Foreign Cinema, A San Francisco Restaurant With Staying Power

Lose yourself in the finest food ever to happen to the movies

When it opened in 1999, Foreign Cinema was one of the instant darlings of the dot-com boom.

A decade later, the Mission restaurant is an institution. Movies blink across the wall outside, a fireplace flickers in the main dining room, oysters begin (or should begin) most meals, and the patio scene is hotter than a Mojave summer. Best of all, the food is still startlingly great.

Foreign Cinema's current chefs, Gayle Pirie and John Clark, took over the kitchen in 2001. Their debut menu echoed much Bay Area cooking: seasonal ingredients cooked simply in a Mediterranean style. (This came as no surprise, as the two–together or separately–had worked at Zuni Café and Chez Panisse.)

These days, Pirie and Clark have cast their culinary reach wider, ensnaring influences from Mexico, North Africa and India. The results are smashing. A supple roasted poblano ($10) bursts with goat and ricotta cheeses, and a potentially austere plate of carrots, cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli ($11) is transformed by a cilantro-buoyed vinaigrette. The chefs' variously-spiced fried chicken ($20) is a menu fixture and a crackly, juicy exemplar of the genre.

The kitchen's Indian and Persian touches are even more revelatory. The scent of curry leaves wafts across seafood stew ($24), and the gentle rose-petal sauce blanketing basmati-stuffed quail ($14) promptly negates any questions about the limitations of California cooking.

Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St. (between 21st and 22nd streets); 415-648-7600 or