with the mess of making it on my own. (The only exception to the rule is I don’t eat duck confit.) Jessie ordered the Fried Eggs Deglazed with Balsamic and John originally planned to get the Croque Monsieur but landed with the hearty House-Ground Natural Hamburger.

I loved my duck, as I often do. But more so with the execution at Foreign Cinema. The slices of medium-well duck breast with peppercorn where so tender they felt like they were melting in my mouth. They laid beautifully on a bed of mixed chicories lightly dressed with a sherry vinaigrette that blended so lovingly with the perfectly poached eggs. Definitely a best picture nominee, in my book.
Jessie also loved his contender, the fried eggs, which sounds simple enough but was taken to another level with the balsamic glaze that gave it a sweet-salty taste similar to hash browns or corned beef. It was served with a roasted garlic-potato hash and roasted escarole. John’s hamburger, I have to say, was the Sandra Bullock to Jessie’s and my Meryl Streeps. While thick and juicy, dressed up to the Oscars with gruyere, the taste was just OK.

We capped our brunch meal with a slice of dense chocolate cake and John’s favorite, affogatto (ice cream with espresso poured over). The cake was all right, but I’m no chocoholic. But the affogatto was incredible. I’d never try this dessert before because I’m not a coffee drinker, so I would never think of drowning my ice cream with it. But there was something magical about the two scoops of mint ice cream (traditional affogatto uses vanilla) blending with the aromatic coffee flavor of espresso. Sigh.
I can see why Foreign Cinema continues to attract the blockbuster crowds. It’s a scene and the food still tops the bill. (You can also check out their Web site to see which films are actually showing that week. But really, the movie is simply ambiance to the well scripted dishes.) Foreign Cinema’s brunch menu is also comparable to many brunch locations, averaging about $12 to $14 for the main entrees.

When you think Foreign Cinema, don’t just wait for a dinner show. The matinees are just as satisfying.
Single guy rating: 4.25 stars (this ain't no popcorn joint)
Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Foreign Cinema in San Francisco

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