Alameda a la carte: Cinema Grill

Alameda a la carte: Cinema Grill

Cheryl Connick
Cinema Grill

Photo courtesy of Cinema Grill.

Review: Cinema Grill, 2301 Central Avenue

Cinema Grill, on the corner of Central Avenue and Oak Street, isn’t your average restaurant. Located in the old Angela’s and Cellar Door space, the updated interior is old-style Hollywood meets comfortable and casual. Heavy theater curtains and stills of classic movies line the restaurant’s walls.

Co-owner Elgina Conner said her vision for Cinema Grill, which opened quietly late last year, was to create a place that is hip but fun and accessible for your whole family. The idea was to provide another venue that allows Alamedans to find their entertainment here on the Island – in this case, a place where Islanders can come and enjoy dinner and a movie in a sophisticated and fun way.

It makes total sense to me for theaters to go beyond popcorn and soda to meld food and cocktails with the movie-going experience (the Sundance Kabuki theater in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood has long offered food and drink and has its own bar). Why not enjoy dinner and a movie at the same time? At Cinema Grill, the synergies between the restaurant and the Cineplex next door abound.

I visited Cinema Grill last Friday night with my husband and arrived a little before our 6:30 p.m. reservation, so we sat at the bar and had a cocktail. It is the kind of place where you can go for an on-trend, upscale cocktail, but still order a simple gin and tonic — a mix of new and old schools.

I had the Tom Collins and my husband had the Sidecar. Both were delicious and it was fun to watch the bartender hand craft them while we waited. Everything was fresh squeezed, and the portions were generous. All of Cinema Grill’s specialty cocktails, incidentally, are just $10.

My husband and I soon moved to our table, which happened to be close to the “backstage” entrance to the restaurant that connects it to the Alameda Theatre & Cineplex next door (both physically and thematically – the carpet matches the one that adorns the theater’s floors). You can buy your movie tickets from your server while you dine – a list of movie times is conveniently parked on each table – and take your food and drinks into any of the movie theaters.

There are a couple of ways you can enjoy food and drink while watching a movie next door. One is to order your drinks and food “to go” and take them to the theater, and another is to eat in the restaurant and take a round of cocktails “to go.” Or you can skip the restaurant altogether and order your food from the balcony if you’re watching a show in the historic, main theater.

The balcony sits about 20 people and a limited menu of appetizers and pizzas, along with cocktails, are offered to patrons who reserve seats there. You can both reserve a seat in the balcony (the seats are numbered) and order your food through an app that uses PayPal (instruction cards for downloading the app are provided at the theater). A server will deliver the food right to your seat. Eventually, the restaurant’s owners would like to hire enough servers to offer a more full-service approach, Conner said.

The menu is described on Cinema Grill’s website as eclectic comfort food, so we decided to start out with salads. I had the beet and arugula salad ($10) that had quinoa and pomegranates with Green Goddess dressing — I almost licked my plate it was so good! My husband had the Caesar salad ($8) made with baby kale, which was a delicious riff on the traditional salad.

For our entree, we split the classic margherita pizza with roasted tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil ($12). The crust was crisp and tender, with some yummy dark and puffy charred spots. It was one of the better pizzas I’ve had in a long time.

Cinema Grill offers three other pizzas, two of which have fun movie-themed names: The Godfather ($16), which is loaded with meat, mushrooms, fennel and arugula; and Ratatouille ($15), whose toppings include butternut squash, eggplant, goat cheese, sunflower seeds and pesto. I am told the pizzas are cooked in the newest ovens on the commercial market and that they cook in 90 seconds — which seems incredibly fast to me, but boy was that pizza good!

The restaurant plans to have a featured pizza each week and will continue to bring in farm to table ingredients to star in their dishes. Currently, they use some produce from Dan’s across the street and offer beer from Faction Brewery on Alameda Point, just to name a few of the locally sourced items.

In addition to pizza and salads, Cinema Grill offers appetizers that include buttermilk fried chicken sliders ($10) and crab corn dogs ($14); their main dishes include classic bistro fare like burgers ($14), steak ($22) and salmon ($22) and more unique items like a bison meatloaf dish ($18) and a grilled prawn and noodle bowl ($13).

The dessert list includes another locally sourced item – Tucker’s ice cream ($5) – along with an apple crisp, buttermilk chocolate cake and ginger crème brulée ($7 each).

I thought the service was polite and attentive, although I imagine it will be especially busy about an hour before movie time. It would be best to make a reservation to ensure you get a seat. The bar/lounge area is first-come-first-served, and there is outdoor seating when the weather is nice. There are also taller, communal tables with backless stools near the front that look like they’d be fun for a larger group.

Open from 5 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Late-night happy hour from 8:00 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday for a post-movie visit of small bites, dessert and cocktails. 769-2000.


Submitted by Ariane (not verified) on Fri, Jan 16, 2015

Cool! I had no idea about the new restaurant being linked to the theatre like this and the balcony option, great stuff!

Submitted by Debbie George (not verified) on Fri, Jan 16, 2015

Thank you Conner Family for your new and creative addition to the downtown district. I had visited last Friday for a "Moskow Mule" and shared an appetiser with my guest.What an enjoyable experience and especially for a new restaurant, everything was on point and delicious. Best of luck on your new concept.
We will next try dinner and a movie, how good is that!