A red carpet lines the floor of a dimly lit hallway, old-fashioned movie posters lining the walls. If it weren’t for the hostess waiting at the end of the corridor, it would be easily forgotten that this is a restaurant. Outside, a movie projects on a wall of a patio shrouded in a rosy hue from the string lights hanging overhead. Tables are covered with artistically-displayed food as couples and groups of friends chatter away, occasionally looking up to revel in the relaxing atmosphere in which they are dining.
With this ambiance, it is no wonder that Foreign Cinema is a remarkably popular restaurant. Started in 1999 in the Mission District of San Francisco, Foreign Cinema is most distinct from other restaurants in the Bay Area due to its unique choice to project movies for customers to view.
While indoor seating is offered, the outdoor patio is definitely the preferable location, as this is where the movie of choice is playing and where string lights hang overhead, creating an intimate atmosphere and a relaxing glow over the restaurant. Although the movie adds a charming feeling to the overall experience of dining at Foreign Cinema, calling it a source of entertainment is a bit of an exaggeration, as the film is very much in the background. The movie that was playing while I was there was “Rushmore,” and although I dined for about an hour and a half, I can definitively say that I didn’t learn anything about the plot, and it didn’t seem as if that was the intention either. The sound from the film could be heard if I strained my ears, but for most of the meal, the dialogue was instead a soft buzz against the louder chatter present in the restaurant.
Although the environment is incredibly original and enjoyable, it cannot be appreciated without spending a significant amount of money. With the cheapest entree being $23, Foreign Cinema is definitely not the place to casually dine with friends. That being said, the warm atmosphere and delicious food make it worth the money for a family dinner or special occasion.
Made with 'nduja, watermelon radish, capers and orange oil, this appetizer offers a complex combination of flavors.
I started off my meal with a $15 dollar appetizer of grilled ciabatta bread with house-made ‘nduja, watermelon radish, capers and orange oil. Had I known that ‘nduja was a spreadable salami before ordering the dish, I may have opted for a different appetizer, but I’m glad that in ignorance I chose to order the dish. This toast can’t be described as anything other than an explosion of flavor, with the intensely smokey and salty flavor of the ‘nduja combined with a sweetness from the orange oil and watermelon radish. Needless to say, it was an overwhelming amount of flavors, which was immensely enjoyable for the first few bites, but I couldn’t handle more than a single piece of it. Because the dish came with four pieces, this is the type of appetizer to share between two, if not more, people.
Pairing fried chicken with a chickpea salad, this Foreign Cinema entree is surprisingly delicious.
The main dish, on the other hand, I could eat as every meal for the rest of my life. The curry-sesame seed fried chicken with chickpea salad was yet again a combination of flavors that somehow worked magically to create a mouth-watering meal. The curry added a spice to the fried chicken that surprisingly paired incredibly well, adding significant flavor to a dish that traditionally is relatively bland. The crunchy chickpea salad on the side complemented the texture of the fried chicken, creating a well-rounded dish. The mushroom risotto was another delicious entree that offered a variety of textures, with added hazelnuts giving a crunch to the otherwise incredibly creamy rice dish. However, the delectibility of these dishes was definitely reflected in the prices, at $26 and $23 respectively.
Mixing crunchy hazelnuts into a creamy mushroom risotto, Foreign Cinema creates a delicious and varied entree.
Although the main courses are filling, dessert is not something to be skipped, and you could not go wrong with the flourless chocolate cake with frozen mint mousse and candied orange. The mint was a cool and refreshing contrast to the rich chocolate cake, and although I was tentative to try the candied oranges, they added a nice sweetness and texture to the complex dish. At $12, this dessert was one of the cheaper dishes on the menu, although this was undoubtedly shown in the small serving size.
Combining a chocolate cake with a mint mousse and candied orange, this dessert is a cool delectable.
Besides the high prices, my biggest complaint would have to be the service. Even on a Monday night, the restaurant was crowded, and this showed both in the attentiveness of the waiter and in the painfully long amount of time it took for the food to arrive. Because the restaurant is so busy, making a reservation a couple days in advance is highly suggested, particularly for weekend nights or brunch on the weekends. I would also recommend going to Foreign Cinema for dinner rather than brunch because, although I’m sure the brunch is delicious as well, the ambiance of the string lights and the projected movie against the night sky is really what makes the restaurant special.
From the glowing lights overhead to the delectable dishes to the moving screening, Foreign Cinema offers a dynamic dining experience unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. Despite the undeniably high prices, the restaurant provides a night out worthy of a splurge for special occasions, and is sure to please both movie-lovers and non-movie lovers alike.
Playing movies on the patio while locals line, Foreign Cinema creates an ambient atmosphere.