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Restaurants & Bars 4

Fog City tonight [San Francisco]

Mrs. Smith | Apr 11, 201508:57 PM

I don't see a thread on this on the current board, so here's a new thread with a review of Fog City (formerly, I believe, Fog City Diner).

We live in the City, so you might think it's odd we would frequent this blatantly touristy place when there are so many other good options. It is our 10-year-old son's favorite, so for a treat for him (he says the French fries are the best in the world) we go there. Tonight it was he and I, and I have to say it was a very good experience -- better than I expected.

The place (a vaguely box-car shaped, but quadruple the size, dineresque building just off the Embarcadero across the street from the huge, new Cruise Ship Terminal) has been redone inside and out -- dark wood and sleeker lines. It still feels like a diner in some respects (no tablecloths, banquettes and booths) but like an upscale one. The prices are higher than I remember before the remodel, but that's okay because what you are getting (in my opinion) is worth it.

Smithkid had the chicken strips and fries, about which I will not comment much except neither were greasy, the fries are full-flavored and very crisp, and the chicken strips seemed less "strip-y" and more like a piece of boneless fried chicken. For kid junk food, a cut above and entirely acceptable. I would have liked the addition of some sort of vegetable to the plate, but for what you pay (9$) it's a very good value.

Bread costs 3.25 to order, but it is very, very good. It's every bit as good as the bread (it's sourdough, and pretty sour -- not like a levain but with a similar heavy crust and holey interior) at Zuni Café or even Chez Panisse café. Very, very good. I'm very picky about my bread, and this surpassed even the bread I had recently at Outerlands (a place known for excellent bread). I am a baker myself, so I take bread very seriously, especially the San Francisco sourdough that this town is known for. The four generous slices, with a pat of butter on a rough-hewn breadboard was worth the small extra price. And did I mention it came warm? I can only recall a sourdough better than this at Tadich Grill (In my opinion, Tadich's sourdough is in a class by itself. Ask me sometime for the amusing story of what I tried to do to get a bit of their starter -- amusing, yes, but entirely unsuccessful. I digress).

I passed by the appetizers as being too filling (a cauliflower soup that sounded intriguing, an interesting asparagus preparation, and some mighty-fine platters of oysters passed by our table, but I stayed the course). My entrée was a spicy lamb skewers with a yogurt sauce. But before that came to the table, our server, a voluble and friendly gentleman, didn't pour us water with the gentle admonishment that SF was running out of water. Sadly true, and we assured him, as residents, that we understood. He quipped that the beverage side of the one-sheet paper menu had "flavored water" on the back. Smithkid found this amusing, and even eyed the zero-proof (I was gratified that they didn't feel the need to use the word "virgin") cocktails on the back, but opted for their (very good) lemonade instead. I couldn't decide between two Pinot Noirs, and asked the server's opinion. He said he'd bring me samples of both. He brought very generous pours (at least 2 ounces) of each in full-sized glasses. Very classy move, I think, and it really helps you decide. The wines in question were not break-the-bank by-the-glasses by any means (11$ and 16$ a glass), but getting a full taste, in a full-sized glass, of each made me see the clear difference between the two and made it very easy to choose the more expensive choice. This is a good policy of this restaurant, and surprising in a place that used to have "diner" in its name. Good service, and the Gary Farrell pinot was perfect with my entrée.

The lamb skewers are, sort of, a deconstructed gyro. Gyros are a guilty pleasure for me, but always tainted with worry. Do they keep the gyro meat hot enough to avoid bacterial contamination on that big rotating cylinder thing you see in gyro joints? And what is really in the gyro meat? This plate, $22.75, had all the savor of a gyros but none of the guilt (it's even paleo -- no grains involved; not that I eat that way, but if you do...). The lamb skewers came on long metal skewers that the table-service guy (not our main server) removed at the table. They were generous, long pieces of very tender lamb tenderloin. They were marinated and spiced within an inch of their lives -- delicious, and nicely pink in the center. Delicious. They were served with beatuful, surprisingly flavorful half-slices of tomato, carefully arranged and flecked with large flakes of translucent salt. There was a fine shred of red onion (perfect thinness -- the bite without the burn) leaves of butter lettuce for wrapping, and a pungent, addictive yogurt sauce (Strauss yogurt no less) with a heavy curry spiciness. Perfection. Each of the components was great on a fork by itself, but combined into the lettuce cup it became very special. This is a way better dish that I expected from this place, and the server was absolutely correct in his wine recommendation - -the Farrell held up to the spice but never overpowered. There was lemon to squeeze on all this Mediterranean goodness, but I think that actually introduced an unnecessary flavor component. There is so much going on on this plate already that it didn't need the lemon as a highlighter. Also, the meat is so exceedingly lean that the lemon is unnecessary in that respect, too.

The only slightly discordant note was that the lettuce leaves were just slightly wet. However, with this quality of food I think that's a minor quibble.

We didn't even look at desserts, as this was plenty of food. Check 61$ -- easy to leave a good tip with that price.

So, no, it's not quirky, trendy SF place -- I love those, too, and frequent them. But Fog City is very SF in the right way, and I think for a night out with kids it's a great stop -- you can get a very good grownup dish for yourself, and your children can have mac and cheese or the like without you spending an arm and a leg. The vibe is pretty fun with the newly redesigned long bar (quiet when we were there, but it was early to accommodate Smithkid bedtime) and the dual flaming ovens in the back. What this place is, I decided, leaving well satisfied and not having taken a huge hit to my pocketbook,is a great place to take or send out-of-town guests to. They won't suffer the sticker shock of places like Coqueta (where I had a very, very disappointing and rather expensive meal recently), which is nice for people from parts of the world in which it is not normal to have to pay 100$ for two people to have a decent dinner (like the Midwest, from which I hail), but still get a good meal and experience some of the mainstream San Francisco-type California cuisine that travelers appreciate. It's not adventurous, I know, but the location is good (nice to walk before or after on the Embarcadero or let the kids run free in the Levi's park next door and across the street) and the service is friendly. I had expected a lot less at Fog City, and was very happy to have made the trip.

Service: 4.5 out of 5 (we had to wait a bit for Smithkid's requisite ketchup but otherwise everything was smooth and fast)

Food: 4.5 out of 5 -- way more than you'd expect at this kind of a place, even after the redesign/rethink of this place.

Atmosphere: 4 out of 5. It's a little noisy, even when not full as it was when we were there. It could have benefited from some carpet, at least in certain places, or runners or something to absorb the sound. The pop music on the system was not very loud, but I could have lived without it. In my opinion, the redesign calls for some different sounds coming from the speakers, or perhaps no music at all.

Fog City,
Fog City News,
Zuni Café,
Chez Panisse,
Outerlands,
Tadich Grill,
Coqueta
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