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James Dickinson photo
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Sesame seared tuna Beth Furgurson photo
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Beth Furgurson photo
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Crème brûlée trio Beth Furgurson photo
I know this is a restaurant review, but the part I'm excited about is that there is a beautiful new option for seeing movies in town. The folks at CinéBistro might be miffed to hear this, but you don't have to eat there to enjoy a first-run movie in the cushiest venue in Richmond; you just have to be 21. Besides, you can have a decent glass of wine (hey, everyone knows that red wine and Milk Duds are a classic combination) and snuggle with your honey while watching True Grit, which I did on a recent Wednesday night.
We had a full meal, but that was less spectacular than the real leather lounge chairs (with ottomans if you sit in the front row) that feature in-between armrests that lift up and out of the way, turning the whole thing into a rocking love seat. The bar area, complete with old-timey movies playing on a massive wall, is pretty slick, and acts as a high-end holding area while you wait to be seated.
The whole experience took some adjustment, but now that I've been twice, I've got the routine down. Buying tickets online is a great way to secure your seats, and along with them your reservations for lunch (weekends only) or dinner. You can do this in person, but the individual theaters are relatively small, so you are taking chances if you're planning on seeing a popular movie on a busy night. Asking you to show up a half-hour early for in-theater dining is CinéBistro's way of ensuring that the staff has plenty of time to take your order, process it and deliver it before the previews end.
And speaking of previews, this custom movie intro is long — really long. The show times can be annoying, too. On one occasion, we ate at 9:30 p.m. because the 6 p.m. start time for the movie we wanted to see meant getting there at 5:30, and that just doesn't work for most folks with full-time jobs and kids to set up with babysitters.
Every course is delivered before the movie starts. Watch out: The swivel trays, especially designed to accommodate the rectangular china plates, are tiny. My friends and I had plenty of space to spread out onto the adjoining tables and discard dirty dishes, but the theater wasn't overly full that night. The thought of where all that breakable stuff would go if a movie is sold out kind of makes me nervous. There are also no refills on drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) served while the movie is playing. You can go out and get one — and soda refills are free, which is great — but that explains the options of ordering bottles ($24-$43) or getting a 10-ounce pour ($10-$22) of the aforementioned red wine.
Appetizers were interesting but inconsistent. House-made guacamole and chips were substantial but a tad too oniony for my taste. An Asian montage of seared ginger-sesame tuna with wasabi sauce paired with a salmon spring roll was a good idea that fell flat. The tuna was pleasantly rare in the middle, but not a high enough quality to lend the proper firmness in texture that this treatment demands. The spring roll was mediocre, with a decoration of slaw that had great flavor but wasn't chopped finely enough. On the other hand, the crab dip, made extra gooey and delicious due to the inclusion of three mystery cheeses — and served with Old Bay-dusted soft pretzels — was a big hit. Loved it.
Opting to experience the whole "dinner-and-a-movie" concept, on separate occasions we sampled two entrées that our enthusiastic and overly rehearsed servers insisted were best sellers. The pork ribs were not as falling-off-the-bone as they should have been. The sticky and pleasantly sweet cherry-cola barbecue sauce made the flavor outstanding, but with champion barbecue in our own back yard, I'm a total snob when it comes to pork and its preparation, and at $17, this just tasted like fancy mall food to me. The accompanying sweet potato fries were tasty, but again, not spectacular.
The desserts weren't that great either. CinéBistro's version of a peanut-butter pie was more like peanut-butter fluff with graham-cracker crumbs. The "cinéful" chocolate cake had all the requisite parts — mousse, a pretty chocolate lattice and both chocolate and raspberry sauces — but it lacked a just-made freshness.
The entrée of pan-seared salmon with sautéed shrimp and a delicious avocado-lime butter sauce was an A-plus, though. Served with subtle lemon mashed potatoes, and a side of bacon-laden smoky collards, this dish was a real standout and makes me think that with some strategic ordering, the experience is close to the perfect date night. With Twizzlers on the menu, as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches priced between $10 and $15, there are options for all budgets.
Which brings me to the cost. Our first dinner, which consisted of two appetizers, one entrée, one dessert, one large glass of wine, a Coke and two movie tickets, came to a whopping $92. The $10 movie ticket price is right in line, but the alcohol is expensive and a 17.5-percent tip is automatically added when your order is placed, raising the question of what I am actually paying the server to do, other than get the order right and deliver it? Remember, if you need anything during the movie, that's your job, not the server's. You can ask to have your server adjust the amount of tip, but let's face it, most people aren't going to do that.
CinéBistro, a concept launched in 2008 by Alabama-based Cobb Theatres, has six locations including this one at Stony Point Fashion Park and a Hampton branch with a bowling alley.
My visits were fun, and despite the food mishaps, I've been telling all my friends to try it out. Next time, though, I'll bring a blanket (to make things even cozier), pay $10 more for the full bottle of wine and hunker down to the crab dip. That might just be perfect with the refillable popcorn.
9200 Stony Point Parkway, 864-0460
Prices: Appetizers $9 to $13; salads and sandwiches $10 to $15; entrées $14 to $23; desserts $8 and $9.
Hours: Opens at 3 p.m. Monday to Friday, at noon Saturday and Sunday; movie times are staggered, starting as late as 11 p.m.