The food was new and impressive--but the talk around the table was nostalgic. Four veteran San Francisco food writers were gathered at the re-imagined Fog City, tasting through much of the debut menu from another veteran of the city's food scene, Chef-Owner Bruce Hill (Bix, Zero Zero, Picco).
Most of us remembered the buzz 28 years ago when the Fog City Diner opened. It was shiny, hip, and Cindy Pawlcyn was in the kitchen. The food wasn't exactly diner food, and the menu introduced us to "small plates." In fact, Fog City Diner might have been the first ironic restaurant. "Get in here!" was lettered on the door, and everybody wanted to do just that.
Years passed, and Fog City Diner lost its luster. The owners, Real Restaurants, wisely decided it was time for a change. So, diner be gone! All that's left now is the building's curvy footprint, with decor that is as neutral as the previous incarnation was glitzy. Wood tones dominate, and the open kitchen is like a stage, where the real stars--bright, vibrant dishes--emerge in three categories: vegetables, seafood and meat. (See the slide show to taste through the menu with me!)
"We call it eclectic," Hill said of the menu. "But it's really just all the things I like." Flavors travel from Eastern European influences (pickled and smoked) to flavorful salad options to an all-American burger that's a riff on In & Out--nestled on a house-made bun with the secret sauce replaced by a luscious smoked-tomato aioli.
"My business partners like pop and zing," Hill explained, and there's plenty of that in the family-style menu. Flavors are bright, textures come together in exciting ways, and even temperatures play. A good example: The grilled beef tongue features meltingly tender cubes of warm meat, with cool, snappy mustard greens, chanterelles and a bacon vinaigrette that brings it all together.
Even without the furikake fixings sprinkled on top, which add a hit of umami, the fries would be my nominee for best in the Bay Area. Perfectly crisp, they keep their crunch down to the very end. I almost lost a hand when my tablemates started snatching them out of the bowl.
The cocktail program alone could lure me back. The Milk Punch looks unassuming, despite its swanky glass coupe, but like that friend with a secret, exotic past, it can surprise you. The infused spices hint of far away--both in time and distance. The Dark & Stormy Slushie packs a superb ginger kick, with the added flair of arriving in a copper Moscow Mule mug.
Now let's talk French crullers. Oh, wait! I can't talk. My mouth is full of a warm, crisp-on-the-outside, eggy-soft-on-the-inside halo of deliciousness. In fact, if the only thing the new Fog City sold was these crullers, I suspect they'd be mobbed. I can't stop thinking about them. Is there a 12-step program for crullers?
Fog City also has a special machine to make its own vanilla frozen custard, something Hill is particulary high on. "Let it melt against the roof of your mouth," he said, "It's totally smooth and creamy--not at all grainy. And there's only 10 percent over-run, so it's really dense, too," he added. I tore myself away from the crullers to give it a taste. True, but I wasn't blown away by the three sauces on offer, aside from a sweet-tart plum version that paired well. Another cruller, please!
"We want customers to expect change," Hill explained, noting that menu items will evolve with the seasons. Don't mess with the menu too much, though, Chef. Our table of jaded food writers agreed the meal was "epic."
I will definitely be getting back in there.
Fog City, 1300 Battery, San Francisco; 415-982-2000