The first time I ever went to a theater where your meal is delivered directly to your theater seat was more than a decade ago, and, to be honest, I left disappointed. I just wasn’t impressed by the overpriced “bar food,” the smell of stale beer in the theater, or the poorly designed lounge-style seating. But what really turned me off was other guests placing drink orders and talking throughout the show, which ruined the marginal dining and movie experience for me. Seriously, if you want to have a prolonged discussion, why go to a movie?
So why, you may ask, am I so excited to attend a movie at Cobb CinéBistro tonight? Because Cobb Theatres have turned the concept completely around. Instead of offering a theater that serves food, Cobb CinéBistro is a quality restaurant that shows movies. Let the difference sink in . . .
Make no mistake, there’s a reason their tag line is Movies with Taste. CinéBistro not only rocks in the quality of their food, but they also have rules of behavior that all guests must follow while in the theater. That translates to zero chance for a boorish guest ruining your evening!
We visited the brand new CinéBistro for a media event a few days before they opened to the public, and I was floored by the jaw-dropping renovation of what was previously a Saks 5th Avenue store into the chic and swanky Cobb CinéBistro. So dramatic is the transformation that it is virtually impossible to recall what Saks used to look like.
Cobb CinéBistro offers a 150 seat restaurant just inside the door, surrounding a spacious, swanky bar with a long list of craft cocktails, wines, and beer. Silent movies are projected on a stone wall above the dining room, with sleek seating and contemporary lighting. The décor screams “date night,” with the fine details and finishes suggesting this venue is the perfect opportunity to dress up a little more than the dinner-and-a-movie dating experience.
But what’s cool is, you don’t have to take in a movie to enjoy CinéBistro’s beautiful restaurant and bar. If you’re shopping in the Westfield Southgate Mall (just south of Siesta Drive on Tamiami Trail,) why not drop in for a snack, happy hour or dinner? There are two “see and be seen” patios, one facing the parking lot where you can take in some Florida sunshine, the other opening to the inside of the mall. Trust me, after tasting the food, there’s no doubt both the restaurant and the bar, and the patio seating will make a lot of people’s A-lists in the near future.
You’ll feel like a star when you go to CinéBistro. Each and every member of the staff provided a warm welcome and a smile, obviously happy to snag the coolest new gig in town! Matt Russell, Regional Operations Manager for Cobb CinéBistro treated the media, which included food bloggers, television personalities, newspaper critics and magazine writers to a guided tour of the stunning 7 theater complex.
Each theater offers spacious leather recliner seats with a table top that swivels out of the way for easy access. There are 82 inches (!!!) between each row, so servers and guests can access their seats without the normal “excuse me, I’m sorry, excuse me, oops, excuse me,” exercise it normally takes to get to your movie seat. Each theater features wall to wall movie screens, digital movie projection, and every seat can be equipped with sound enhancing headphones or a closed caption screen that attaches to your seat. Three of the theaters offer 3-D viewing with light, comfortable 3-D glasses.
When we reached the last of the theaters we toured, we were treated to tasting samples of some of the food served at CinéBistro, while the kitchen set out serving-sized platings in a conference room for photographing. (Yes, I said conference room . . . Just call and ask how you can host your next business meeting or private party in the conference room or in one of the luxury theaters! I can imagine it would be the perfect spot for a surprise party! You walk in, thinking you’re going to a movie, lights are down, you look around and BAM! All your friends are there . . . Imagine the possibilities!)
As for the quality of the food, well one look at the food photos and you’ll know my previous experience of dining at a theater was quickly forgotten! Thank goodness for that!
One of the standouts was the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Chops, served with sautéed spinach and eggplant, candied almonds and a honey lemon broth. Hot, slightly spicy and cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the lamb chops were worthy of an Oscar . . . and would probably win if there was an Oscar for Best Entrée at a Major Motion Picture – Red Meat Category.
Another star in our imaginary Oscars – Red Meat Category would be the CinéBistro Ribeye, broiled with a velvety layer of toasted gorgonzola on top, and served with grilled asparagus and gratin potatoes. Just the aroma of that 12oz Ribeye had me wishing I had a zip lock bag so I could smuggle it out in my purse! But after receiving such the world-class treatment, I gave that idea up as soon as Mart suggested it. (Just joking!)
I was pretty excited at the Oscar worthy entrees in what I call the “Seafood Category.” We sampled the Seared Sea Scallops served with a delicious cauliflower purée, warm pickled mushrooms and basil brown butter. This was my favorite of the day.
We also tasted a luscious Miso-Glazed Black Cod with edamame risotto and sriracha pearls, as well as a mouthwatering Pan Seared Salmon resting on lemon whipped potatoes with smoky bacon collards, sautéed shrimp, tomatoes, and an avocado-key lime butter sauce. It was pretty obvious by now that the food at CinéBistro will be as big a draw as any Hollywood blockbuster! Maybe even more so!
For those of you who crave a lighter fare, CinéBistro offers nine different choices in the Previews (appetizer) section of the menu. We tasted the Korean BBQ Chicken Wings and the Smoked Fish Dip, both scoring four thumbs up with Mart and myself. I especially liked the homemade crackers that came with the fish dip and was thrilled to discover the Korean-style bbq sauce on the chicken wings was full of flavor without the usual sticky fingers and bbq sauce-rimmed smile.
If the cuteness factor scores any points in my imaginary Oscars food awards, CinéBistro’s Popcorn Chicken, Shrimp or Calamari plating would win for imagination! Served in a popcorn box, the fish is served with fresh popcorn mixed right in. Can’t choose between the chicken, shrimp or calamari? They’re happy to provide a mix of all three, served with a side of fresh tomato sauce and sweet citrus aioli.
I could go on all day about the other Preview and Features dishes, but when the Corporate Executive Chef, Isaac Stewart, encouraged the guests not to miss out on one of CinéBistro’s four desserts, I had to shift my focus. CinéBistro makes a crazy Red Velvet Lava Cake, a Chocolate Tres Leches served in a mason jar with Brugal Añejo rum, and a Caramelized Banana Cheesecake. Any one of these would result in an “eyes rolled back in your head” dessert experience, but Mart felt the mega-star was the Key Lime Crème Brûlée Doughnut. Who wouldn’t want a Crème Brûlée and a donut?! This is officially on the list of nominees for best local dessert!!
None of these desserts skimp on spoiling you. The Crème Brûlée Doughnut comes with mango sauce and a graham streusel, whereas the Caramelized Banana Cheesecake sneaks in a side of dulce de leche and a cinnamon cream. I’ll have to go back time and again before I can settle on a personal favorite.
The CinéBistro menu offers four sandwiches/burgers, and three large salad options. I thought the Kale Salad was beyond delicious, and I’m excited to try the Italian Chopped salad topped with anchovies. Naturally, there is a “Cobb” Salad . . . I wonder how it got THAT name?
Chef Stewart encouraged Mart and I to try one of their two pasta dishes, which we’ll keep on our short list for our next visit. . . which happens to be today! There are plenty of gluten-free items on the menu, as well as vegan and vegetarian options, all crafted to deliver on that great Florida flavor profile we Foodies have come to look forward to.
Still thinking a movie isn’t a movie without a bag of popcorn and some candy? You can grab both at the concession stand, just outside the theaters. Popcorn comes with free refills, and . . . you can take your drinks into the theater, including any one of the cocktails featured at the bar. They’re served in Plexiglas drink ware, so you won’t hear glasses clinking during the movie.
Speaking of noise during the movie, you’ll want to consider leaving your cell phone at home or turning it off in your pocket or purse. The staff has been trained to ask disruptive guests, including those using their cell phones, to leave the theater. If you have a job that keeps you ‘on-call’ or need to keep your phone on-hand for a babysitter or sick relative, you can still attend a show. Just reserve your seat on an aisle so you can slip out quickly when your phone vibrates. Worried about sitting by cranky kids or disorderly teens? No worries there. CinéBistro guests must be over 21 to attend any show after 6 pm show, and all underage guests attending a matinee must be accompanied by an adult or parent. Sorry to say this kids, but . . . SWEEET!
Movie guests asked to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled movie time, with all the movies staggered to start 30 minutes apart. This allows the staff time to take your order, swipe your credit/debit card, and get your food back to you in time for the movie trailers to start. They’ll pick up dishes and glassware before the previews are over, however, once the movie starts, table service stops, so if your plates or glassware aren’t picked up by then, you are welcome to leave them there, sit them under your seat or walk them outside for pickup. Isn’t that what we do at movies anyway?
So . . . as I finish this blog, I’m watching the clock, counting down the hours until we head over to Cobb CinéBistro to meet friends for dinner and a movie. Most of the shows were sold out 2 days ago, which I understand will become the norm once folks get familiar with the opportunity of not only buying tickets in advance but reserving your seat as well.
We are grateful that Cobb Theatres chose the Westfield Southgate Mall for their newest CinéBistro! This puts another feather in the cap of those of us who think Sarasota is the best place to live in all of Florida.