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AMC Dine-In Theatres takes dinner-and-a-movie to fancytown

Posted 4:06pm on Wednesday, Dec. 08, 2010

Last night, four of us got a preview of the new AMC Dine-In Theatres concept making its debut tonight in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Visiting the remodeled Grapevine Mills 30, we found a few new snacks and fabulous new seats that make going to the movies fun again.

(Can't say much the same for the movie screened last night, The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. But I wont' steal Chris Kelly's thunder on that one -- you'll have to check his forthcoming review.)

AMC's fancy restaurant-at-the-movies concept is going strong in Kansas City (AMC's home base), Atlanta and New Jersey. The new Grapevine version is the first in Texas, and it might be enough to make people leave home again to see a new flick.

Before going into your show, you can hang out in the theater's bar area, a bright, festive lounge with a multitude of cocktails that we're likely to be drinking beside the pool in summer. (Think Blue Laguna, mango margarita, mojito.) That said, you can get a Stella Artois or a Fireman's 4 on tap, as well as a glass of malbec or sauvignon blanc.

What's different from other dining theaters is that you buy reserved seats, choosing between the high-end Cinema Suites - this with the oversize, fully reclining seats with multiple controls at your seat - or the Fork & Screen theaters, which have what we've come to know as the usual stadium seating with comfy, high-back chairs.

At both, menus are available at your seats, as is a call button that summons your server. As with the movie grill concept we're finding more often these days, the bill is presented at the movie's end.

We test-drove the Cinema Suites last night, which costs $10 for the movie ticket ($6 to $8 for matinees) and $15 for the fancy theater seating and service. The menu available only to the Cinema Suites patrons includes salmon blackened with Cajun spices ($12.99), calamari fritti ($8.99), tenderloin steak tips ($16.49) and lobster ravioli ($17.99).

We found the lobster ravioli to be a huge dish, perhaps more than one person wants to pile on during movie-watching, but the preparation was above average. The pasta itself felt a little thick on the tongue but it wasn't especially gummy as heavy pasta can be. The filling of lobster was on the bland side - nothing that some herbs and garlic wouldn't help. The steak tips was too big and heavy to be tackled at a movie seat, in spite of having a dinner tray to use as a table. The mushroom treatment and red wine demi just didn't work, tasting too much as though from a package. Mashed potatoes had the ragged texture of overcooked potatoes.

Fortunately, the Cinema Suites patrons can order from the mid-range Fork & Screen Theaters menu, too. We found more to like in that menu's pizza, a flatbread style that we ordered a la margherita, topped with provolone, mozzarella, fresh tomato slices and snipped fresh basil ($9.99). Another dish, the mac and cheese with sliced chicken breast ($10.99) was another heavy, rich option. Desserts, which include cupcakes, cheesecake and citrus cake with berries ($5.99-$6.49) were frozen, so it was hard to discern the actual flavors. Our chocolate milkshake was perfectly good, but a tad overpriced ($4.99) for not including deluxe-brand ingredients.

Nevertheless, we'd go back again to sit in the Cinema Suites and eat the pizza and order popcorn. When the film broke and we waited around for nearly an hour, we opted to watch the conclusion of the movie in one of the Fork & Screen theaters, which is a $10 upcharge (as opposed to the Cinema Suite's $15 upcharge).  After luxuriating in the posh, first-class seating, we were strangely insulted at the perfectly acceptable stadium seating.

Had we not experienced the top-flight version, we wouldn't have known better. But now that we've driven the Mercedes edition of dinner-and-movie seating, we'll pay the extra five bucks so as not to go slumming with the Volvo edition. If we're going to leave home to have dinner at the movies, we may as well be as comfortable as possible, right?

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