In part two of this occasional feature, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald try out one of the fanciest places around to enjoy dinner, drinks and a movie simultaneously.
In an attempt to pry people off Netflix and back into the multiplex, movie theaters throughout the Seattle area are now offering menus of actual food, plus alcohol-containing beverages (yes!). But how good is the dinner-in-the-dark? How are the cocktails? How does the service work — or not? Do the seats recline at the touch of a button?! Last time, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald ate and drank at Mountlake Terrace’s Cinebarre. This time, they tested one of the fanciest dinner-at-a movie spots around.
Moira: Back in 2008, a new theater opened in Redmond: the posh Gold Class Cinemas, where every seat was a recliner, you could nibble on what its chef called “upscale handheld food,” and an evening screening cost $32. And then … well, we know what else happened in 2008. Then, in 2011, from the ashes of Gold Class Cinemas came iPic Theaters. Now, like airplane travel, there are two classes of service: regular, non-recliner seats without waiter service (you carry your food in from the lobby, like some sort of peasant), and recliners, where waiters bring food and drink to you. The price difference? “Premium” seats are $16; “Premium Plus” seats (which also include “free” popcorn) are $27. Is it worth it?
Bethany:“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” seemed like a perfect Dinner at a Movie pick: less than challenging, over-the-top, hopefully funny. Plus Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — who doesn’t love The Rock?!
16541 N.E. 74th St., Redmond Town Center, Redmond; seven screens, all-ages; 425-636-5601; ipictheaters.com
Moira: And it features a character named Bethany! Played by Jack Black!
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Bethany: Which was EXTREMELY distracting. It’s actually Jack Black playing a self-centered teenage girl who’s been transported into a video game where her character is a cartologist played by Jack Black. Every time someone said “BETHANY!!!” on-screen, I was jolted out of my drinking-a-cocktail-in-a-huge-comfy-reclining-seat, not-really-paying-attention reverie.
Moira: There was something involving some green treasure thingy and a curse, but I missed the explanation while talking to our nice waiter about the mysterious service procedures. Luckily, it didn’t matter much. The movie has dull spots and it’s overlong, but it has The Rock demonstrating smoldering intensity throughout. Which goes well with free popcorn.
Bethany: His smoldering intensity was hilarious! But I’m not used to movies like this. I don’t envy you your job, Moira. “Jumanji” made me feel like I should watch it 117 times and write a Ph.D. thesis on its super-crazy heteronormative gender politics, then shoot myself. But anyway!
Moira: That does NOT sound like a good use of your time. I do envy your job, because I normally never have a cocktail at the movies. Maybe I should! I felt very benevolent toward “Jumanji.” Which may also have been due to the recliner. And the shrimp tacos. Which brings us to …
Bethany: It probably goes without saying, but don’t order a lobster roll at a movie theater. iPic’s specimen ($20) was very roll-forward — a lot of doughy, chewy bread. The menu promised knuckle and claw meat, but there was nary a piece of lobster to be found, just mayo-heavy shreds. And a lot of sharp-tasting onion. Moira’s shrimp tacos gave me food-envy.
Moira: The cute little shrimp tacos (and yes, they’re little, for $15) are very good indeed, but fraught with peril. YOU try eating a taco in the dark. Some of it ended up in my lap — which was, luckily, covered with iPic’s blanket.
Bethany: Oh! We also attempted to eat some forgettable tempura green beans ($14) as an appetizer, and we failed, because the green beans were mushy and awful, while their tempura carapaces were chewy and awful.
Moira: I am not a fan of green beans in the abstract. Even less so of sad green beans in the dark.
Moira: My wild blackberry violet mojito ($13) was insanely delicious, sort of like heaven’s Kool-Aid, and I wanted to bathe in it. I would have asked our waiter to line five more right up in front of me, like Nora Charles in “The Thin Man,” but you know … $13.
Bethany: My Manhattan ($15) met all my Manhattan expectations, and I deeply enjoyed drinking a Manhattan, in proper stemware, at the movies. Would it have been better with the movie “Manhattan”? Yes. Was I jealous of the garnish on Moira’s cocktail, semi-visible in the half-light, possibly several actual blackberries impaled on a little stick? Yes.
Moira: They were actually blackberries! And delightful! But I don’t know why so many of iPic’s items involve sharp sticks. Sticks in the dark are risky.
Bethany: Indeed. To return to the food for a moment, iPic’s menu is nuts, considering the ill-lit circumstances: fried chicken, a meatball hero, steak AND tandoori chicken skewers. Might as well serve soup! On the way out, it seemed most people had been eating pizza. Smart. But also so easy to achieve with Netflix.
Moira: iPic would probably be more fun the second time you go, once you’ve figured out the drill. We weren’t sure how things worked, and arrived 20 minutes early so as to enjoy cocktails from the comfort of our recliners. Then we sat alone, waiting, until five minutes before showtime, when other patrons began trickling in. (Memo to the staff: If service doesn’t start until just before the show, please advise your customers.)
Bethany: The service, while entirely nice, was what we food writers call a mess. At $27 a head, there should be no waiting, no confusion, no having to desperately try to flag anyone down. At $27 a head, there should arguably be a foot massage.
Moira: And perhaps a pedicure. At iPic, there is no way to summon your server (unlike Cinebarre, where you can press a button). Servers check on you every 30 minutes or so, but for the price, you should be able to order whenever you want to.
Moira: Visiting iPic feels very much like spending time in a high-end chain hotel — tasteful earth tones, flattering lighting, pleasant places to sit. The lobby bar, which was hopping when we came out of our movie, looks inviting, and the ladies’ room is so big you could teach tango classes in it.
Bethany: The hallway to all the theaters — so wide and plush-carpeted, with cushy couches with fringey throw pillows! You could just sit and have drinks in the hallway and be happy.
Moira: For the record, I could sit and have drinks in just about any hallway and be happy.
Bethany: Good point.
The Overall Experience
Bethany: I LOVE HAVING A BLANKET AT THE MOVIES. I fear I may start bringing my own.
Moira: I loved the blanket too! But more for reasons of garment security.
Bethany: iPic Premium Plus (with the fancy recliners — made of tawny orange leather! Premium! PLUS!!!) is expensive. Is it worth it? It’d be an excellent way to see a very long movie. It’s like flying first class … you kind of just want to stay on the plane. There’s an option to “add a shaker” for $7 for some of the cocktails, which I assume is adding almost another full drink. We didn’t do this. You should. I mean, why not? You’re not going to get out of there for cheap, in any case.
Moira: It is definitely not cheap: two Premium Plus tickets, plus one appetizer, two entrees, two cocktails, one soda and tip came to $156. Two regular Premium seats would have been $22 less, but we would have had to pay for popcorn ($7 each). The moral: If you like popcorn, go for it and get the good seats. I can see how it would be a fun splurge for a date night. I enjoyed our date, Bethany! Or should I say JACK BLACK?
Bethany: I wish I’d been played, with smoldering intensity, by The Rock.