In part four of this series, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald deeply enjoy the bland, brown charms of Bellevue’s Cinemark Reserve.
For our Dinner at a Movie series, we’ve traveled north to Mountlake Terrace to eat salad in the dark at Cinebarre, east to Redmond to try the all-this-and-a-blanket-too luxuries of iPic Theaters, and right smack into the center of Seattle for the homey charms of Central Cinema, where everyone knows your name. (Well, they didn’t know our names, but it still felt just like going to the movies, somehow, on the set of “Cheers.”) Now, in our intrepid search for places that inspire moviegoers to leave Netflix behind and see a movie in big-screen splendor while eating actual food (not just popcorn!) and drink (the alcoholic kind!), we’re back east again, visiting Cinemark Reserve in Bellevue.
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Moira: The newest place we’ve visited so far, Cinemark Reserve opened last August in the south wing of Lincoln Square, a shiny complex that also includes a number of restaurants and a Nordstrom Rack. (If you park in the north lot, thinking you’re going to the Cinemark Lincoln Square Cinemas — a regular multiplex in the north end of Lincoln Square — you will need to embark on a perilous and lengthy journey involving staircases, skybridges, and a series of doors that feel like the opening credits of “Get Smart.” Wise Cinemark Reserve-goers will park in the south tower lot.) Once you find it, shining like a beacon in the distance, Cinemark Reserve offers six cinemas, a lobby lounge and a terrace (not open on the dreary Wednesday afternoon we visited, but probably quite nice in summertime). All screenings are 21-and-over; parking is free (with validation).
Bethany: As the last person in the United States of America to see “Black Panther,” allow me to offer my trenchant opinion: It is great! It is just as great as everyone else in the U.S. of A. says it is. I cried twice. And when it comes to Dinner at a Movie, a superhero film is perfect — it just doesn’t matter if you miss a little of the origin story while you’re awkwardly splitting up a Caesar salad in the semidark. You’ll still get it. And the action sequences are ideal for eating and drinking — you can take your eyes off the screen for a moment, no problem. The enormous armored rhinoceroses will still be charging wildly around, and/or the women of Wakanda will still be kicking tremendous ass.
Moira: I loved watching “Black Panther” again, after reviewing it last month. Such excellent ass-kicking! Such a wonderful cast! Such emotional honesty! Such aspirations for conducting one’s saving-the-world business while sashaying around in a great red dress and throwing one’s wig at people! (That would be Danai Gurira as Okoye, in a scene that rewards endless re-watching.) Wow, I never use this many exclamation points. Clearly I had a good time.
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Bethany: Exclamation point!
Moira: Our viewing was enhanced by the excellent sightlines at Cinemark Reserve. When choosing seats (you’ll select them when buying tickets), don’t worry if there’s somebody in front of you. You won’t even see them. At all.
Bethany: At this point in Dinner at a Movie, I am absolutely grading on a curve, as it has become apparent that movie-theater kitchens just aren’t up to the level of real-restaurant ones. That being said, Cinemark Reserve’s food is the best we’ve had so far. My fried chicken sandwich ($11) featured a big, super-crispy-on-the-outside chicken breast. Was it spicy, as billed? No, but its tenderness indicated that it clearly had been brined as billed — classy! The menu also brags that it’s “hand-breaded,” which Moira thought was funny: No robots breading chicken breasts in this theater! But it means they’re doing it in-house, instead of throwing a frozen, pre-breaded piece into a deep fryer, which makes a difference.
Moira: That curve is fair. If Canlis decided to start showing movies between courses, I’d cut them some slack on their screen presentation. (Though I would have many other questions.) At Cinemark Reserve, I ordered the pork slider trio ($9) — I have a weakness for small cute food — and they were not only cute but delicious. Tender pork, nice tangy BBQ sauce, good bun. And not as small as you’d guess; I ended up giving one to Bethany, because I was busy scarfing down the nice crunchy French fries.
Bethany: The fries were actually, not-even-on-a-curve good! Sure, fries are good in general, but these rosemary ones walked the fine fancy-fry-line of possessing a delicate herbal scent without tasting like a row of shrubbery. And the Caesar ($7) was so crisp, its croutons so crunchy, that I had to stop chewing during the (rare) quiet moments of “Black Panther” because I was worried about disturbing Moira. (And yes, I chew with my mouth closed.)
Moira: I couldn’t hear a word! With all the crunching! (I kid. Bethany has lovely manners.)
Bethany: I worry! It’s so loud in my head, the crunching! This was not a problem with the crème brûlée ($8), though it did have a nice crackly brûléed crust on top. Was it the best crème brûlée ever? No. Was it the minor miracle that is eating crème brûlée at the movies, and thus by nature wonderful? YES. (And yes, it was better than Central Cinema’s crème brûlée. I’m comparing movie-theater crème brûlée! Life is good.)
Bethany: This whole cocktail-during-a-movie thing is pretty much the best. And Cinemark Reserve’s Reserve New Fashioned (bourbon, agave nectar and bitters, $9.75) was as smooth and brown and soothing as the theater itself. You could call it taking the edge off, but there are no edges here.
Moira: None whatsoever! Life at Cinemark Reserve is edgeless, and stressless. If it weren’t for driving, and being professional, I can imagine happily spending all afternoon there, enjoying cocktails and a double feature. My single Blackberry Vo-jito ($9.75) was fruity and yummy; almost as good as iPic’s blackberry mojito, but with fewer fresh blackberries on its skewer. (To echo Bethany: Yes, I’m comparing movie-theater fresh blackberries! What a world. All is lovely.)
Moira: The bad news: Something got spilled on me. The good news: It was popcorn, which I had ordered unbuttered, so no harm done. The server was very apologetic and made amends quickly (nicely bringing us a large popcorn to replace the smaller one that was spilled). Frankly, I’m astonished that it took us four Dinner at a Movie outings to experience spillage, what with all the running around in the near-darkness that goes on in these places. Other than that incident, service (which you get by pressing a button) was prompt and very nice indeed.
Bethany: They were super-sweet! And yes, we’ve had zero dry-cleaning-caliber incidents. For service in the dark, that’s amazing. Kudos to all!
Moira: Everything is brown at Cinemark Reserve; being there is sort of like being inside a reasonably high-end chocolate bar, if that chocolate bar had aspirations to be a fancy airport lounge. Which is not a bad place to be, really.
Bethany: Or like floating in a Cinemark Reserve Reserve New Fashioned! Brown and soothing. Soothing and brown. Your soothing, brown leather seat reclines perfectly. Relax, now. There you go. Cheers!
Moira: The seatside swivel tables are kind of small. We had to borrow table space from adjacent seats; not a problem in a near-empty theater, but possibly tricky in a full house. But oh, those reclining seats. I want one here at my Seattle Times desk.
The Overall Experience
Moira: Cinemark Reserve is clearly in direct competition with iPic: Both have Eastside locations, posh recliners, at-your-seat service and a similar bland elegance. But I have to say, Cinemark Reserve absolutely has iPic beat on price, with no loss in quality (and, I think, better service). Our matinee tickets were $10 — compared to $28 for an iPic matinee ticket for the same movie with similar service (and, to be fair, free popcorn). Cinemark Reserve evening tickets are more expensive — $14 weeknights, $18 weekends, more for 3D — but still a comparative bargain. And it has an amenity we haven’t seen so far, one tailor-made for Bethany …
Bethany: Cinemark Reserve has seat warmers. What a world, indeed! That being said, my seat warmer was not hot enough. It had two settings, presumably warmer and warmerer, and I could not tell the difference, and neither was super-toasty. Now, I sulk.
Moira: I wondered if I’d have trouble getting Bethany to leave the theater — I thought she would be reluctant to surrender her toasty seat! But the seat-warming is subtle.
Bethany: People have had difficulty dispelling me from their cars if they have seat-warmers. I was prepared to start a new life at Cinemark Reserve, at least until summertime. Maybe they rigged my seat so that they could, in fact, be rid of me.
Moira: A Dinner at a Movie conspiracy!
Bethany: But wild theorizing aside, we loved Cinemark Reserve in all its brownness. It’s very bland-corporate-upscale, but it completely works, even if they throw popcorn on you.
Moira: They can throw popcorn on me anytime. As long as it’s not buttered.
Cinemark Reserve Bellevue Square: 500 Bellevue Way N.E. (in Lincoln Square south tower), Bellevue; 425-455-8422; cinemark.com/washington/cinemark-reserve-bellevue-square; six screens; all 21-and-over