Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dinner & a Movie at the Kabuki

I'm very Jewish when it comes to Christmas because you'll typically find me at the movies. As a single guy living away from my family, I often find myself sharing my Christmas with other strangers in a dark room and the flickering light on the projected silver screen.

This year, I decided to check out the new Sundance Kabuki Cinemas on Christmas Eve. The Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco's Japantown recently went through a renovation, now under the ownership of Robert Redford's Sundance Group. Much of the highlight of the changes focuses on the food, including three eating formats for movie goers, created by Chef Vincent Schofield, formerly of Boulevard.

If you haven't visited the new Sundance Kabuki, here's a preview:

Things are so new that they're still old. Many of the signage haven't been changed or updated. When you approach the Sundance Kabuki theaters, you don't really see any major change from the outside, although it seems like they've added more bamboo trees inside and outside of the place. Here you can see that the sign outside still says Kabuki 8 Theaters instead of Sundance Kabuki.

One of the major change as far as entertainment is that seats are assigned. You can go online and purchase your ticket and then select your seat. If you don't buy your ticket in advance, then when you go to the ticket office, you see a computer screen with a seating chart and the clerk asks you to select your seat. While all this is cool and personalized, I bet this will really make the lines go slowly as people take their time studying the seating chart to pick their favorite seat.

Also, the new Sundance Kabuki adds a $1 amenity charge. This is how the conversation went:

Sales clerk: The $1 amenity charge is so that we promise not to show any commercials before the movie.

Chef Ben: But what if I want to see commercials? Will you waive the amenity fee? I so dig those Mac-PC commercials. Can I see those?

Sales clerk: Sorry, no.

Chef Ben: Why don't you just add the $1 into the total price instead of separating it out and calling it an "amenity" charge?

Sales clerk: [[This is so not what I need on Christmas eve.]]

Chef Ben: Hey, does the amenity fee include a back rub from Robert Redford. That'll be cool.

OK, I'm so amazed that I was sold a ticket and was able to sneak all the remaining photos in. I'm pretty sure I'm on someone's list now.

This one spot of the theater was really cool and very Sundance-like. It was a waiting area with this really big comfy leather sofa and club chairs.

Of course, the Sundance catalog was all over the place.

So before my movie, I checked out the Bar Bistro on the second floor where all the theaters are. It has a bar that serves alcohol, table seating along the side and these big benches and ottomon-like chairs in the center area. I decided to sit here because the table seating were along the lobby where movie goers walk back and forth watching you eat. This comfy area was a bit more hidden.

The Bar Bistro offered a menu with a variety of sandwiches and panini, salads, starters such as Coca Cola pork ribs, 10-inch pizzas and dessert like house-made churros. The menu had a mix of Mediterranean/Spanish/California cuisine.

I ended up getting the 10-inch pizza with arugula and prosciutto. It was a lot for $12 and when I bit into it, I felt like I was sitting at Pizzaiolo or Dopo. The thin-crust pizza tasted like it was made in a wood-fire oven and it really did taste comparable to some of the better pizzas around. I think I was partly surprised because I've never had such a great pizza at a movie theater. The ingredients were fresh, it didn't take long for it to arrive, and it had a very satisfying sauce. I enjoyed it and can't wait to try the other flavors.

One floor up you'll see the Balcony Bar where you can get drinks before going to your movie. Now that may actually make some movies more bearable to watch! But you have to drink your drink here. It's not allowed inside the theaters, although food is OK to bring in with you. Both the Balcony Bar and the Bar Bistro are open after 4 p.m. on weeknights and for lunch and dinner on weekends.

After my movie (I saw Juno--loved it!), I went to check out the adjacent Kabuki Kitchen, in the spot formerly a Pasta Pomodoro. The place is so new that, again, there were no signage outside letting people know it was called Kabuki Kitchen. In fact, a few people walked in thinking it was still Pasta Pomodoro. When you walk in, there's a bar to the right and a lot of tables on the top and lower level. Then an open area where you can look into the kitchen. I would show you pictures but the place was decorated like a cave. So it was very dark with just candles for lighting. Luckily there were some ambient light at the bar where I sat.

For dinner, Chef Schofield offers similar items like Bar Bistro (such as the Coca-Cola pork ribs) with a few additional items. Since I still had that pizza in me, I ended up trying the Mahi Ahi Poke ($13) as a starter. It was your basic poke, which is the Hawaiian style of ceviche using soy sauce as a marinade. I didn't really enjoy the use of mahi mahi as poke because it didn't have a rich flavor like the ahi (tuna), which is more traditional poke. But it was nice and light. I would have enjoyed it more if it was all ahi instead of mahi ahi. The taro chips on the side were good.

For my entree at Kabuki Kitchen, I ordered the Butternut Squash croquettes with celery root and sauteed cavalo nero (that's the greens) with persimmons ($17). It was a very fancy sounding dish. The croquettes were just OK and the celery root was bland. The greens weren't any better.

Of all the food I ate at the Kabuki, the pizza was probably the best thing. The service at the Kabuki Kitchen was friendly but seemed a bit frazzled. Probably after a few months, things will be more settled.

For now, the new Sundance Kabuki offers comfortable stadium seating inside the theaters and delightful eating options just outside the door. While the execution is a bit inconsistent depending on what you order, it is creative and convenient for a movie complex. Makes planning for a Friday night movie-and-dinner date so much easier. Now all I need is the date. :)

Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, 1881 Post St. at Fillmore, San Francisco. Web site.
Dinner reservations at Kabuki Kitchen, PH: 415.409.6878.


agent713 said...

Ben I'll come be your date :D

Sounds like a neat place. I like the idea of having "real" food available at a movie theatre.

Anonymous said...

I had the same croquette dish. I didn't like it at first and I thought it was over priced. But then I realized that it was sort of a deconstructed dish (like a vegan spaghetti and meatballs) so I mixed all the ingredients together and it tasted so much better. But, the waiter doesn't tell you to mix it together so I don't know if that if the chefs intent.

Chef Ben said...

Thanks agent713, it's nice to have options! ;-)

Anonymous, I never thought of mixing everything. Huh, I bet that would have made the celery root more flavorful. Good thinking out of the box!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you had a good experience, b/c I went thehr twice and was disappointed both times. Our 4pm show (Juno) on a weekend was scheduled for the "great" adults only, alcohol-allowed baloncy in theater one. The problem was the bar/kitchen wasn't open until 4 as well (on a weekend). So we paid a $2/ticket ammenity fee for NO AMMENITIES. I did wait for a cheese plate which absolutely sucked, btw. and then I had to walk in front of people as the movie was starting at 4:10. We got there 12/ hr early in teh hopes of eating and drinking beforehand. bummer nothing was available.

Anonymous said...

ok, you are a single guy, but a tuesday night movie carried with it a $2 per ticket amenity fee plus the ticket price, and the two small personal pizzas, two salads and one glass of wine at the restaurant came to $84 for two. that is way too much.
as for the pizza, i asked if the chef could put some sort of additional topping on the margarita, the server told me she doubted it since the chef is "particular." however, i did get three tomato slices and three basil leaves, which made my pizza edible compared to the ill-conceived combo of smoked mozzarella, mushrooms and spinach, my date suffered through. that tasted like something from the barnyard, strong unpleasant combination of flavors. the crust was a little undercooked. the salads were uninspired and bland.
needless to say, neither of us plan to hurry back.

Chef Ben said...

Yup, dating can all add up! ;-)

But don't you think you'd probably spend about that much if you went to another restaurant and ordered about the same things?

My tip to watch the spending when dating ... cut down on the wine. Alcohol and desserts always add to the bill. And I think it's OK to suggest sharing a starter in lieu of each getting a salad. Just some ideas. I know it's tough dating when you don't want to come off cheap. But with everything so expensive these days, I think she'd understand. Am I right ladies?