It was approximately 117 years ago that Seattle Times food critic Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald last sat side by side in a movie theater together, enjoying the “Downton Abbey” movie and some very questionable macaroni-and-cheese balls. Our series Dinner at a Movie began in 2017, taking us all around the Seattle area in search of theaters offering real food (ideally easy to eat in the dark — no more salads!), cocktails (Bethany likes Manhattans, Moira likes drinks with fruit in them), and thoughtful service (we don’t mind if you spill popcorn on us, as long as you’re nice about it). Times were good. [Insert here a montage of us at various theaters, laughing attractively together while “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays.] And then … well, we all know what happened.

We did our best to be creative during Pandemic Times (past tense!? This is amazing!!!) — the drive-in! Watching together/apart at home! Making real movie popcorn in our respective kitchens! — but it just wasn’t the same. So we’re beyond delighted to share our story of taking our fully vaccinated selves out to an actual movie theater: Kirkland’s new Cinemark Totem Lake and XD (what is “XD,” you ask? Stay tuned!), with a stop for burgers just steps away (as the theater does not offer real dinner-with-drinks — whatever! We’re back!). Add in “F9,” and you’ve got Dinner at a Movie Celebrates Freedom!

The Dinner

Bethany: I never thought I’d be so thrilled to be stuck in traffic with Moira on 405! After lots of uncovered-face-to-uncovered-face catching up, we arrived for our premovie dinner at Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar. The new Totem Lake branch is the sixth in the local chain, named after what the menu calls “the Ruston Smoke Stack,” which was 571 feet tall when it was demolished in 1993 as part of a Superfund cleanup. You may know it as the ASARCO smokestack. A bit of Tacoma history!

Bethany’s burger at the new Totem Lake Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar gave an admirable all-American performance, made with all-natural, humanely raised beef from Eastern Washington. (Courtesy of Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar)

Moira: This is an extremely weird thing to name a restaurant for. But, whatever — we were out! Eating burgers! Wearing dresses! Conscious of finishing dinner in time for an actual set showtime! Actually, I’m lying as I did not have a burger, but the Alaskan salmon sandwich ($13.95), with avocado and bacon, which was very good. The menu at Stack 571 pretty much hits my sweet spot: Uncomplicated Food with a Lot of Bacon. (Now that is a good name for a restaurant.)

Bethany: My basic 571 burger ($10.95) gave an admirable all-American performance, made with all-natural, humanely raised beef from Eastern Washington — despite the toxic derivation of the name, Stack 571 does sourcing right — and a notably cushy potato bun. While I’m also pro-bacon, I’d order the chopped wedge salad minus the combo of bacon-whiskey jam and candied walnuts, which seemed a bit overcomplicated as well as oversweet. And, then: If it’s been chopped, is a wedge still a wedge? But we were out for fun, not lettuce-related philosophical questions.

Moira: And the salads ($13.95 large, $9.95 small) came with such cute mini wooden salad tongs! Points for that!

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The Adult Milkshakes

Bethany: Yes! And even more points for grown-up milkshakes ($10.95)! My chocolate one got a shot of Gig Harbor-based Heritage Distilling’s Batch 12 whiskey, while Moira’s Washington Triple Berry came with Heritage vodka. They both wore fluffy hats of aerosol whipped cream (food critic approved), with accompanying large-gauge straws to accelerate adult milkshake into adult. Mine also got dotted with mini chocolate chips. A little girl at the next table was seen gazing longingly — I hope she got a kid-friendly one. 

Moira: Mine had a perky little cookie, tucked jauntily into that whipped cream! Between this and the bacon, I am now deeply in love with whoever created the Stack 571 menu. The boozy Triple Berry shake was like a truly excellent melted Creamsicle from heaven, and I didn’t even mind the chunks of berry that occasionally came shooting through my The Rock–sized straw.

The adult milkshakes get shots of booze, fluffy hats of aerosol whipped cream and large-gauge straws to accelerate them into their adult at Stack 571. (Courtesy of Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar)

Bethany: My straw occasionally strafed more mini chocolate chips from the depths of my shake, which I could’ve done without. However, a surfeit of mini chocolate chips in one’s whiskey-laced milkshake is an incredibly marvelous mini problem to have. If I may speak for both of us, we strongly recommend celebrating returning to the world with shot-infused milkshakes. The world needs more shots right now! Seriously.

The Movie

Moira: Milkshakes downed, we strolled next door to the brand-new and curiously empty Cinemark Totem Lake, where comfortable recliners and “F9” awaited us. This is, as you likely know, the 500th movie in the “Fast & Furious” franchise, in which an assortment of extremely toned people drive cars very fast for a variety of reasons that don’t really matter. (Spoiler alert: I kind of love this series.) 

“F9” has so many explosions, and cars go into space even more than this! (Newell Todd / NBC Universal)

Bethany: Also motorcycles! That one woman did some fabulous wheelies. And gigantic tank-truck-type things, which oddly can go as fast as a top-speed awesome female motorcyclist. And a massively magnetized (no, it doesn’t make much more sense in context) delivery van, also strangely capable of hot-rod speeds through the streets of … Edinburgh? “F9” travels the globe, which is ideal for a summer 2021 real-movie outing.

Moira: I found myself forgetting where we were (geographically, in the movie) a lot — which is, in and of itself, an incredible luxury. “F9” is, to put it mildly, not a movie that requires extreme concentration. (If you concentrated too hard, you’d have a LOT of questions about the plot. I still have questions, despite the boozy milkshake nicely canceling most of them out.) 

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Bethany: OK, yes, but: Cinemark Totem Lake does not currently have a lobby bar. We’d grown accustomed to having a cocktail to accompany the film for our Dinner at a Movie outings. And “F9” does rattle the nerves. 

Moira: It does, what with all the driving across nonexistent bridges, jumping from rooftops, cars rolling over and various other death-defying feats. (Nobody ever really dies in these movies; my theory is that all the characters are secretly superheroes — the Avengers, with cars instead of unitards.) And also, this movie is LONG, longer than The Rock’s inseam. Tragically, I am here to remind you all that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is no longer in the “Fast & Furious” movies, but he will always and forever be connected to them in my heart

Bethany: The Rock!!! His absence from the F-whatever franchise seems a terrible loss. Let’s just say it: Vin Diesel is no The Rock.

The Dodge Charger in “F9” with co-star Vin Diesel. (Newell Todd / NBC Universal)

Moira: He is not, but Diesel does have that weird metallic voice, which I find sort of comforting, like a techno kitty purr. Did you notice that the guy playing young Vin Diesel did not have The Voice? So that means that Dom Toretto just randomly started talking like that in adulthood? (I have SO MANY QUESTIONS about this movie.) Anyway, I do miss The Rock terribly from this franchise. He added a level of, well, enormousness, and just-let-me-handle-this charisma.

Bethany: You’d also mentioned that the franchise is all about family, and this episode leaned hard into that with questions of patricide, brother vs. brother, lots of “Star Wars” references and a number of attempts at actual emotion. Watching Vin Diesel try to portray tenderness toward his moptop little son was like watching a robot try to do a thing that a robot really, really can’t do. 

Moira: Very true. On the other hand, Helen Mirren is in this movie! For about three seconds, but what a glorious three seconds it is — mostly spent driving really fast around London in a killer white gown and jewels, like I do in my secret double life.  

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Bethany: NEEDS MORE MIRREN. I would’ve enjoyed just admiring her outfit for a half-hour or so. Maybe add in a little London walking tour with her, excise a few chase scenes?

Moira: Helen Mirren, like bacon, is perfection. 

The Mysterious Concept of “XD”

Moira: An intriguing element of the otherwise fairly basic (but shiny!) Cinemark Totem Lake and XD: All of the theaters have regular doors, except the special XD cinema, which has a weirdly glowing, color-changing entrance that makes you feel as if you’re entering a theme park ride. 

Bethany: Or as if your drugs are kicking in! 

Moira: We wondered if “XD” meant X-treme 3D, but it doesn’t. It means, apparently, a HUGE screen and a very immersive sound system. And a fancy entrance. And that it costs more than the regular screens — $15.50 instead of $12.50. (According to the Cinemark website, XD involves a “state-of-the-art projector capable of 35 trillion colors!” That’s their exclamation point, not mine. I don’t think I could identify 35 trillion colors in “F9,” but hey, blame the milkshake.)

Bethany: The screen is wider than several The Rocks and approximately four stories tall. You are very, very definitely back in the real theater when you’re in XD. The screen is so much bigger than whatever you were watching during the pandemic — it’s bigger than your house or apartment building. It’s amazing overkill. For a movie like “F9” and/or just going back to any movie, why not GO BIG?!

The Overall Experience

Here’s the courtyard outside the new Cinemark multiplex at The Village at Totem Lake. (Erika Plummer / CenterCal Properties)

Moira: Sure, we’ve been in fancier or more charming surroundings than the Cinemark Totem Lake and XD. But oh, how wonderful it was to be sitting with Bethany in a real-life theater, hearing each other giggle when something ridiculous happened on screen (which is about every seven seconds in “F9”). This Dinner at a Movie date was a long time coming, and I loved every minute of it. 

Bethany: The emptiness of the place felt a little eerie and a lot comforting — a good way to venture back to the movies again. If you’re nervous, a midweek showing plus a film that’s been out for a minute might help. We had the whole theater almost to ourselves — and the CTL ’n’ XD’s nicely padded, reclining seats are tiered such that even if there were a crowd, it wouldn’t feel crowded. Then there were way too many trailers! And real movie popcorn (even though we did figure out how to make it at home, whenever we want, during the pandemic!)! And a fountain Diet Coke reassuringly in Moira’s hand! So normal, yet so surreal — and such a profound joy. We’re back. We’re back!

Cinemark Totem Lake and XD; 12600 120th Ave. N.E., Kirkland; 425-821-0511, cinemark.com

Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar; 12540 120th Ave. N.E., Suite 126, Kirkland; 425-242-3224, stack571.com