Foreign Cinema’s New Bar Program

Brunch favorite:
Frothy, invigorating brunch favorite, No New Tale to Tell: Spirit Works Sloe Gin, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin, lemon, Angostura bitters, egg white, soda

FOREIGN CINEMA, Mission (2534 Mission St. between 21st & 22nd Streets, 415-648-7600)

Kevin Dowell crafts a Painkiller # 3
Kevin Dowell makes a Painkiller # 3

Foreign Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only was it one of the hottest restaurants in town back in 2001 when I moved to San Francisco (as a lifelong film buff, I also love the theme and movies playing on the wall), but it was the site of my engagement dinner after The Renaissance Man proposed to me in 2003. The effuse service, celebratory cheer and the bubbly we received from the staff that night – all while ensconced at our corner, fireside table – made it unforgettable.

Through the years, brunch has been a favorite way to take in that magical courtyard while the food and wine list has stayed consistently strong. But cocktails have been more of the mainstream variety, not a strong feature of the restaurant… until now.

New Bar Manager Kevin Dowell (who is also crafting the cocktail menu at Outerlands expanding space, and formerly worked at Zero Zero, Wo Hing General Store, Rio Grande, to name a few) oversees the new bar program. Dowell also manages neighboring bar in the front of the restaurant off the long hallway entrance to Foreign Cinema (FC), Laszlo, an industry favorite and casual outpost for FC food.

Lady Grinning Soul: Reyka Vodka, La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, lemon, Giffard Pamplemousse (grapefruit cordial), cucumber with subtle, dry sherry finish
A vodka winner, Lady Grinning Soul, with Reyka Vodka, and a clean, bright mix of lemon, Giffard Pamplemousse (grapefruit cordial), cucumber – its a solid dose of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry that gives the drink its subtly-complex, dry sherry finish, but wouldn’t be obvious to the vodka-drinker
Tiki goodness in a Surfer Girl garnished with toasted coconut & banana chips: El Dorado 12 yr rum, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, lemon, soda, coconut, banana, honey, sea salt

While FC may be quite late to the game in terms of a cocktail emphasis, they jump in strong with Dowell’s expertise, offering balanced, well-crafted drinks that are definitely a real step up from what they were doing, but keeping their wide-ranging, longtime clientele in mind (i.e. this won’t be a boundary-pushing, cocktail hotspot, rather a reliable, relevant restaurant bar). All three new menus (FC dinner and brunch, plus Laszlo’s new menu) launched January 4. I had a preview a few days before, tasting through most of the menus. 

Laszlo is all about approachable classics like a Hanky Panky, Philadelphia Fish House Punch (El Dorado 12 year rum, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, lemon, peach) and a beauty of a Painkiller # 3 (three-rum blend, orange, pineapple, coconut, nutmeg) – plus one rotating Mission/Bernal neighborhood bartender recipe, currently John Ottman’s After the Gold Rush (Old Grand-Dad, lemon, apricot, pineapple gum) of Holy Water.

Foreign Cinema's newly built bar
Foreign Cinema’s back bar

Foreign Cinema’s dinner menu is divided into sections of four “Originals”, three “Classics” (currently a Sherry Cobbler, Casino, Saratoga), and three “Friends”, the latter category being cocktails by mentors and bartenders Dowell has worked for. The initial menu features cocktails by Joel Teitelbaum, Brooke Arthur, and Scott Baird in the “Friends” section, with drinks like Teitelbaum’s bright, bracing Vida Vida mixing Altos Blanco Tequila, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, lime, Green Chartreuse, and agave.

Via photos and notes, I explore highlights from the new menus.

My top drink of the new creations? Stranglehold inspired by Trinidad Sour; Diplomatico Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, lime, orgeat, Angostura bitters (1/2 oz.), spiced, rust orange
My top drink? Dowell’s Stranglehold, inspired by a Trinidad Sour, with generous, spiced dose (1/2 oz.) of Angostura bitters, Diplomatico Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, lime, orgeat
At Laszlo, a 2011 recipe from Holy Water Bar Manager John Ottman: After the Gold Rush (Old Grand-Dad, lemon, apricot, pineapple gum syrup)