Foreign Cinema: An Homage to California Cuisine

Foreign Cinema cuts zero corners when it comes to the dining experience.

Co-owned by Gayle Pirie and John Clark, the restaurant, as it proudly proclaims on its website, aims to “weave food, wine, cocktails, film and an art gallery into one harmonious ambiance.”

With an approximate size of 5,000 square feet, the restaurant is a towering and magnetic presence, meant to guide those who visit into a totally encompassing escape from reality. One cannot overlook the atmosphere of Foreign Cinema. The restaurant’s high ceilings, beautifully lit rooms and well-curated artwork are bound to sweep anyone away.

There are various rooms that can be reserved as event spaces or private dining rooms. Whether it’s the Modernism West art gallery, curated by international art dealer Martin Muller, or the large projection of foreign films overlooking the restaurant, each component holds intentionality and weight, all catering to the senses. It is a versatile restaurant, most definitely one-of-a-kind when it comes to environment.

Despite the multiple aspects of Foreign Cinema’s dining experience, the heart of the restaurant remains in its food, and the pulse within the care involved. Delicious and nourishment – these are the words Gayle often uses to describe the food. And to develop the kind of food served at Foreign Cinema, she turns to the local land and community.

“Before, our goal was to make sure we were getting the most delicious things we could find, and then foreseeing the most responsible people who were providing the vegetables and fruits,” says Gayle.

It’s quite the task, yet Gayle and John—both co-executive chefs—and their team allow their menu to change each day. Its malleability comes from several sources of inspiration, including the environment, weather, and new available ingredients.

“It’s a fresh lens on what is happening in the Bay Area, food-wise,” Gayle says. “That defines California cuisine at its finest, sourcing from local growers. And that’s what we pride ourselves on.”

With excellent quality and well-sourced ingredients comes the feat of preserving the integrity of each product. As demonstrated by the restaurant’s cookbook, The Foreign Cinema Cookbook: Recipes and Stories Under the Stars, Gayle and John’s food philosophy is all about prioritizing flavor, while removing the fluff of over-processed cooking.

Says James Beard Award-winning chef and author Joyce Goldstein, “Gayle Pirie and John Clark use a light hand to create big flavors.”

In a setting as diverse and lively as Foreign Cinema, the robust yet still-identifiable foods are quite at home. From their latest pre-quarantine menu, we see featured dishes like striped sea bass with sliced blood oranges, snap peas, potatoes and little lettuces, or Meyer lemon mayo alongside a vegetable dish featuring grilled broccoli rabe, tapenade, baby carrots, cauliflower, radish, shell beans and an apricot salsa.

It takes a village to produce quality dishes such as these. So, when the shelter in place order was announced mid-March, everything for Foreign Cinema, as well as the local farmers and purveyors they worked with, changed. 

“It’s caused a lot of problems. All of our purveyors are hurting. It’s really a cycle of connectedness for restaurants to produce what they do,” explains Gayle. “[The restaurants] do it with a lot of people.”

Think of the restaurant business as an ecosystem, where there are several key players in maintaining a restaurant. She mentions musicians, valets, farmers, florists, meat providers, fish providers; it’s an effort that weaves several industries together.

With a complete halt to the flow of business and products for Foreign Cinema, several relationships are affected. But even with the industry disruption, the restaurant remains grounded in doing what they can for the community.

From assisting with charity meals to reconstructing certain parts of the space to comply with new health regulations, Gayle says they are gearing up for a reopening on June 24.

“Are people eager? I think yes. But with caution,” states Gayle. “Everyone’s cautiously hoping to get back to some kind of new normal. We’ll be half the restaurant we were…We’ll just build it again.”

In the meantime, the restaurant and the staff have been receiving great support from customers contributing to the GoFundMe page for their staff benefits, buying gift certificates, or placing orders for Wine Thursdays and Fridays.

To support Foreign Cinema, you can visit their website to purchase from their dinner, cocktail and wine takeout options, or place an order for a gift certificate or cookbook.

“We hope to get them back in,” says Gayle (regarding Foreign Cinema’s guests). “I hope they know we’ll take every safety precaution for our staff and for them.”

As seen with the versatility and presence of Foreign Cinema’s space, Gayle and her team are adaptable people. There is no doubt that their vibrant and nourishing food will return just as strong, if not stronger, when the time comes.

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