For those of us old enough to remember, Fog City Diner rocketed to national prominence with a 1990 Visa Commercial that reminded visitors to bring their Visa cards, since they would not take American Express. The art-deco neon-lit diner remained popular mostly with tourists over the years, until the Real Restaurant management group decided to close the institution last March for a major overhaul. Missing out on prime tourist season which included the America’s Cup, the revamp was completed last September. The renovation revealed an all new interior centered by a much more spacious V-shaped bar and an open kitchen outfitted with a wood-fired oven and a Santa Maria style BBQ grill that raises and lowers with a wheel. They also dropped the diner designation and brought in Partner/Executive Chef Bruce Hill, who also heads the kitchens at Bix, Picco and Zero Zero, to bring the menu up to date and restore the restaurant to its former glory. Hill also brought over Chef de Cuisine Erik Lowe from Bix to deliver the seasonal menu centered around the wood-fired techniques.
Gone are the art deco neon signs which have been replaced with the new version visible from the entrance:
Transferring from Picco, lead barman Dustin Sullivan has created a new cocktail list which includes a frozen version of the classic Dark & Stormy. But we decided on starting with an Inside Job (Black Maple Hills Bourbon, Nocino, orgeat, ginger shrub, lemon) and an Aviation (Junipero Gin, Maraschino, Creme de Violette, lemon, orange bitters). Both of the pale colored drinks were great, but the Inside Job might be better as an after dinner drink:
The dinner menu is divided into Snacks, Vegetables, Seafood and Meat sections. Most of the items are meant to be shared, whether they are smaller plates such as a salad, or the meatier larger plates such as the Wood Oven Whole Chicken. From the Snacks section we ordered the Deviled Eggs topped with bacon and crispy quinoa. The fried grains resembled caviar and added some crunch to the tasty creamy eggs:
Also from the Snacks section, the beer-battered Long Beans are served with a slice of lemon and ponzu dipping sauce. The bean ‘fries’ are very good and paired well with the acidity of a lemon squeeze and the citrus-flavored shoyu:
In addition to cocktails, they offer seven draft beers, a few bottled beer selections and 16 wines available by the glass. With the exception of a couple of bubbly choices, all of the wines are domestic and poured out of a tap. The wine pours are very generous, and we may have found our favorite wine deal in the City with the glass of Rue Boucher Grenache priced at only $7 (right). The Zocker Gruner Veltiner from Edna Valley (left) was crisp and dry, but the Grenache was the real revelation:
From the meat section, we spied a few offal cuts and decided to literally go tongue and cheek. The Grilled Beef Tongue has become one of our favorite preparations of this offal. The tender and thick tongue chunks are served as a large salad with chanterelle mushrooms, roasted turnips and baby greens, all dressed with a delicious bacon vinaigrette. The food server told us that this was her first tongue delivery she had seen during her shifts, even though it is one of her favorite dishes. Fellow San Franciscans, order the beef tongue, you are missing out on something truly great:
The other half of our offal course was comprised of the Berkshire Pork Cheeks which were hearty and excellent. The fork-tender meat chunks were served on a bed of creamy soft polenta studded with bacon braised romano beans and hatch chilies, then topped with mushrooms, crispy shallots and micro greens:
We saw a lot of these coming out of the kitchen and had to try the French Crullers with Valencia Orange Glaze. Way better than most doughnuts we have had, it was fun eating a seemingly grease-free airy pastry that had just the right amount of sweetness. It was a great ending to a great meal:
A view of the V-shaped marble-topped light bar shows how much the bar has been opened up. The beams in the middle indicate where a wall used to be in the old diner:
We had such a great dinner at Fog City that we wanted to return for their newly launched lunch and brunch service. Head barman Dustin must never take any time off, since he was there the afternoon we came back and grabbed a couple of seats at the bar. We consider ourselves chicken wing aficionados and had to try their version of the Wood Oven Chicken Wings bathed in a Crystal hot sauce. The spicy wings were quite good, exhibiting nice crisp on top as roasted by the wood-burning oven with softer undersides. The drizzled ranch dressing makes a lot of sense and saved us from having to dip the wings in a small bowl of dressing only to watch the dressing slide off. More wing places should take note of this dressing technique:
We were intrigued with the smoky avocado dressing that came with the Butter Lettuce Salad, so we had to order it. The generously portioned salad was really excellent, accompanied by crunchy pumpkin seeds and radishes:
The Bix burger is well renown as one of the best ones in the City, so we had to try the Fog City version, which uses the same Chef’s Press that Chef Bruce Hill invented.
The ventilated, stainless steel presses add extra weight for efficient and even cooking of the burger. Because of this cooking technique, they do not suggest getting the burgers rare, so we went with the recommended medium-rare. The house-made bun was soft yet held the stack together very well. The fillings included a smoked tomato aioli, American cheese, tomato, onion and pickles. As a big compliment, we thought that the burger is very reminiscent of a high-end version of an In-N-Out burger:
We ordered the Hand-cut Furikake Fries to accompany the great burger. The excellent Japanese-influenced fries served with a garlic aioli dipping sauce were fried to perfection:
Welcome back Fog City — what a great comeback. With the food focussed around the grill and wood-burning techniques, smoke comes in many forms (e.g. avocado dressing, tomato aioli), but never dominates the flavor profile. It will probably remain a dining destination for tourists and locals alike, and now they even take American Express.