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Foreign Cinema

Still Rather Delightful

To the surprise of many, Foreign Cinema not only survived the dot-com era but has actually, having shed some of its pretentiousness, thrived to become a staple of the Mission District nightlife scene. And the food's not so bad either.

After undergoing a change in management, Foreign Cinema replaced Chef Laurent Katgely, now of Chez Spencer fame, with Gayle Pirie and John Clark, both Zuni and Chez Panisse alums. The menu, once traditional French, now shines with a style that can best be described as New Californian. Look for such appetizers as grilled Monterey calamari with charmoula breadcrumbs and hot chili oil, and chilled Sonoma foie gras crostini, not to mention one of the freshest oyster selections in town.

The duo's main courses are creative without feeling overly sophisticated. There's a sense of rustic comfort food, yet the fresh ingredients and tasteful presentation remind you that you're dining in one of San Francisco's finest eating establishments. Try the duck breast salad with Moroccan spiced quail, chicken sausage, fresh figs, and currants, or the lavender pork chop, served with green & yellow romano beans and golden chanterelles. Dessert is also a treat; both the chocolate pot de creme and the Frog Hollow peach & blackberry crisp are entirely satisfying without being too heavy.

Yet for better or worse, sometimes the food serves as backdrop to the vast, stark and chic cavern that is Foreign Cinema. There are primarily two main dining rooms, one indoors with a cozy fireplace, and the other outdoors, where classic and cult films are projected onto a two-story wall. The atmosphere is both lively and loud; this is probably not the place to bring a date, but rather a good group of friends. As the evening progresses, the restaurant fills to capacity with people eating, drinking, and generally being merry. It doesn't hurt that Laszlo, a stylish bar for all manner of hipsters, is connected to Foreign Cinema (the restaurant has its own bar as well, which lets you escape the frenetic pace, well at least for a little while). Foreign Cinema itself has a choice wine selection that quite nicely complements its dishes, but there's nothing wrong with taking in the open air with one of their signature Mojitos or Blood Orange cocktails either.

Foreign Cinema certainly has had its ups and downs over the years, but it's nice to finally see the place settling into its own natural rhythm. And now that they're serving both Saturday lunch and a most decadent Sunday brunch, it's about time to (re)visit this city gem.