Sherry Yard cooks movie theater food? After nearly two decades as the pastry chef for Wolfgang Puck, these days Yard is not only hard at work on her new Helms Bakery project, but she's also been buying vegetables at the farmers market for the new iPic Theaters in Westwood.
Is table service the future of cinema? On the one hand, it does interrupt the film somewhat, but on the other hand, the decadence is off the charts. Being able to order a gooey chocolate cake and a frothy, hot latte in the middle of a movie with a quick tap on an iPad caters to everyone's inner royal. And for that feeling, a few bucks more seems like a bargain compared to paying to fly First Class.
Pleasure layering, the idea of taking one enjoyable experience — like film-watching — and combining it with another, equally pleasurable pastime — like eating — reaches for the stars as movie theaters push the limits of their concession stands and their own imaginations. With luxurious ingredients (caviar!), waiters and cocktails, going to the movies is becoming an altogether different experience from a cheap matinee and a box of popcorn.
In August, the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced plans to open a theater in DTLA at 7th and Flower. With an emphasis on craft beer, this small chain of theaters also plans on serving food to your table. Other Alamo locations serve things such as fried dill pickles, basil pesto frittata and Hatch chile burgers. There are also several boozy milkshakes to choose from, like the Mexican chocolate shake, a mix of chocolate, cinnamon and Reposado tequila. Between Yard and the Alamo, it’s kind of a throwdown for local chains to up their game.
6. The Landmark
When the Landmark Theatre reopened in 2007, it brought a shiny, new experience to Westside theater-goers. The concession stand went above and beyond the usual fare available at the time. One of the best options was a tart frozen yogurt with fresh fruit toppings, like raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. To be able to eat an up-to-the-minute trendy, relatively healthy treat (Pinkberry had hit the streets), felt unprecedented. While the frozen yogurt has fallen by the wayside, Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches have stepped into the breach.
In general, the snacks available at the Landmark are decidedly upscale, with spicy nut mixes from Sahale Snacks and chocolate bars by Divine Chocolates, in flavors such as white chocolate strawberry. One of the best options is a La Brea Bakery pretzel with two different kinds of mustard: raspberry and Champagne garlic. You can also get a glass of wine from the wine lounge, or a latte or black tea from the concession counter. This is all well and good, but the Landmark will have to up its game if it wants to compete with the fabulosity coming its way from the other theaters on this list. 10850 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A.; 310-470-0492.
5. Art Theatre of Long Beach
A movie theater that condones bringing in food from the outside world? That sounds about as magical and unlikely as a good romantic comedy. The Art Theatre of Long Beach looks on cheerfully as you gather any multitude of nearby food options. For Mexican, Lola’s across the street serves great spicy fare. Burritos might be the best travelers, easy to munch from a paper bag. Lola’s Cuete is a great choice for a snack, the “locally world famous” bacon-wrapped jalapenos come filled to the rim with cheese. The Art Theatre is flanked by both a wine bar and a coffee bar, allowing you to pick your poison, depending on the film and your mood.
The Flea Espresso Bar can perk you up with a cold-pressed iced coffee or an off-the-menu mocha made with Belgian chocolate. If you’re looking to go in the opposite direction, Art du Vin will prep you a bottle to go. They also have cheese plates available to go and owner Stephanie Blakeslee makes her own bread, including a “paleo friendly” almond loaf. The bartenders are happy to help you create the perfect indoor picnic (you get a 10% discount if you mention you’re going to the movies). Of course, the Art Theatre offers up the usual suspects in their own concession stand, of popcorn, soda and candy. No shame in getting your Junior Mints on. 2025 East Fourth St., Long Beach; 562-438-5435.
4. ArcLight Hollywood
The ArcLight prides itself on giving movie lovers a grown-up experience, minimizing distractions, allocating specific seats and limiting food choices. The concession stand sells a few specialty items, such as Aidells sausage, Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars and homemade caramel corn along with the expected fare. What makes this theater’s dining experience special is the ArcLight Hollywood Cinemas Café smack dab in the center of the lobby.
With a menu recently overhauled by Chef Eric Baran (recently of Santa Monica Seafood), the restaurant focuses on seasonal, casual food that can be whipped up quickly. According to Chef Eric, “we often get 10 minutes or less before a movie begins.” With the range of choices varying from fresh seafood ceviche (tossed with a citrusy-watermelon dressing) to the spicy Southwestern bacon cheeseburger, the café definitely caters to a wide variety of customer. They also do specials based on particular films. For example, the recent Indian-French-centric The Hundred-Foot Journey allowed Chef Eric to present such diverse eats as chicken Tandori and banana cardamom crème brulee. The bar also serves up movie-themed mixed drinks, like the Goodfellas, which packs a wallop, with toasted pecan bitters and a lemon twist. 6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-464-1478.
3. AMC Dine-In Theatres
Surprisingly comfortable and spacious, the AMC Dine-In experience caters to your culinary needs while maintaining a discreet distance out of respect for cinephiles. With exceedingly cozy chairs — they turn into full-on lounge chairs — and movable trays, you might feel like you are back in your grandparents’ den. It doesn’t hurt that with the press of a button, your server will bring you mojitos, beer, sundaes and jalapeno poppers. While not the most gourmet of choices, the AMC Dine-In caters to your id with lots of sugar, alcohol and fried foods. This theater serves only those 21 and over, which makes for a fairly courteous crowd — despite the amount of drinking going on. Other choices include truffle-Parmesan fries with a garlic basil dipping sauce and Thai coconut chicken tenders. 13455 Maxella Ave. #270, Marina del Rey; 310-827-7955.
2. Sundance Sunset Cinema
A refreshing change of pace, the Sundance Cinemas cater to the over-21 crowd exclusively. Well-appointed and well-lit — in fact walking into the lobby feels like walking into a Sundance catalog — the space feels calm and serene. A huge selection of beer and wine greets you at the concession stand. In fact, for certain movies, the theatre tailors its menu with special wine and food selections. For the culinary extravaganza The Trip to Italy, wines, like the San Giovese Sassoregale, and specialty items, like calzones and cannolis, from Café Vivoli, were added to the menu. The everyday items available to eat range from pizza — thin crust, easy to eat in the dark — to a Greek salad. Other treats (oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies!) satisfy your sweet tooth a whole lot better than Milk Duds. The whole menu is a treat, and for classicists, the popcorn is extra good, made with real butter. 8000 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles ; 323-654-2217.
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1. iPic Escape Theaters
Caviar, fresh produce and lobster served directly to your chaise lounge? Yes, please! When Hamid Hashemi unveiled the luxurious iPic Theaters in Westwood, in what was formally the Avco, he also unveiled his secret weapon, Sherry Yard, who now acts as corporate vice president of culinary direction. According to Yard, Hashemi came to her “with a vision. I saw the niche and thought, ‘what would I want?’” Yard had many things to consider, including minimizing the smell and crunch of the items on offer. She devised a menu using farmers market ingredients and showcasing some of her legendary baking skills.
The flavors are international, with one of the stand-outs being the “naan-chos.” This Indian-inspired take on nachos are cut-up pieces of naan with sweet pea fennel guacamole on one half, and red pepper hummus on the other, both topped off with a spicy Gouda-jalapeno spread. Another fresh-from-the-farm treat is the tempura green beans with Sichuan salt. Served in a cone like french fries, they feel somewhat virtuous, yet are still insanely delicious. The lobster roll alone will make you feel like you’ve arrived — regardless of the movie’s merits — and when you’ve polished it off, curl up with the blanket and pillow provided. 10840 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-307-7003.