Saturday, October 20, 2007

Foreign Cinema

October 18

I've run into a fair amount of unexpected formality here in San Francisco. This evening I think it was meant ironically.

I was having dinner with Jeff Cranmer, whom you might recall from two blog entries ago, and his wife Susie, at Foreign Cinema. We had reservations for 8:30, but Jeff suggested that we meet at the bar attached to the restaurant at around 8 for a drink. He had forgotten the name of the bar, but it starts with an L.
"You can't miss it," he said.
But, arriving at 7:45, I did miss it, so I spoke with a well-dressed gentleman in a suit who looked like a doorman of sorts outside of Foreign Cinema and told him that although I was not supposed to be able to miss said bar, I somehow had.
He smiled, pleased, it seemed, by my honesty, or maybe by my phrasing.
"Sir, you did not miss it, but merely overstepped it by a few feet," he said, gesturing to the dark building next to Foreign Cinema, with the sign "Laszlo."
It was really dark. A woman outside smoking a cigarette said "I'll be right with you," as I walked in and sat, alone, at the bar, with not even a bartender to keep me company as she was having a cigarette.
When the cigarette had been smoked, I ordered a weissbier called Franziskaner, which it seemed to me could refer to someone from San Francisco. The bartender shrugged at my analysis of the name. I squeezed my lemon, sipped my beer and browsed the cocktail menu. The drink names had Communist themes, which struck me as an amusing shtick.
Jeff and Suzie arrived soon enough, and as if they were the arbiters of what is trendy in San Francisco, they were soon followed by several large groups who filled up the bar. They insisted that I was the evening's trailblazer in Laszlo, but I pointed out that my arrival had been meaningless. Only when they arrived did the world sit up and take notice.
So anyway, Foreign Cinema. Chef-owner Gayle Pirie came out, introduced herself and gave us a tour of the place and then the three of us ate food, drank wine and talked mostly about food, although we did share stories of loud neighbors from days past. I guess it's kind of interesting that we didn't really play catch-up about our lives. I mean, Jeff and I had done that a bit the night before, but it's interesting how with some friends, even if you don't see them for long stretches at a time, you can fall right into conversation without having to reestablish connections. We talked a little bit about Jeff's friend Greg Dicum, who we hoped might join us, but he couldn't. One of Greg's current missions, according to Jeff, is to rehabilitate the Boulevardier, which apparently is a Negroni made with rye instead of gin.
Our friend Michael Carpenter, who also is Jeff's brother-in-law as he is married to Susie's older sister Winnie, was supposed to meet up with us last night, and in fact we had gotten kind of concerned that he didn't show up or call. Some people do that, but not Michael.
It turns out that he had spent two-and-a-half hours stuck in an elevator. Really.
Tonight he had a work dinner from which he could not escape, but he called Jeff periodically, apprising him of his status, and finally arrived at around 11, telling tales of woe about his experience in the elevator, and amusing ones about his visiting mother-in-law and her indulgence of his daughter.
Michael was unusually enthusiastic and engaging this evening, and that seemed to inspire the staff of Foreign Cinema to bring out six-year-old Calvados, which Michael sipped at while recounting the emotional roller-coaster ride that imprisonment in an elevator apparently is. He seems okay, though.
Jeff and Susie took their leave sometime around midnight, I think. But Michael and I weren't done, so we went to The High Tide, a dive bar in the Tenderloin, near my hotel, with a gruff middle-aged Asian bartender who looked mildly insane as she poured me a bourbon on the rocks.
I rememberd that Michael and my other San Francisco friend Craig had drunk there before, back in November of 2000.
I remembered it was November of 2000 because it was the day before Election Day, and Michael expressed great enthusiasm about voting -- he's very sweet that way -- and the joy of knowing at the end of the next day who our president would be.
Of course, it turns out that we didn't know for weeks and weeks who the next president would be, so I remembered the conversation.
Have you been wondering where Craig has been all this time? He was on a business trip in Los Angeles during my San Francisco visit. But even if he had been in town I probably wouldn't have gotten to see him. His wife, Susan, just had their second child, a boy named Cormac.
Welcome to the world, Cormac.

What we ate at Foreign Cinema:

Warm Dungeness crab brandade with pickled onions and caperberries
Martin's arugula with chick peas, currants, sherry vinaigrette and garlic croutons
House cured sardines with cucmber-mint salad, barrel-aged Greek feta and tomato chutney (note the cucumber-mint, a Middle Eastern touch; remember how I mentioned a few entries ago about the Middle Eastern influence in San Francisco dining?)
Petrale sole with wild chanterelles, sungold cherry tomatoes and brown butter-caper sauce
Fried Persion spiced (Middle Eastern, I told you) chicken with escarole, frisee, persimmon, pomegranate, kishmish and sumac (the last four are all Middle Eastern, kishmish is an onion compote with raisins and my new favorite word)
Lavender pork chop with toasted Brussels sprouts, apples, Parsi style potato hash with turmeric
(roasted Moroccan quail with rose petal sauce and Tunisian duck breast with grilled grapes and warm figs also were on the menu and of Middle Eastern influence, but we didn't eat them)
Lemon custard tart with strawberry and fig compote with lemon verbena sorbet
Persimmon, walnut and currant tartlette with caramel and white chocolate sauces (arguably Middle Eastern)
Chocolate pot de creme with a crinkle cookie


Alexei said...

Glad you stuck it out at Laszlo, it's definitely more a late-night place. I once fell for a beautiful DJ day she worked at Gerald Hirigoyen's sandwich window off of Battery Street, and DJ'd nights at Laszlo. I think she was basque...or maybe hungarian. Her accent was delicious.

Bret Thorn said...

Yeah, Jeff’s quite the expert at scouting out nightspots, and he’s happily married, so no competition for deliciously accented women

Anonymous said...

oh the boulevardier! how i wish i could have been there to get you one -- you really must try one! Next time maybe; I've already trained all the bars on 22nd street; maybe Lazlo should be next!