In the eighth installment of the series, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald find a dinner, drinks and movie combo that just might be the best one yet.
Take Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald, add dinner (and drinks!) at a movie, and you’ve got their favorite assignment of all time: Dinner at a Movie. In previous installments of the series, they’ve been all over the place — including Cinemark Reserve in Bellevue, Central Cinema in Seattle and the Tin Room Bar & Theater in Burien, just to name a few favorites. Most recently, they confronted their conflicting (and conflicted) feelings about the famous chocolate popcorn at Seattle’s Cinerama.
For part eight of Dinner at a Movie, they bit the bullet and went to an early happy-hour dinner at Seattle’s posh steakhouse El Gaucho in Belltown, then walked all the way downstairs to the subterranean cinema known as The Big Picture. Rough.
A Very Happy Hour at El Gaucho
Moira: I would like to begin by stating that I am never, ever publicly expressing my opinion on chocolate popcorn again. Anyway! Bethany and I met up, on a chilly December evening, at the lovely old-school bar at El Gaucho. The room was all dressed up with teeny lights and greenery and general festive cheer, and it all felt very much like entering a Christmas episode of “Mad Men,” minus all the office politics and relationship drama.
Bethany: How tastefully the halls are decked! I’d expect nothing less from El Gaucho — the minimalist yet festive treatment involves two trees at opposite ends of the immense room, one luxuriant wreath and a simple white poinsettia at the host stand. Moira couldn’t tell whether the extra flair on the bar’s pendant lights was always there, something to which all holiday décor should aspire. Did I engineer this outing just so that I could sit there drinking it all in, along with a barrel-aged Manhattan ($10), with Moira?
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Moira: I suspect you did, and I salute you for it. I drank a Gaucho Cosmo ($10), which seemed like the sort of thing the “Sex and the City” cast would drink, if they were lucky. Very delicious — not too sweet — and very deep coral-pink.
Bethany: My Manhattan was as smooth as our bartender, with both giving one the cozy feeling that nothing would ever go wrong in the world again. Moira let me taste her cosmopolitan, which I’ll admit I had misgivings about — despite its name, a cosmo is pretty much the opposite of a Manhattan — and lo and behold, its limey-brightness balanced its sweetness perfectly. Moira actually, adorably murmured, “Very pretty! I would like a dress in that color.” El Gaucho makes everything rosy.
Moira: I did not ask to taste Bethany’s Manhattan, because I like my cocktails dressed in pretty colors. (And because I suspect Bethany has a more sophisticated drinks palate than I do.) But I concur on the nice bartender, who called us “my dear” in a way that was, well, endearing. Also full marks to the excellent plaid pocket square on the gentleman who brought our food.
Bethany: Sophistication is as sophistication does, or something! Never be ashamed of your drink choice — El Gaucho would certainly never question it.
Moira: I once watched Mindy Kaling, in a fancy bar on “The Mindy Project,” pretending that she was a suave scotch drinker — and then dramatically spitting it out with “THAT’S DISGUSTING!!!” I would never do this. (Though I almost did the other day, after accidentally taking a swig of someone’s V8. Which is, for the record, disgusting.)
Bethany: For the record, I still haven’t come around on scotch. … It tastes like water from a bog.
Moira: I think scotch IS water from a bog. (I’m kidding! Don’t email me!)
Bethany: I’m pretty sure that’s how they make it. (Sorry, Scotland! Don’t email me either!)
Moira: We also shared a plate of Diablo fried prawns ($14), which were oversalted but delightful. Considering the general classiness of the joint, I thought we’d get maybe four prawns at that price. There were, by my count, 13 plump, spicy ones, reclining on a bed of skinny tortilla chips (which seemed thematically and texturally odd, but hey, it’s happy hour and what do I know?). And I quite enjoyed two extra-tender and very cute filet sliders ($10), which had a festively green dab of what I think was pesto.
Bethany: Did I also engineer this outing as an excuse to eat El Gaucho’s all-time-excellent hamburger? Made with Niman Ranch beef, bacon, cheddar, chipotle mayonnaise and a brioche bun, it also comes with duck-fat fries — wouldn’t you like an excuse to go have one? You don’t need an excuse — it’s only $13 at happy hour!
In total, I’m going to go ahead and call this the best Dinner at a Movie food on record. So, to the movies …
See what else Bethany Jean Clement has been eating and loving (or complaining about!) lately
Find all of Moira Macdonald’s latest movie recommendations (plus the stuff she suggests can wait for Netflix!)
A Second Happy Hour at The Big Picture
Bethany: You don’t even have to go out in the cold to get from El Gaucho to The Big Picture — they’re unrelated businesses, but share a lobby. And if you go to happy hour at El Gaucho, then to the early show at The Big Picture, it’s happy hour there too! And with notably large glasses of wine for just $7 ($8.75 to $12 after the first show).
Moira: The Big Picture is locally owned and operated by Mark and Katie Stern, who’ve been welcoming moviegoers in Belltown for nearly 20 years. (A second Big Picture, in Redmond, closed several years ago.) It was the first movie theater in Washington state with a full bar. Bravo, Big Picture!
Bethany: Indeed — the Big Picture is the wind beneath Dinner at a Movie’s wings! However, showing some restraint, we stuck to wine. We both wished for more time to lounge in The Big Picture’s numerous plush seating areas — the place feels like a good hotel lobby, all softly carpeted, with lots of nooks and cushions and lamps. Food is available in the form of pizza and pretzels; a gentleman at the bar confessed that the pizza is frozen. Moira will be shocked to learn that even food writers sometimes eat that (preferably the brand Amy’s), but this is Dinner at a Movie, not Frozen Pizza at a Movie, plus we were already very full … though not too full for popcorn.
Moira: The very good, fresh popcorn at The Big Picture comes in a Champagne bucket with a handle for easy carrying — nice! But I wish there’d been a table on which to put it in the theater.
Bethany: Yes, excellent popcorn presentation, but then you had to hold it the whole show — I worried you’d get tired.
Moira: I can perform amazing feats of strength where popcorn is involved. While we waited for the feature to start, an Abbott and Costello short played on the screen while Queen’s “Somebody to Love” played on the (very good) sound system. Both of these are fine things, but maybe not at the same time.
Bethany: The screening room is plainer than the lobby lounging areas, but fancy where it counts: comfortable seats. The cupholders, however — prepare for nitpicking — are not very compatible with the wineglasses, the stemless kind with the bulbous bottoms. One sort of has to pry it out each and every time. Tiring!
Moira: This may be a way of keeping wine consumption moderated.
Bethany: It worked. And Moira, I was so grateful that you thought to order us glasses of water to be delivered midmovie. Between the definitely oversalted El Gaucho prawns (not even they can always get everything exactly right) and the popcorn, parching was setting in.
Moira: Yes, that was a welcome treat! Service in the theater is discreet and very nice.
Bethany: Nitpick II: It did get very cold in there toward the end of “Creed II,” however.
Moira: “Creed II” is approximately the 900th movie in the “Rocky” franchise, which began back when the world was young and nobody was allowed to drink in movie theaters. They’re all of a piece, but the last few have been pretty good, by the standards set by the hundreds of other “Rocky” movies. [Insert ceremonial playing of “Gonna Fly Now.”]
Bethany: Have I ever seen a “Rocky” movie before? I’m not sure, but I felt like I had already seen this one 900 times.
Moira: I think that is entirely the point of “Rocky” movies. You know what you’re getting. Like movie popcorn.
Bethany: The sound system made the men hitting each other sound all too real. I find watching people hit each other unnerving — it’s just not how I like to spend my time. “Rocky” movies are not geared toward me.
Moira: Not really me either, but I appreciate the way Sylvester Stallone wanders around mumbling completely random things, seemingly amusing himself. And he and Michael B. Jordan, who plays young boxer Adonis Creed, have a pretty charming rapport.
Bethany: He’s achieved an I-wish-he-was-my-grandpa stage of his career, for which I salute him. And the movie does have it all: hitting, romance, graveside Rocky randomness, more hitting, a baby (does not get hit), singing (I love Tessa Thompson), family estrangement, Clair Huxtable, lots more hitting. At one point the boxers’ feud is referred to as Shakespearean, which just made me wish for better writing.
Moira: If only Shakespeare had scripted a “Rocky” movie. I would pay full price for that.
The Overall Experience
Bethany: A double-feature happy hour is a brilliant idea. I salute me, and Dinner at a Movie, and El Gaucho and The Big Picture. Let’s go again tonight!
Moira: A perfect evening! But next time, let’s pick a movie without any hitting.
El Gaucho Seattle: 2505 First Ave., Seattle; 206-728-1337; elgaucho.com
Happy hour (bar area only, 21+ only): Sunday-Monday all evening; Tuesday-Thursday 4-7 p.m. and 9 p.m.-close; Friday 4-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close, Saturday 4-5 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close.
The Big Picture: 2505 First Ave., Seattle; 206-256-0566; thebigpicture.net
21+ only; happy hour first show Monday-Thursday, with tickets $11.25 (regular price $13.25) and specials on drinks; when only one show is scheduled, no happy hour; all shows on Mondays $8.50.