Dinner and a Movie Redefined

We’re all familiar with the time-honored ritual of the dinner date followed by a movie. These days, a number of movie theaters combine the two activities by serving food and drinks right to your (premium priced) seats. Now, one restaurant in San Francisco has put its own interesting spin on these traditional evening activities.

I’ve been traveling for work a lot lately. I spent the latter half of last week in San Francisco to attend a conference at Dolby headquarters. For this one, I brought Mrs. Z along on the trip. We’d honeymooned in the city many years ago, and it was nice to go back together. Also, she’d been feeling that we’ve hardly seen each other very much the last few weeks. While I was busy at the conference, she entertained herself and scoped out things for us to do afterward. So I credit this find entirely to her.

In the city’s trendy Mission District is a restaurant called Foreign Cinema. The hook of the place is that, while you’re sitting down to eat your meal, a foreign film is projected onto the back wall of the dining area. If you’d like to listen, the wait staff will bring a drive-in theater-style speaker box to your table. Or you can just let it play in the background and not pay attention at all. While we were there, the movie of the evening was Guy Maddin’s ‘The Saddest Music in the World’. (I guess that Canadian cinema is enough to qualify as “foreign.”) The following night’s presentation was scheduled to be Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away’.

Obviously, this is not designed to be a prime movie-watching experience. It’s a restaurant first and foremost, with people all around chattering away. The lights are up, and the seats aren’t even all arranged to face the screen. As you can see if you view the virtual tour on the restaurant’s web site, seating areas are divided into a outdoor courtyard (where the movie plays) and an indoor main dining room. Honestly, from my table indoors, I had to spin myself backwards and crane around a column just to get a peek at a portion of the image. (I gave up on that quickly.) The movie is only intended to serve as ambiance during the meal. Still, it’s a pretty cool atmosphere, and we both had a great time there.

We were told that the restaurant’s menu changes every day. If you happen to go when Curry Fried Chicken is on the menu, don’t miss out. It’s amazing.

One warning, though: This is a pretty swanky place, and not a cheap meal at all. Despite its location in an area that’s basically a recently-reformed slum, be prepared to dress nicely and spend a few bucks.

This is the first time I’ve seen a restaurant with this particular gimmick. If any of our readers know of others in different cities, be sure to post in the Comments section below.

Vaguely related note: While you’re in San Fran, definitely be sure to try the “Inside-Out Burger” at Spork (also in the Mission District). It’s to die for. I never want to eat any other hamburger again.

9 comments

  1. I’m not exactly sure what sets this place apart from others, except for the high prices. The DFW area used to have a chain of restaraunts called Crystal’s Pizza. They were a pretty upscale Italian Place (yes, they also served Pizza) that had different themed areas you could sit in. One room showed cartoons and stuff. One room had live performances, such as magicians. Others had yet other themes, but as I was little, we never went to the other areas.

    Reminds me a bit of Casa Bonita, except I don’t remember Casa Bonita having a movie room.

    Incredible Pizza is also like this. Once again, a Pizza place, but they had a room you could go in, and they would show old movies. They had a pretty darn good sized screen. Last time I went, they were showing In Search of the Castaways. The room was darkened, but the volume level was at a comfortable level that you could still have a conversation. Of course, Incredible Pizza is probably not considered fine dining.

    On the flip side, as you mentioned, there are several movie theaters that offer dinner, and some places actually offer quite nice meals. The Movie Tavern started in my area, and there are now about three different ones I go to, all offering VERY different menus. One is pretty much Pizza and Beer, one has a 4-star chief on hand, and the new one, in a newly renevated area that they are trying to make all Ritzy, they have, what I want to call, a California-style menu.

    Maybe I am not fully understanding your dining experience, but I fail to see how this is any different from the hundreds, if not thousands, of other restaraunts and casual dining places around the country that are doing the same thing.

  2. Wow, this sounds like such a great idea for dinner and a movie. I live in Austin, home of the super awesome Alamo Drafthouse. It’s not at all swanky and the food has gone downhill, but you can’t beat their programming.

  3. EM

    One of my favorite restaurants when I was a kid was Shakey’s Pizza. Not only was the pizza and other food good—they had an all-you-can-gorge-yourself-into-a-coma buffet—but they had a good-sized screen on which were projected movies, usually silent comedy shorts, as I recall. Between the food, the movies, and the modest collection of coin-op video games (this is where I came to know “Space Invaders”), going to Shakey’s was a special treat, all the more so because it entailed going into the next county.

    Later, some Shakey’s restaurants opened a little closer to where I lived, but instead of the movie screen, they just showed whatever was playing on broadcast TV. Maybe that’s why the chain has been shrinking in recent years, at least in the United States.

  4. ilovenola2

    I’ll stick with movies at the movie theatre and food at the restaurants, etc. Texting Teens are a bane at the theatres but you don’t have someone in front of you serving drinks.

  5. Col.Mayhem

    We have one like this in Memphis. It’s a really great evening out.

    http://www.majesticgrille.com/

    From their site, “Originally built in 1913 as the Majestic No. 1, a silent picture house that entertained Memphians for three decades, the restaurant gives diners a glimpse of the heady Hollywood days of ol’. From the beautifully restored Beaux Arts décor to expertly prepared classic cocktails to warm, gracious service to Chef/Owner Patrick Reilly’s award wining, yet remarkably comfortable food, you find yourself feeling transported to another time. Add to that the largest private movie screen in the city showing silent films & classic movies and you’re center stage in an atmosphere that reclaims the cinematic glory of the dawn of the silver screen”

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