The valiant mission of Dinner at a Movie is to evaluate the opportunities for real-meal food and actual drinks available, amazingly, at Seattle-area movie theaters. To this end, in the service of the citizenry, food writer Bethany Jean Clement and film critic Moira Macdonald have suffered, learning such important lessons as Salad Is Difficult to Eat in the Dark (at Cinebarre in Mountlake Terrace) and Do Not Order a Lobster Roll at the Cinema (at Redmond’s iPic Theaters). We’ve also discovered myriad delights, including the all-around adorableness of Burien’s Tin Room Bar & Theater, the surprisingly good food of Bellevue’s Cinemark Reserve and the super-friendly embrace of Seattle’s Central Cinema. Mostly, we’ve deeply enjoyed availing ourselves of the luxury of having cocktails ferried to our seats when that amenity has been available. Will wonders never cease!
Though it seemed that our Dinner at a Movie adventures were at an end — surely the Winetails at the Regal Meridian were the artificial cherry on top of the sundae? — suddenly the Bat-Signal appeared: Pacific Place, the downtown AMC multiplex, premiered a new “Feature Fare” menu. Could Seattle survive without hearing what we thought of the fried macaroni and cheese balls? Well, probably, but we went anyway.
Moira: From Pacific Place’s semi-vast selection, we chose “Downton Abbey,” enticed by the prospect of comparing our meal to the elegant feasts onscreen, lovingly cooked by Mrs. Patmore and Daisy. And because I will take ANY excuse to look at the outfits of this movie again. I am in the midst of memorizing Lady Mary’s wardrobe.
Bethany: I think I may be alone in this world insofar as I’d seen the show “Downton Abbey” a few times, yet neither loved nor disliked it. But I’ll watch anything in the service of Dinner at a Movie, and I loved letting the opulent charms, marvelous accents and oh my god the haberdashery of “Downton”-the-movie wash over me like so much hot water carried up so many glossy-varnished staircases in a floral ceramic ewer with a basin to match. (There is plumbing consternation in the film.)
Moira: It really is a movie to bathe in. This week a reader asked me to help her come up with a “Downton Abbey” drinking game — or, rather, a sipping game — and I wished I’d been thinking about this during the movie. (And I wished I’d had a drink during the movie, but we’ll get to that.) I would have sipped at every fabulous hat, or every time Carson the butler makes an exasperated pronouncement.
Bethany: THE HATS.
Moira: I KNOW.
Bethany: I shan’t spoil anything here, but during one sequence of extreme drama in “Downton,” I was entirely preoccupied by hat-admiration. You’ll know this hat when you see it on Lady Mary — it’s an incredibly chic cloche affair with geometrical trim that I want for my own head so, so very much.
Moira: This was a problem in the TV show too (which I watched religiously); I would often miss things — important, dramatic plot things — because I was distracted by the tiaras, or by the architecture.
Bethany: The wallpaper! The candelabras!! The dressing gowns!!!
Moira: I would commit serious crimes for Lady Edith’s dressing gown.
Bethany: Did you catch the champagne-colored silk tap pants and camisole …
Moira: Yes! So pretty! And Mary’s Fortuny-silk gown with the pleats?
Bethany: THE GOWNS.
Moira: I KNOW.
Bethany: Well, we could go on. And on. But there are less-lovely matters, sadly, to attend to, back in the present, on the top floor of the very under-construction confines of Pacific Place. SIGH.
Bethany: Alas, ours was not a repast fit for royalty, to make a dramatic understatement.
Moira: The Pacific Place food was, um, rather dreadful. With one exception, on which I think Bethany and I are going to disagree.
Bethany: Any disagreement in AMC Pacific Place matters culinary will be but a matter of minuscule degrees, milady.
Moira: I just imagined you saying that in Carson’s voice. Very impressive. No, I am going to go out on a limb and confess that I actually, truly, liked the macaroni and cheese balls — or, to be precise, the Mac & Cheese Bites ($7.99). They needed salt, and they clearly are not actual food (what kind of “cheese” is actually in them?), but I found their bland sponginess and crispy exteriors sort of pleasant; like comfort food at the movies. Half the fun, though, is referring to food items as “balls.”
Bethany: I’ll grant that those strange orbs achieved the highest level of edibility of all that we ordered, though their interior mushiness disturbed me. But at least they were 3D, unlike the very flat, alarmingly red, half-moon-shaped, so-called Spicy Chicken Tacos ($7.59). The exteriors of these crunched with a loudness not fit for theater etiquette, while the supposedly “chicken” filling tasted and squished like refried beans, with the unpleasant addition of an insistent, chemically spiciness. Dipping them into their sweet, viscous Cool Ranch dressing only made matters worse. The Pepperoni Flatbread Pizza ($8.99) … it’s too depressing to contemplate further, especially in comparison to the preparations for the feast taking place on the big screen.
I’ve never so desperately anticipated the traditional Dinner at a Movie midscreening second-course popcorn, which Moira kindly fetched, also returning with one more food-ish item, too … upholstery-bits in cinnamon-sugar, I think? But thank you ever so for trying! And for the lifesaving popcorn.
Moira: They were Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Bites ($6.89), and I think they might have been made from leftover employee uniforms? The level of flavorlessness they achieved, once their sweet dusting fell away, was impressive. Mrs. Patmore would be horrified.
Bethany: Though it only would’ve made our culinary circumstances, or lack thereof, more dispiriting, I do wish that “Downton” gave many more details about the dinner-in-the-movie. We witness them rule out a Pavlova (aside: said dessert is making a comeback in our own era!). A sneeringly stereotyped French chef arrives on the scene. Some platters of elaborate-looking food are carried about but, peer as you might, you can’t really tell what’s on them.
Moira: I found myself deeply envying the Downton breakfast setup, which seemed to be the one meal of which we really got a good view, and which involved fancy silver trays of scrambled eggs and bacon, all set up in an elegant buffet. My own breakfast setup, alas, is footman-free.
Bethany: And then at non-breakfast-hours at Downton, there’s the constant pouring of obviously splendid beverages into glittering crystal: also very dispiriting to those of us sitting with our fountain beverages in paper cups inside the AMC Pacific Place. Which leads us, morosely, to …
Moira: Let us have a moment of silence for the drinks that did not exist, because Pacific Place’s bar is only open on weekends, not on the Monday that we visited. Unless you are a special group, such as the rowdy party of women who were attending the “Downton Abbey” screening after ours, and whose laughter and glass-clinking I heard when I sneaked out for the popcorn. Lucky them; the food is probably better if you’re a little drunk.
Bethany: Indeed, the pizza tastes of desperation — the kind of approximation of pizza only eaten under dire/inebriated circumstances, later regretted. But yes, a moment of silence: The hours that the AMC Pacific Place bar keeps are cruelly limited. Also, currently, the website cruelly touts the existence of a special cocktail called The Crawley Collins, made with Aviation gin, “lime sour,” ginger ale and club soda. To be deprived of such a probably entirely drinkable beverage while watching beautifully dusty bottles of doubtlessly very fine claret undergo meticulous downstairs decanting, then upstairs service with absolute aplomb, well … my kingdom for a Winetail in a plastic cup!?
Moira: I never thought we’d get nostalgic for Winetails.
Bethany: I do salute your complete mastery of the amazing robotic fountain-beverage machines at the AMC Pacific Place.
Moira: Those machines, my friend, are called Coca-Cola Freestyle, and they know me well.
Bethany: Dear readers, Moira has a favorite Coca-Cola Freestyle machine at this theater. It is the middle one on the lobby level. Use it, for it gets the mix of syrup to bubbles exactly right, which is crucial in fountain pop.
Moira: I tried imagining the Dowager Countess having to schlep sweaty cardboard boxes of food to her seat. It was unimaginable. The process here is that you order your meal — I use the term loosely — at the concession counter and wait for it, as there are no footmen at Pacific Place.
Bethany: The self-service situation is especially demoralizing after the equivalent of ringing the bell — service at the push of a button during the movie at the likes of Cinemark Reserve (which also had heated seats) — has been made available to our not-so-royal selves prior to this inauspicious occasion.
Moira: Ah, now we’re getting nostalgic for Dinners at a Movie Past. To give credit where it’s due, the employees were all very nice, and apologized when our (short) wait was a minute or two longer than promised.
The Overall Experience
Bethany: My Overall Experience of watching “Downton Abbey,” even given the disastrous food, was a total joy — a testament to Moira’s delightfulness.
Moira: And Bethany’s, too! It is lovely to attend a movie with a fellow hat enthusiast. Also lovely: the drinks we had afterward, across the street.
Bethany: Do plan to treat yourself after visiting the AMC Pacific Place, for it is an absolutely ordinary theater — the eye-boggling pattern of the carpet is about as exciting as it gets — with, as we’ve noted, a bar that never seems to be actually serving drinks, which you’re not permitted to take into the theater anyway. And the “Feature Fare,” well …
Moira: The popcorn at Pacific Place, like the “Downton Abbey” movie, is all that it needs to be, and perhaps we should let that be enough.
AMC Pacific Place: 600 Pine St., fourth floor, Seattle; 206-652-8908; amctheatres.com