Way back during the before times, Dinner at a Movie began with Seattle Times food critic Bethany Jean Clement and film critic Moira Macdonald heading to local theaters purporting to serve real food, assessing the success of that (and drinks!), kinda-sorta reviewing the film, and generally having a tremendously great time. Along the way, they became great friends. Now, amid the global pandemic, Dinner at a Movie carries on safely with the two of them picking up takeout and watching the same movie at the same time in their respective homes, together-apart. Valentine’s Day is as good a reason as any to kinda-sorta convene!
The Current Mood
Bethany: Now is the time for rom-coms. I’ve always secretly loved them — as in, actually watched them alone, secretly, loving them. The dumb ones are perfectly fine! They just wash over you, gently erasing your mind! The endings are happy! Love wins! We all need more of this, especially These Days.
Moira: I have always nonsecretly loved rom-coms. In fact, just the other day I made a list of more than 50 good ones and barely broke a sweat. You can look it up! I’ll tell anyone who will listen that love stories, particularly if they contain some jaunty comedy and a few cute outfits and maybe a really sly best-friend supporting role played by someone like Carrie Fisher, are good for mental health. And these days, with darkness and pandemic anxiety — bring on the rom-coms already!
Bethany: I will watch all 50 of Moira’s Best No-Sweat Rom-Coms. If I’ve already seen them, it matters not. In fact, as we started watching — What was it called again? Whatever we watched! — I had distinct déjà vu. Had I already seen this movie? It only came out a few years ago, so that’s a little alarming. But no matter! We’re here for love in the time of the pandemic.
Moira: In honor of Valentine’s Day, or Galentine’s Day if that’s your jam (I heart Leslie Knope), Bethany and I thought we’d order up a fancy dinner, drink a little bubbly, eat a pretty heart cookie, and watch a really cute rom-com on Netflix “together.” It’s a Very Special Girly Episode of Dinner at a Movie!
Bethany: Pink-frosted cookies, sparkling wine, a rom-com and thou! This friend-date is recommended for all across the gender spectrum.
Moira: It gets no better than this. (Unless we’d thought to make popcorn. We didn’t.)
Bethany: Joule makes lovely food. It is a jewel of Seattle restaurants. And it’s run by adorable couple Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi. A rom-com should be made about how they met-cute while working in the kitchen at posh Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York, moved here to start Joule in a tiny Wallingford spot in 2007, worked absurdly hard together 24/7 while also having a family, moved the restaurant to a glamorous new Stone Way location, then eventually found themselves weathering a global pandemic in the industry arguably hardest-hit by it … OK, that needs some doctoring.
Moira: I’m getting a little sad thinking of all the pandemic rom-coms that are likely in development right now, with cutely masked couples waving at each other from a distance of 6 feet. Like Bethany and I, showing up to collect our Joule takeout at the same time and having a few minutes of masked and bundled-up actual in-person chat. But we were worried about our food getting cold.
Bethany: So we scurried back to our respective abodes … I had decreed that supper should be celebratory surf and turf. Joule’s miso black cod seemed tempting, but a half-pound of shrimp ($16) bathing in cilantro chimichurri had to be eaten. Turned out that the tender shrimp’s herby-lemonyness (that’s an official food-writer term) made a perfect contrast to the smoky sear, richly salty-sweet tamarind sauce and ideal chew of the wagyu bavette steak ($22), in such a way that you could safely say they love each other.
Moira: And shrimp is pink! I am nothing if not committed to this Valentine’s theme. For my turf component, I chose something called “‘That’ Short Rib Steak” ($24). I guess it’s famous? Or maybe has a really good agent? Anyway, it was marinated in something sweet/sour/delicious (note: I have used up my arsenal of food-writer words) and was as tender as, well, a velveteen heart.
Bethany: “‘That’ Steak” is kalbi-marinated and rightfully beloved, and if we’d actually been together, I would’ve asked for a bite.
Moira: Because rom-coms are the sparkling wine of movies, we of course treated ourselves to some bubbles: In this case, Townshend Brut, which really should have its own agent as it is VERY charming and nuanced and sweet-but-not-too-sweet. Sort of like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “(500) Days of Summer,” if he were a wine.
Bethany: I haven’t seen that one … I don’t think?
Moira: It’s so good! We’ll watch it together sometime.
Bethany: With more bubbles! Townshend’s a family-owned winery out by Spokane, and their sparkling does stay on the dry side — which is how one wants it, as with humor — and rates as 100% drinkable. Also, the price is nice: $24 per bottle from Joule (about $14 retail). We each got our own bottle, because pandemic Valentine’s.
Moira: From Netflix’s approximately seven kazillion interchangeable rom-coms, I suggested “Set It Up,” as I had a vague recollection of maybe watching it and liking it when it came out in 2018. It’s a classic rom-com setup: Two hardworking executive assistants named Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell), both of them adorable, scheme to make their extremely demanding bosses (Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs) fall in love, in the hopes of cutting their own work hours. And guess who ends up falling in love? Adorableness all around!
Bethany: The formula works so well here! The adorable couple are less bludgeoningly conventionally attractive than some, which is a relief, and the writing ranks wittier-than-most. We kept texting each other especially funny lines. And the meta-rom-com of the setup within the film made it seem smart. Maybe not Shakespeare, but, you know, smart for a rom-com.
Moira: One of the rules of rom-coms is that everyone has to have an amazing apartment and a very cool-looking job. I loved how Lucy Liu played some sort of sports journalist but an EXTREMELY high-powered one who wears cocktail dresses to work (note to self: do this, once working-from-home ends) and flips around her power ponytail and never seems to actually do any journalism. I never did figure out what Taye Diggs’ job was, but it didn’t matter, did it? His pocket squares were sublime.
Bethany: His job was clearly Chief Sartorial Officer. And yes, the fashion lesson of the pandemic could be less let’s-all-never-wear-real-pants-again, more CELEBRATE THE GLORY OF DRESSING SHARPLY WHILE WE HAVE PRECIOUS TIME ON THIS EARTH LET US LOOK FABULOUS! I dressed up to go pick up food at Joule! Coat with fur collar!
Moira: I should have worn a cocktail dress! Speaking of celebrating, I found the combination of rom-com + bubbly + cookie to be irresistible, digging into my cookie (from Tacoma’s Celebrity Cake Studio, $4.99 at Metropolitan Market, and almost as pretty as Liu and Diggs) approximately 12 minutes into the film.
Bethany: The cookie demanded eating — “Set It Up” has a food theme running through it from beginning to end, with best supporting performance possibly going to a pizza. But Pete Davidson, from “Saturday Night Live,” as the required-by-rom-com-law hilarious gay roommate, and Tituss Burgess, from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” as the weirdest building superintendent ever, were both as undeniably great as pizza, too.
Moira: That pizza was the Meryl Streep of its kind. This movie is a good solid B+ rom-com, well cast and quite snappy. Exactly what we needed it to be!
Bethany: Good soundtrack, too — snippets of the likes of Dusty Springfield and Stevie Wonder (and, inevitably, Huey Lewis’ “The Power of Love,” which he must make a lot of rom-com money off). Maybe it was the bubbly and the together-from-afar company, but I loved “Set It Up.” I’d 100% watch it again (and probably not realize it).
The Not-At-All-Unbearable Lightness of Being
Moira: Rom-coms are like magic — when they’re over, you feel a little lighter. (Well, not physically, after shrimp and steak and cookie and wine, but you know what I mean.) Friendship is like magic too; even when your friend isn’t in the room with you, you feel her presence. This Valentine’s hangout left me feeling happy and lucky, as if my life had suddenly become a really adorable rom-com, just for a few hours. Maybe I need to work on a screenplay.
Bethany: Yes! So lucky! And yes, screenplay by you! If you’re skeptical of the greatness of this sort of pandemic friend-date, don’t be. Treat yourselves to takeout from a favorite spot, or even just a well-cast pizza. And a bottle of bubbly. Each! Rom-com without shame! We all deserve this now.