Besides being addicted to good food, we’re also pretty addicted to movies (good or bad). So we had to check out a place that we heard was a hybrid of the two. Movie and a gourmet meal? Too good to be true right? Needless to say we were pretty excited to find out. So on our last night in FL, we bought tickets to see Immortals (which we enjoyed if you’re into that whole 300/Sin City graphic novel artistic look) and ventured to Tampa’s Hyde Park for what we read was the “ultimate dinner and a movie.”
The initial impressions were favorable. You have to be 21 and up to buy a ticket. The ticket is for a specific row and seat so there’s no getting there early to stake out the “acoustic sweet spot.” There was a lounge area to wait in with a full service bar, mixologist, and appetizers menu. And ushers announce (somewhat awkwardly) when the theater is open for seating and dining. Once seated, the initial reaction is liken to finding out your friend has a theater room complete with lazy boys. The seats are huge leather chairs with spring sensitive backs so you can find your comfortable viewing and dining positions. I’m 5’2″ so my legs dangled just a little bit – something I immaturely giggled about when I was served my fruity cocktail while swinging my feet. The aisle space between your chair and the back of the chair in front of you was about 3 3 feet. Seriously, we could have roller skated with little interference down each row – that much leg room. And don’t worry about being crowded by an unknown neighbor. There’s a good foot of space between you and your neighbors which translates into zero uncomfortable bids for the armrest.
But this is a food blog, right? So let’s get on topic here. The service is very friendly. About 20 minutes before the start of previews, a hostess shows you to your seat and leaves you with a menu. About 3 minutes later (give or take a few depending on how crowded the theater is) a waiter comes to your seat to take your order. All items – drinks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts – must be ordered then because once previews start, you can only order if you go back out to the lobby. They won’t come in once the pretty pictures start rolling. After you order, you pay for your meal right then and there. I believe gratuity is automatically added. After ordering and paying, food service is pretty quick – something I feel attributes to the quality of the food, but I’ll get to that. Each chair has a tray that can be pushed aside when you’re finished, and each tray sports a cup holder (more on the cup holder as well).
Beer: Joseph was fairly excited one of his favorite beers was on tap – Hoegaarden. For $14, he got an entire pitcher which equaled out to be about 3 – 3.5 beers. Not a bad steal for $5.25 a glass. The logistics of said beer was another story. There isn’t enough room on your tray for a pitcher, glass, and food. (notice in the picture it’s sitting on the tray … zero room left for food) The solution? They brought out a beer stand for his pitcher which was basically a thin metal stand just wide enough for a pitcher base … kinda scary and nerve wracking. Better hope you’re not watching a scary movie or that stand might get kicked over. The neat part about the pitcher is the plastic cold core in the middle which kept the beer cool throughout the movie. Not ice cool, but not theme park cool either.
Tuna TarTare: Tuna is exceptionally tasty when done right. This was not done right. Ultimately there was more avocado than tuna (check out the massively disproportionate layer of green to pink in the picture) and the avocado lacked the “spicy” kick touted on the menu. What tuna there was on the plate did not live up to expectations – it was bland, seemed a little warm for raw tuna, and was ultimately overpowered by every other ingredient on the plate including the cucumbers. Total lack of seasoning and the “salad” on top did nothing but add a little texture. If there was a soy/mustard sauce on this dish, ours came without – potentially why it was fairly tasteless. The most flavorful things on the plate were the chips and even they tasted a little stale. Total waste of stomach space for us.
Fettuccini Al Forno: I ordered a pasta dish, but thinking back on the experience I should have avoided a utensil reliant dish. More on that later. As far as the dish was concerned, I did enjoy the garlic cream sauce. It didn’t seem oily or heavy. I was not impressed with the random (for lack of a better term) lumps of spinach around the perimeter of the plate. The parmesan crust on top was tasty – nice salty note – and the shrimp were tender. My main qualm with the dish was the pasta. It was overcooked – perhaps a result of food pre-cooked and packaged (which would also explain the spinach lumps). The time between order and service seemed too quick for the kitchen to produce this start to finish. I’m making the assumption a lot of meals are pre-packaged from CineBistro headquarters.
Double Feature Burger w/ Sweet Potato Fries: The star plate of the night was Joseph’s burger and fries. The fries were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. They were perfect movie “poppers.” The ketchup was commercial. Joseph ordered a medium rare and the angus burger did come out with a slightly warm pink center (something we checked right before the lights were dimmed). It’s a pretty good size burger so cutting it in half is a must. Toppings included the standard BLT plus pickles, red onion, and “special sauce” which turned out to be a pretty good dupe of A1. It wasn’t a stand out, write-your-mother burger, but it passed as decent grub with more than decent sweet potato fries on the side.
Ultimately the food we sampled left more to be desired. The movie was great entertainment – especially on the giant, VERY high quality screen. But if we ever come back to such a similar place (there is a small chain of CineBistros but the closest to us is VA) we’ll be dining a little differently. Here are some tips to eating at CineBistro AND enjoying your movie:
1. Don’t order anything you don’t want to smell for 2 hours. You’re not likely to finish the food before the preview starts unless you’re really hoovering, so if you really can’t stand the smell of shrimp, don’t get shrimp. It’s not that I mind the smell of seafood … I just didn’t factor in the plate would be with me for 2 1/2 hours. The theater is pretty well ventilated so you won’t find much issue with food smells from others unless it’s your immediate neighbor.
2. Don’t order a lot of different plates. You won’t have much room on your chair tray as it is. So if you order an appetizer, woof it down before wait staff disappear so they can take your extra plate. Otherwise you’ll be precariously stacking plates or risking them on the ground. God forbid you break one during a climactic scene!
3. Do order finger foods. This is our personal recommendation, especially if you’re small or eat slow. I ordered pasta, generally eaten with utensils in western parts of the world. I was hunched over my plate and awkwardly positioning back and forth in my chair during the movie (which btw was in 3-D …. so a little nauseating too). The finger foods might be a great way to enjoy the movie and your meal. The place offered a few pop-bite items and giant bowls (and I mean giant) of popcorn. Sometimes traditional is better.
4. And lastly, unless you don’t mind bathroom breaks in the middle of your movie or just choose to be wasted during the show … Don’t order a pitcher of beer. This is fairly self explanatory.
Overall we really enjoyed our experience but it wasn’t because of the food. Ultimately we could have done without it. The convenience of comfortable pre-reserved seating is what you’re paying in the ticket price. You pay separately for the food. With the quality of the screen and the space afforded you in the theater, the ticket price was worth the $14.50 apiece. But the food, not worth the $65 tab – we’ve had way better meals for less. But again, this kind of place requires a more strategic food plan of action. So are we likely to return? Yes, the movie watching experience was pretty swank, and we’ll probably order food but not as dinner – beer and popcorn might be the safest bet.
Overall Grade: C- (in counseling)
SIDE NOTE: Just because you have to be 21 and up to buy a ticket, doesn’t mean you will be sans obnoxious viewers. It’s true there won’t be screaming kids and face sucking teenagers, but you will still probably chance an encounter with rude, obnoxious, and barely qualified “adults.” Age is only a number, right?