Editor’s note: Want to be part of Dinner at a Movie, the Stay-Home Edition? Watch “The Talented Mr. Ripley” this weekend over takeout from a local restaurant or a homemade supper (plus prosecco, if you like!), then join Bethany Jean Clement and Moira Macdonald at noon on Monday, April 13, for an online discussion. We’ll talk about the movie, Cate Blanchett’s outfits, what we ate, and maybe reminisce a bit about Dinners at a Movie Past. We’ll be at st.news/daam.
Back in prepandemic times, Seattle Times restaurant critic Bethany Jean Clement and film critic Moira Macdonald undertook what even then seemed like a luxurious and frivolous project: to team-review Seattle-area cinemas that also served some semblance of real food. Thus, Dinner at a Movie was born. The series found us in the lap of luxury at Bellevue’s Cinemark Reserve, with its heated seats and actually good Caesar salad, as well as suffering what felt like mightily through Pacific Place’s foodlike-substance/pizza. Also, we drank. Life was so good!
Now, during the time of coronavirus, we would give our eyeteeth to go to a movie — any movie, at any theater, with or without glasses of wine — together. We miss darkened theaters with other people, even the ones on their cellphones during the show, and we miss each other, and we miss a world that made any kind of sense. Here’s how we decided to make do: Choose a movie on Netflix, choose restaurants providing takeout in our respective neighborhoods, choose an evening and then watch together, apart. Also, to text each other photos of our dinners (and our cats), and then at all the movie’s (many!) juicy parts. Here’s how it went.
Bethany: Quarantine times call for drinks, and the movie, as you’ll see below and as Moira kindly informed me, calls for prosecco. The last time we drank prosecco together happened to be during our Oscars-watching party, which we were lucky enough to have with my mom in her capacious and cable-enabled living room. Now we’ve been reduced to virtual glass-clinking and to feeling constantly worried about our parents’ isolation and health.
Moira: Sending loads of love to Bethany’s mom, and to mine. And all of yours.
Bethany: It’s hard to know what to say … but prosecco helps, as does remotely watching a movie with a friend you miss so much — or with your mom!
Moira: I only learned very recently that many restaurants doing takeout are also selling takeout wine. Cheers to that!
Bethany: Annnnnd when you buy takeout and/or wine from Seattle restaurants now, you’re supporting a community in extremely dire straits. (Takeout is better than app-based delivery, because those app service fees stay in the restaurants’ pockets instead.)
Moira: It’s nice when you can say you are eating macaroni and cheese and drinking bubbly FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD.
Bethany: Yes! And I had the honor of selecting the restaurant from which Moira would order: lovely longtime Ravenna favorite Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor. My gratification when Moira texted that she LOVED the place and hadn’t been in way too long could only be described as inordinate. Small things mean a lot these days!
Moira: I was so happy to revisit Frank’s, and went with comfort food all the way: the Bibb lettuce wedge salad with green goddess dressing and bacon ($12) and “Frank’s mac & cheese” ($15). It was … well, please note that I sighed happily right now, just remembering. It was cheesy and toasty-breadcrumby and creamy and so very good. As was the salad, thoughtfully packed with a very generous portion of dressing on the side — enough for an additional dinner later.
Bethany: I miss when we could steal bites of each other’s dinner! But I will say, Dinner at a Movie in the Time of Coronavirus allows us to obtain much, much, MUCH better food than, say, that abysmal lobster roll I optimistically ordered at iPic in Redmond.
Moira: For the record, I did not miss the “street” tacos at Regal Meridian at ALL. Though I do find myself longing for the day when I can use a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine again.
Bethany: Technological wonders though those robots of carbonation may be, they fail to dispense prosecco. My bottle (De Faveri, $19) and my dinner came from another beloved hero of Seattle restaurants, Terra Plata on Capitol Hill. If you’re feeling discouraged about, well, everything, and you love shrimp as much as I do, consider splurging on their current to-go offering of Gulf prawns ($29) — eight plump ones on a substantial bed of herby, super-delicious rice with tiny sweet peas, Peruvian yellow chili pepper, garlic and lemon wedges to squeeze. And while I’ll generally take more prosecco in lieu of dessert, chef Tamara Murphy’s churros ($12) attain a state of cushy-cakey inside/crispy-browned-sugary outside that will change a dessert-disinterested person’s mind.
Moira: I am excited to report that I know what churros are, having seen them made on “The Great British Baking Show”! Did yours have the trademark ridges? (I’m totally showing off now.)
Bethany: Look at you food-knowledging! Yes, pretty and ridgey and two super-rich dipping sauces and way too much for one person … I wish I could’ve shared with you.
Moira: I would have loved to try a churro! But I had my own dessert: a cookie from Grand Central Bakery that I’d bought while on a walk earlier. It was chewy and chocolatey and mysteriously disappeared way too quickly. It’s possible the cat ate it.
Moira: Here is how good the curbside service at Frank’s is: I arrived at 6:25 p.m. for my 6:30 pickup (I cannot get used to this no-traffic thing), and a nice person rushed out in the rain to tell me that the crew was so precise with their timing that my dinner was not quite ready yet. (Note, they were speaking through the rolled-down passenger window, at proper distance.) And then someone else came out with it at 6:30 on the dot. The prosecco (Ca’ dei Zago, $30) was cold, the mac and cheese was hot, and all was nicely packed.
Bethany: Just a couple of weeks in, most places have it down to a science, but it’s so disconcerting to see Terra Plata’s pretty, airy, all-windowed room full of boxes of takeout containers. And it’s so deeply odd to talk to chef Murphy at social-distancing distance while she’s wearing a mask. She, at a literal loss like everyone in the industry, is just trying to keep some workers employed and carry on into a future that’s beyond uncertain. She’s also added donations to her online delivery/takeout menu to help feed those in need, as many more of our huge-hearted local chefs are also doing. Let’s all donate, and let’s all tip big, until such time as — knock frantically on wood — we can go back to patronizing our city’s restaurants and bars in person.
Moira: Double-knocking, and finger-crossing, that our favorite gathering places can return soon. I look forward to this moment for so many reasons; one particularly shallow one being that my TV-watching area does not have a table — I had to set up my meal on a footstool — and the waitstaff service at my house is not what it should be.
Bethany: But your plating skills — such a pretty salad!
Moira: Thank you! All credit goes to Frank’s. And I am learning, through more frequent takeout, that it’s wise to preheat the oven before you leave, so you can pop the should-be-hot things right in.
Bethany: Confession — I ended up drinking my prosecco from a tumbler instead of that etched coupe that I texted you a picture of … déclassé, but less spilly when one’s watching Netflix in a reclining position.
Moira: WHAT??? I’m shocked. But as a person who put her feet up on the footstool right next to her abandoned plate, I cannot judge.
Bethany: Dear restaurants, please come back soon. Standards are slipping!
Moira: In choosing our Netflix movie, I pivoted to the tried-and-true — why not watch something together that was guaranteed to give us some joy? We ended up with “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” which Bethany hadn’t seen. This movie — an elegant, deliciously twisted psychological thriller based on a Patricia Highsmith novel and directed by Anthony Minghella — is one I’ve loved since it first came out, when I was a mere embryo back in 1999. I thought it would be great fun to share with Bethany the Hitchcocky twists, the incomparable scenery and the enviable outfits. (THAT COAT. You will know the one.) We synchronized our Netflix screens and simultaneously clicked “play.”
Bethany: Moira’s wisdom in choosing the escapism route became instantly apparent, for “Mr. Ripley” is all about the stylish insouciance of high-society Americans cavorting across late-1950s Italy … plus, of course, MURDER. But this kind of scenery — the winding roads overlooking the cerulean Amalfi Coast, the ruins of Rome at a roseate sunset, etc., etc. — lets us travel abroad at a time when we know not when that will be possible again.
Moira: It also lets us travel back to a time when Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett, Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman were all so very young and gorgeous and up-and-coming. (Speaking of scenery: late-’90s Law. My goodness.)
Bethany: And all wearing amazing sunglasses and slicked-back hair and their trousers rolled and scarf-tied-around-ponytail and red lipstick and …
Moira: Glorious strapless gowns to the opera! One of which I swear had artificial flowers tucked in front!
Bethany: Approximately a whole bouquet’s worth! And cashmere with espadrilles, and a leopard coat with matching pillbox hat, and …
Moira: And That Blue Coat, worn by Paltrow and featuring the most gorgeous heart-shaped collar. (There was much texting about this coat. We want it.) The costumes, by Oscar-winning costume designer Ann Roth, are unerringly swanky and perfect, reminding us that once upon a time, 20-something travelers dressed up — a LOT — when abroad. (Digression about packing: How do you pack a strapless bouffant gown? A leopard coat? Multitudes of hats?)
Bethany: Trunks, darling — many, many trunks. First class on the Cunard Line, of course. Which reminds me, my primary problem with this film: zero footage of the super-glamorous transatlantic ocean-liner voyage, back when people weren’t horrifically trapped on cruise ships.
Moira: YES. A huge disappointment. I want to see that stateroom! Or statesuite, maybe. But the movie does let us see an endless parade of exquisitely outfitted apartments and hotel suites, all of which you will want to live in.
Bethany: Plus MURDER! But no spoilers. It was very fun to keep texting Moira “UH OH” and “Yikes!!!”
Moira: No spoilers! The second half of this movie is basically one big “UH OH.” But Bethany, as you were seeing the film for the first time, I must ask: Were you surprised by, shall we say, the road this film took?
Bethany: It twisted and turned very nicely, and it’s good and long, which is what one wants from their escapism. Oh, wait, my other disappointment: that Matt Damon and Jude Law did not climb into the bathtub together. However, close enough!
Moira: So close! And yet so far!
The Overall Experience
Moira: Nothing compares to the fun of sitting in a movie theater with Bethany, or drinking in a bar with Bethany after eating really terrible food in a movie theater. But, until those times return, it was a joy — and strangely comforting — to find a way to have Dinner at a Movie together.
Bethany: Nothing’s the same anymore, but there’s perverse virtue in the end of taking things for granted — I’ll be so happy when we actually meet again, and I’m so glad that meantime you had this excellent idea. Let’s do it again very soon! Until then, all the cheers from afar. Miss you! What a world.
Moira: Miss you too! Sending a virtual shared dessert and a hug. And, to everyone reading this: We both send hope and encouragement and memories of perfect movie popcorn, until better days come.