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SF Challenge Day One

If you’re a foodie, then you’re just as happy as I am that Davis is so close to San Francisco which is known for its great restaurants. My husband Jon and I sneak away to the city as often as we can.

This is what our typical overnight trip consists of: arriving at noon; going to lunch at Hog Island Oyster Company in the Ferry Building for lunch; walking around the city and enjoying the sites and shopping; checking into the hotel and sleeping off the drinks we had at lunch; waking up late for our dinner reservation that we made at a restaurant we’ve never been to before and frantically changing, primping and catching a cab; drinks at the bar followed by dinner at the restaurant we’ve never been to before; late night cable car ride when they’re practically empty; nightcap at the hotel bar or nearby bar if it’s a small boutique; sleep; renting a first-run movie and watching it in bed the next morning while Jon has coffee for breakfast and I have a cold non-fat milk; checking out an hour late; grabbing lunch at Betelnut on Union Street followed by more walking and shopping; car ride home where we plan our next getaway to the city.

Yes, this is the formula and it works – a few of our “sure thing” restaurants for lunch, then a new one for dinner. For my birthday last month however, we decided to break the mold. We were going to spend three nights in the city with the challenge of only eating at places we hadn’t been to before. Four days and three nights in a city filled with our favorite restaurants and we couldn’t visit even one.

Yes, some people take up marathon running when middle-aged (42 is middle-aged, right?) to feel young, some get Corvette’s, some find young girlfriends or boyfriends, some skydive – I give myself restaurant challenges in the city I love, with my husband I love, in my family car I love.

Here was the challenge we gave ourselves… We couldn’t eat at a restaurant that we had been to in the city before, ever. No cheating! This erased many of our favorites from the list including Jardiniere, First Crush, Boulevard, Town Hall, Betelnut, Hog Island, Absinthe, Slanted Door, Scala’s, Fifth Floor, Kuleto’s, Rose Pistola, and many more.

So, we researched. And, we researched. And, we asked our friends where we should go. This is how we spent day one:

Do you remember those Fog City Diner Visa commercials from the 80’s? Well, Jon and I do and he thought we should go there. I had totally forgotten about Fog City Diner and we realized that we hadn’t even ever seen it in the city. Where was it? Was it great? Was it crap? We had no idea. After a little research we saw that it had a full-bar, was in a great building that looked like a huge stainless steel “club car” as they call it, with intimate booths, great views of the Embarcadero, and a great menu that for lunch featured oysters, other seafood dishes, soups, salads, sandwiches, steaks and lots of small plates including mac n cheese, sliders, peel n eat shrimp, etc. We were sold.

Right after we arrived in the city via the Bay Bridge, we drove along the Embarcadero until we saw the stainless steel and neon lights of Fog City Diner. I must admit I felt like a tourist as I took pictures. I was so excited about the nostalgia of being here as I already felt familiar with the place from the years of seeing the commercials that seemed to epitomize SF. Yes, I’ve been to just about every tourist attraction in the city and still love to drive down Lombard, drive by Coit Tower, walk on the Golden Gate Bridge and climb up to the headlands on the Sausalito side. But, I had never been to Fog City Diner. I felt like I had finally seen it all.

When we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by MANY bustling waiters. Tons! They were all wearing crisp black and white uniforms, cleaning, prepping, getting ready for what they must have known was going to be a busy Wednesday since they border the financial district.

Roger, the original Fog City Diner bartender.

We sat at an intimate booth for two that had complete privacy and views to the Embarcadero. We held hands for a minute or two, looked at each other, looked at the bar, then made our escape to a couple of bar stools. I like sitting up high in a restaurant so that I can see everything happening around me. I like to see who arrives, what people are eating, and I like to be at the bar watching them make drinks, watching the rapport between the staff. It reminds me of when Jon and I met in the restaurant business and puts me right back there without having to actually manage the staff or ask Jon, who was the sous chef, on how the order is coming along.

I said “hello” to the bartender and told him it was “my first time here.” He said it was his also. I told him that I didn’t believe him. It turned out that Roger, the daytime bartender, was Fog City Diner’s first bartender. Yes, he was the bartender on the first day they opened many moons ago. It was a birthday gift for sure as he told us what to order and made the house specialty for us, Bloody Marys served straight up. Who knew? I order my margaritas like that, but never a Bloody Mary. They make their Bloody Marys with lemon juice instead of lime, and they don’t ruin theirs as many restaurants do, with too much Worcestershire and Tabasco. It was a perfect combination of ingredients and they were ice cold with small ice chips floating on top. They were the best Bloody Marys I’ve ever had – the first time that I had tasted a Bloody Mary better than Jon’s.

We followed the drinks with raw oysters with a great minuet sauce, clam chowder for me and potato Gruyere soup for Jon, and shared a roasted pumpkin salad. It was all delicious, the service was great, ambiance fantastic, and the restaurant was bustling. I knew for sure that we would return many times. http://www.fogcitydiner.com/index.html

Foreign Cinema restaurant.

After a birthday shopping trip, walking around the city and checking into the hotel, we met friends for dinner at Foreign Cinema on Mission Street, a restaurant I had found online that I had never heard of before. After deciding on this restaurant while we were in Davis, I found that most hadn’t heard of it, but those who lived in the city or had friends who lived there had heard of it because it’s where the locals go.

The drive up Mission was a bit scary and I was nervous that I had brought our friends to a shady spot. The simple stainless steer doors which seemed to be our restaurant theme of the day, was the only thing that greeted us on this oppressed street. As soon as we swung open the doors though, we were pleasantly surprised. A long dimly lit hallway was lined with candles that led us to the hostess desk. Behind the hostess desk, the low ceilings disappeared. One way was a gorgeous restaurant with enormously tall ceilings, beautifully but minimally decorated with a bar in the back. The other way was the open air outdoor restaurant with string lights above, propane heaters and the bare cement wall where they play films during dinner. I was very happy and instantly loved the atmosphere. We met our friends at the bar and started with some house specialty cocktails. I had the “Sexy Beast” which was good. They had many other fun concoctions and the bar service was great.

Jon and I at Foreign Cinema with Chris and Carrie Foley.

When we moved outside to our dinner table, the movie soon started and we ate and drank with “Where the Wild Things Are” playing over our shoulders. You can’t hear the sound, it’s purely for ambiance. While I love the concept and ambiance of this restaurant, I cannot say that I’ll return. The food wasn’t memorable and our server turned out to be – well, a jerk really. He clearly didn’t want to be there, broke a glass on our table and disappeared, never brought the amuse bouche that the bartender had told us about (a mini infused cocktail in this particular case) and when we asked about it at the end of the meal when the check arrived, he was clearly annoyed that we had asked. “When is an amuse bouche normally served here?” I asked. He said, “It can come whenever. Would you like one?” Yes, a jerk to be sure. He didn’t ruin the night for us because we were in good company and the Sexy Beast on an empty stomach had me quite drunk very quickly, but it made us not want to return. The food was fine. The ideas are great like the “Urban Picnic” and “Premiers” and the “Features” sections of the menu. The movie idea is great, the place was beautiful. But food that isn’t memorable with a jerk waiter does not cut it in the city where you have so many choices. http://www.foreigncinema.com/

So, we were one for two at the end of day one. Not bad. Stay tuned for day two…

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