Two Forks Up
Now this is the way to do dinner and a movie.
No standing in line. No $7.50 ticket. No $3.75 soft drink. No $5 sack of stale popcorn. No $20 for steak after the show.
And no struggling to carve out four or more hours to fit it all in.
Not when we can do a meal and a flick all at once, and for a fraction of the cost of enjoying them separately.
Farrelli's Cinema Supper Club has opened in Scottsdale, bringing with it an appealing new restaurant and movie venue combining full-service dining along with full-length feature films.
And besides the substantial cost and time savings inherent in the concept, Farrelli's is downright fun.
Picture this: Guests lounging in cushy, velvet- and leather-look armchairs, the furniture free-standing and on swivel casters to afford premium screen views from any angle. As the film floods the 17- by 28-foot MegaPlex screen, servers glide silently up to private tables, presenting our choice of an iced bottle of Domain Chandon champagne, or perhaps a nice bottle of Pinot Noir. Minutes later, our waitress returns with appetizers: a Sonoran jumbo shrimp cocktail dressed with gazpacho, and a spinach salad tossed with fresh tomato, feta and toasted pine nuts in a flavorful Cabernet vinaigrette.
The movie's in full swing soon and so is dinner, with entrees of steak au poivre, a 10-ounce New York center-cut sirloin in a cracked pepper- brandy-cream sauce, and pork tenderloin stuffed with mushroom duxelle a la espagnole (a rich, meaty brown sauce).
Finally, as the film's hero gets the girl, guests get dessert: crème brûlée, and a trio of ice creams with crème anglaise and a sopapilla. The $6 movie ticket charge is simply added to the bill.
Now that's a classy way to take in some Tinseltown.
The cinema supper club experience isn't entirely new. The idea has been gaining popularity across the country, including a chain in California offering cafe and bar service, and the nationally franchised Cinema Grill, serving snacks like chicken wings, pizza and sandwiches.
Farrelli's is the first to hit Arizona, and it's got upgrades the others don't.
The cuisine served here aspires to gourmet, and rather than a corporate effort, meals are prepared by private owners and longtime Valley caterers Tom and Wendy Farrell.
The two-month-old enterprise seems destined for success: In most cases, Farrelli's flick-and-food fantasy is entirely enjoyable.
It's taken six years for the Farrells to get their club up and running, and the attention to detail shows. Set in yet another brand-new strip mall at the retail center that's become Kierland, the 10,000-square-foot property includes two theaters and a plush, live piano lounge, serving a full bar and menu for up to 60 guests. Visitors enter off an elegant marble lounge fronted by a fireplace, and check in with a well-dressed hostess (reservations are recommended, although walk-ins are welcome).
The Farrells suggest we arrive at least half-an-hour prior to show time, giving us time for a quick drink and an opportunity to study the menu before the lights go down.
When the theater is ready, the hostess leads us to our table. The tables are set as foursomes over three tiers; more casual seating can be found at two rows of bar seats in between tiers, and at a single row of tall bar tables in back.
The setting is suave: rich, burgundy drapes and walls, burgundy-and-gold fabrics, ornate art deco columns, ceilings and sconces, and cloth napkins. Preview films warm up the audience -- a European circus show one evening, the best of Johnny Carson on another, and, often, classic cartoons.
Films start on time, pin-and-cord lights dimming to a warm glow that just allows us to see our food. To get the attention of our server, we flick a switch on a small coaster, and it pulses infrared to flag her down.
We've been concerned that the noise of other diners will affect our film, because the plates are heavy china on bare tables. Nothing interrupts the Dolby Surround Sound, however, with several feet between tables allowing for muted conversation. And the diners eat silently.
Plus, there are no pop movies here to attract the masses.
Farrelli's screens a few current releases, but primarily independent films, art films, film festival award winners, foreign films and classics such as the Maltese Falcon or Casablanca. It's a great opportunity to catch jewels that slipped in and out of theaters before we could get to them. Our crew is charmed with showings of The Dish and The Tailor of Panama on two separate nights.
The food is more uneven, split between truly good, satisfying and mediocre. Figuring out Farrelli's strong points is an interesting thing, too. The best dishes are also the best-priced, focusing on appetizers, sandwiches and desserts.
Emphasizing contemporary American favorites, menu items vary with the season, and include several nightly specials. There's popcorn, of course, but done Scottsdale-style, freshly popped and moistened with melted 24-seasoning garlic-herb butter and Parmesan. Plain old salt and butter would be much better.
But forget munching on Boston Baked Beans candy from the snack bar.
Sweet starters here include a dynamite baked Brie a l'orange, the softball-size puff pastry filled with warm cheese that spreads easily on the loaves of crusty French bread served alongside. Generous ribbons of orange marmalade and chunks of caramelized pecans make it magical. It's a pretty presentation, too, the plate dotted with star-shaped puddles of coulis and thin slices of kiwi and strawberry.
One evening's special appetizer of portabello and greens cuts through the darkness as well. A giant, meaty, marinated mushroom has been grilled until tender, and stuffed with chunks of spicy, fennel-rich sausage and provolone kissed with sweet, caramelized onion and fresh herbs. With a bowl of creamy butternut squash soup and some dessert, this could make a meal.
Farrelli's isn't shy about the portions of bruschetta, either. The Tuscan dish stars two large pieces of thick grilled bread, drizzled with quality olive oil and mounded with garden-fresh tomato, moist buffalo mozzarella rounds, and chopped red onion. The marinated mushrooms served atop a side of greens are particularly excellent.
While other starters aren't as stunning, they're pretty fine. A quesadilla gets points for not stinting on the grilled chicken breast, filled with cheeses, black beans and green chiles, and sided with sour cream and from-scratch pico de gallo. Nothing wrong with the crab gratinee, either, a platter-sized crock of creamy, bubbling cheese and crab, subtly spiced and comforting when scooped up with French bread.
The only true disappointment is the calamari fritti, the squid tender but fishy flavored, the breading too soft. The nibbles are revived by a vibrant marinara dip, hot and chunked with fresh tomato and herbs. A second side of cilantro pesto is too sweet, though.
Farrelli's is a find for the budget-minded. A selection of hearty sandwiches for $8 to $10 means a couple of cheap cinema fans can score an entertainment-and-eats coup for less than $20 bucks each, including the price of the ticket.
A basic burger is juicy Angus beef on a chewy sourdough roll, sided with seasoned, skin-on spuds. The mighty mushrooms used on a previous appetizer show up again, this time paired with creamy havarti on a toasted roll, topped with fresh greens, vinaigrette and roma tomato. A chicken sandwich features a marinated breast grilled and served on a sourdough roll with crisp cole slaw.
Better meat would help the roast beef sandwich, though. The filet mignon medallions are chewy, requiring too much work under a mantle of Oxford herb cheese and small-spirited horseradish on a toasted French roll.
Given such generally high standards, it's surprising that Farrelli's entrees aren't better. Suddenly the food turns banquet, here either under-flavored, or over-flavored with that aggressive seasoning that suggests hiding a mid-quality product.
A signature dish called chicken Farrelli has all the character of chafing-dish food. While it's stocked with a generous amount of lightly-breaded poultry, the tenders are mealy and sautéed in the same 24-seasoning garlic-herb butter used on the popcorn. But it doesn't work at all with the chicken, even with the addition of white wine and shavings of Parmesan. Mix-ins of artichoke hearts and mushrooms are fine enough, but sides of steamed vegetables and rice pilaf are awful. The institutional scoop of wild rice flecked with carrot is bland, and the squash, string beans and baby carrots are masked with too much herb, resulting in an unpleasant finish.
An average cut of prime rib has been overcooked and is riddled with so much gristle and fat that cutting it is a challenge. I leave almost half on my plate, focusing instead on garlicky mashed potatoes that soar when swirled with a little au jus and a side of horseradish.
I'm at a loss as to why a special of meatloaf Napolitano is so miserable, given its promising-sounding description of layered ground veal, pork and beef with Lyonnaise potatoes and mushroom duxelle under espagnole sauce. But the enormous slab is chewy and completely tasteless, and a side of mashed potatoes is this time stripped of the great garlic depth.
Lasagna, on the other hand, oddly suffers from too much flavor. It's meaty with sausage and beef, but oh-so-sweet and crippled with shovelfuls of fennel and pepper. It arrives tepid, so we send it back for a rendezvous with the microwave.
The shrimp scampi is the best. There's still little pulse to the Farrelli butter sauce, but the medium-size shrimp are satisfying, nicely partnered with earthy oyster mushrooms. Still, with entrees priced from $12 to $22, Farrelli's can't compete with out-of-theater dining options.
Happily, the desserts sparkle. A chocolate hazelnut bombe is rich and rewarding, an ample dome of frozen mousse glazed in dark chocolate and topped with biscotti. The flourless chocolate torte is more than competently done, the fudgy slice anchored by a dark crust and dusted with powdered sugar and raspberries.
Two other companies have submitted plans for opening supper-club cinemas in the Valley: Harkins Theater's Premiere Club at Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road; and ArcLight, the luxury theater affiliate of Los Angeles-based Pacific Theaters, with a venue planned for Scottsdale Road and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard.
Dinner and a movie is a long overdue concept. And if Farrelli's can work out the entree inconsistencies, it's a concept definitely worth keeping around.
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