Clear skies ahead

Fog City Diner endures a few rocky opening weeks, but promises great things to come

The rest of us were less satisfied, but the food was not the problem at the Diner, the pacing was. A diner meal shouldn't take two hours; we had to wait a long time for appetizers and even longer for entrees. Our poor waiter was friendly, efficient, helpful, and doing his best to make up for a kitchen caught in the weeds.

We shared several "small plates" for appetizers. Special fresh shellfish vary according to availabilitya treat in a town where you rarely eat anything but Gulf oysters. We ordered a plate with two each of the Washington oysters (the other selection was from British Columbia), fat little things in baroquely scalloped shells, briny and wild. A basket of uncomplimentary bread held blue corn sticks with a faint tinge of jalapeno heat, oddly served with honey butter; a loaf topped with a basil-leek pesto kind of mixture; and some biscuits that were not the Dutch crunch rolls promised, but were tasty nonetheless.

Ketchup (a condiment about which I have strong convictions) is, according to Irma Rombauer (the author of Joy of Cooking and therefore someone who ranks right up there with Moses as far as dispensing wisdom goes) originally from Malaya; its name comes from the native word meaning "taste." At Fog City, the crisp golden onion rings (absolutely tasteless) come with house-made "ketchup," a thin, pale, sweet and sour sauce. I prefer DelMonte. But that was one of only two disappointments.

An unexpectedly fabulous quesadilla sandwiched slivers of Anaheim peppers and crunchy toasted almonds as well as cheese between toasted tortillas, with a dollop of chilled avocado salsa. The cold "spice cured" pork tenderloin was another winner. The tender meat was good by itself, but when you combined it with a bite of the sweet caramelized onions and the tangy Italian parsley and cilantro salad, the genius of the dish filled your mouth. An insipid pale green gruel was served to my mother, who had ordered black bean soup; when we called the waiter, he explained the kitchen was out of black bean and had substituted. Without asking? Second strike.

On to entrees, or "large plates," all comfort food of the purest sort. "Mahogany" chicken was a juicy, semi-boned half bird, served with a nutty pilaf of rice and vermicelli--homemade Rice-a-roni. A wonderful sandwich of roast lamb and fresh watercress came with a chutney of apricot, tomato and garlic building on the meat's sweetness; a tender pork chop, still pale pink and juicy, with tart lemon-spiked apple sauce and more of those mashed potatoes; and deep dark liver and onions in a glossy brown sauce over fried polenta.

We thought the Kentucky Derby pie, a chocolate pecan concoction, was sublime until we tasted the warm chocolate-chili tart, a version of a dessert combination I first ate at Nancy Beckham's late lamented Brazos: dense, fudgey chocolate, not too sweet, with the surprise finish of pepper heat building as you ate. It's a brilliant pairing and the scoop of homemade coffee ice cream was a natural finishing touch.

Fog City's motto is "don't worry." I'm sure owner Cindy Pawlcyn has found the slogan hard to live by these first few weeks. But if Fog City's beginning hasn't lived up to early billing, the promise is there. There isn't another menu in town with this kind of imagination (did you notice I didn't even mention pizza?) and broad appeal.

By the way, they'll be open for lunch soon. And it wasn't Troy after all--it was Roger Staubach who was dining a few tables away.

Well, whatever. I'm still impressed.

Fog City Diner, 2401 McKinney Ave., 220-2401. Open for dinner Sunday-Wednesday 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 5 p.m.-midnight. Will be opening for lunch in mid-January.

Fog City Diner:
Spice Cured Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized Onions $5.75
Quesadilla with Anaheim Chile Peppers and Almonds $6.50
Sirloin and Black Bean Chili $4.95
Caesar Salad $6.75
Mashed Potatoes $2.50
Crispy Mahogany Chicken with Homemade Rice-a-Roni $11.50
Pork Chop with Lemon Apple Sauce and Garlic Mashed Potatoes $12.

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