Foreign Cinema, way back in 1999, opened its doors as one of the very earliest gentrifying restaurants in the Mission. Laszlo, the bar next door that shares a long, bunker-like hallway with FC, opened a couple of years later as Foreign Cinema’s trashy little sister – a little grimy, a little grungy – which we loved.
All that changed with the remodel three years ago. Laszlo is now a shiny, squeaky-clean, bona fide “upscale” Mission bar. We were quite sad to see the change, actually. I adored sitting in that slightly divey space, where the DJ spun records on Sundays with his dog at his feet and offered a welcoming plate of cut-up donuts. You could sling a stiff well martini or a shot of tequila for a decent price, but you could also sit at the bar and, with snowy-white cloth napkins and silverware fraught with privilege, eat Foreign Cinema’s beautiful food, a retro flick flickering on the brick wall above. It was dreamy.
Well, you can still do all of that, just in a snazzier setting. We often head to Laszlo on a Sunday afternoon for a drink and fries, sitting outdoors on the mini sidewalk patio, or just inside the open-windowed nooks, grooving to old soul tunes.
But it had been a really long time since we’d had dinner there – to be honest, we were scared away by the pristine nature of the new bar. We decided to stop in one evening during the recent heatwave, hoping for some air conditioning.
Holy FUCK was it good. I started with oysters (Grassy Bar from Morro Bay were the fave).
We split the Martin’s arugula [which turned out to be Little Gems] salad, with red candy peaches, toasted hazelnuts, Redwood Hill goat’s milk feta, in a peachy dressing.
They know their way around a salad. Cooling and satisfying.
We also shared the “bistro” steak.
“Bistro” can apparently refer to hangar, flank, or skirt. Chewy, and beefy as all get-out. With roasted baby heirloom carrots, fingerling potatoes, broccoli rabe, and a killer bearnaise.
On another evening, right at happy hour, we sidled in and noshed on the complementary (and addictive) waffle chips and truffled popcorn while we waited for our drinks. It got crowded and the bartender was unfortunately slow, so it took almost an hour before we got our food, but the BF’s plate was worth the wait.
Aptly famous, the lavender-brined pork chop is everything you want in the genre: smoky, tender, succulent, with just a hint of the Provençal fields; accompanied here by broccoli rabe, grilled radicchio, and more juicy summer peaches. A perfect meal.
I ordered Le Grande Aioli.
While this was billed as being a combo of swordfish, prawns and clams, I got mostly squid, one prawn, and an unfortunate piece of salmon. The potatoes were underdone, and the cucumbers diluted the garlicky, delicious aioli. While the prawn and squid were properly cooked, the salmon was mealy. Not great, but as far as memory serves, this is the only “meh” plate of food I’ve ever been served from the FC kitchen.
On another recent evening, we enjoyed the burger.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that!
On a recent Sunday, we decided to finally re-enter the mothership for Foreign Cinema’s renowned brunch.
I’d forgotten how thoroughly pleasant it was to walk out onto that rarified, breezy brick courtyard, in the heart of the Mission, with the sun filtering through the billowy awnings … dreamy.
We split a pork paté and toasted levain, sided by a tangled mound of frilly frisée and sweet baby beets in an astoundingly perfect red wine vinaigrette.
This is the kind of simple dish that makes my heart sing, and shows you what the kitchen can really do.
For my main, I got the duck tostada
The duck came tumbled together with persimmon, kale, carrots, cabbage, jicama, baby radishes, crema, and queso fresco, on a puffy flour tortilla – which read more like gorgeous, poofy, Diné (Navajo) fry bread – and a poached egg. Loved the tortilla, but the rest was a bit unfocussed, with no one flavor truly standing out. Too bad, because in concept it’s a gorgeous dish.
The BF, the clear winner of the day, had the luscious brisket torta with spicy Gaucho fries.
So, yes, Foreign Cinema’s still got it. And of course, there’s the nightly movie that gave the restaurant its moniker. There’s still magic in sitting under the stars and watching an old film projected onto the back wall, amidst the tinkling of plates and glasses. While you might bemoan the preciousness of it all, we’re damned lucky to have one of the most beautiful restaurants in the City in our own backyard.
And Laszlo, for all that she’s been tarted up, is still a great place for a drink, top-notch food, and lazy Sunday afternoons.