Just follow the Walk of Fame to find Cinespace, located between Elizabeth Taylor and Lassie's pink stars in the heart of downtown Hollywood. The neighborhood may never be as swanky as Beverly Hills and may always be overshadowed by West Hollywood, but it is slowly developing a new, funky voice of its own.
Parking anywhere in Los Angeles is a challenge, and it is especially so here. Street parking is the main option, but driving up and down Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday or Saturday night is enough to make you want to stay home. Paylots are available throughout the neighborhood, but the closest are on Cahuenga, Vine, and Ivar. Valet parking for Cinespace is available for $8 on Cosmo Street, just a few blocks down from the restaurant's entrance. The valets are professional and efficient, and waiting to pick your car up afterwards makes for good people watching as the young and old and hip and conservative head home after a night out.
Once you are parked, take a moment and admire the building's terracotta façade. The Chiguerresque-style building is the former home of Schwab Men's Haberdashery, and for years has been covered up by signage and artificial building fronts in an attempt to conform to the overall streetscape. Only recently in 2001 was the exterior restored. Two years later, owners David Dickerson and Errol and Kimberly Roussel dreamed up Cinespace over a casual dinner together.
The area surrounding the restaurant leaves a lot to be desired visually, but once inside, you’ll find a classy establishment that is helping to turn the neighborhood from seedy to trendy. After entering through the front door, you follow three dark flights of stairs up to the New York-style lounge. The area is dark and cozy, lit mostly by candlelight. You can either sit in bright red, retro tub chairs at the bar or on overstuffed couches and cushions to the side. Columns throughout the room have mini television screens embedded in them, each one playing a different film, adding to the room’s futuristic feel. The mood is upbeat and modern, and the clientele is mostly twenty- and thirty-something industry types. Live DJs play nightly here, and there is just enough room to groove if you want to.
Immediately to the right is the main entrance for the open-air patio, which can seat about 60 people. Another dining option is the VIP room, a glass-enclosed space for private parties, with curtains that can be hung for extra privacy. Following a passageway to the left leads you to the screening room, which is where we will be eating tonight. If you too desire to take advantage of the "dinner and a movie" dining option, prepare to arrive by 7:30 P.M. so that you can have time to be seated and place your order before the film begins.
The screening room is even darker than the rest of the restaurant, lit only by small votive candles on the tabletops and a huge film screen that is playing "Diamonds Are Forever" as we enter. The film is silent, but jazzy music plays softly overhead. The original brick walls are exposed and heavy red curtains block out any light filtering through the windows, giving the room an old-fashioned-movie-theater vibe. A disco ball hangs overhead, one of the few indicators that the room is also used to showcase live bands. The age of the clientele doesn't vary much from that in the lounge, but most are couples. The room is able to seat 150, and each date sits next to the other on inclined padded booths, which is a comfortable, optimal way to view the film. The servers don't seem to be in a rush, and ours is quite friendly. All of the servers are equipped with special flashlights to aid guests in the reading of the menu.
The wine selection is limited, but the screening room has its own full bar, featuring a creative selection of custom house cocktails. I try the "Holly Golightly," a healthy dose of Belvedere vodka mixed with orange and pineapple juices. The drink is basically a twist on a screwdriver, but it is strong and tangy. Other selections include the "Boo Radley," the "Jackie Brown," and the "Rosebud."
Executive Chef Stephen Rea's film-themed menu is mostly a combination of modern takes on American and Californian staples. For our first taste test, we select the Macaroni and Cheese appetizer, as found in the "previews" section of the menu. Served in a small porcelain bowl, elbow macaroni is smothered in sharp cheddar and smoked Gouda cheeses with a dash of Parmesan and topped with a Japanese panko bread crumb crust. It is a perfect comfort food for a cold winter's night (or as cold as it gets in California). The dish is tasty, and the crunchiness of the crust makes for a great contrast in textures with the more processed feeling cheese; however, the cheese sauce seems slightly drippy and the mixture could use a little more pepper for a light punch.
For the "first act," we share a Caesar Salad. Large romaine hearts are drizzled with the house Caesar dressing, sliced red pepper, shredded Parmesan, and some of the biggest croutons I have ever seen. Both the lettuce and French bread croutons taste exquisitely fresh. The dressing is just the right amount of tangy – zesty, but without going overboard. The flavors mix well and are well-balanced.
We decide to go the meat route for our "second act" entrees and select the Lemon-Thyme Roast Chicken and the Cineburger. The presentation is lovely—the chicken is served delicately over a vegetable rainbow of baby carrots, sautéed green beans, garlic chive mash, and thyme jus. However, the taste experience leaves a lot to be desired. The chicken is dry and lacking in flavor, and the vegetables taste overcooked. Expecting a moist flavor medley of herbs and citrus zing, I find the dish more bland than impressive.
The hamburger is a slightly better experience. While the official "Cineburger" comes with melted cheddar, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, red onion and Dijonaise, I opt for the alternate Maytag blue cheese version, served on a toasted sesame seed bun. The eight ounces of ground sirloin is substantial and filling, although it is hard to pick up on the flavor of the cheese. Garlic parmesan shoestring French fries are served as a side and are delicious and addicting; they are made exactly like shoestrings should be: long and crispy on the outside, hot and soft on the inside.
For the "curtain call," we order the trio of seasonal sorbets, perfect after an evening of heavy foods. This night's selection includes vividly colored raspberry, mango, and lemon varieties, served on a bed of berries. Each is refreshing and lightly sweet, with the mango flavor leading the trio in quality of taste.
Having comfort food and watching a good movie in a date environment is a great way to spend an evening, and often is better than facing the crowds of restaurant and bar patrons elsewhere. Cinespace is definitely an establishment to come for the experience: it was quite a novelty to be served our courses instead of pausing the DVD, checking the oven, and serving ourselves. The film viewing is free and the selection changes often—be sure to check the schedule on their website. We saw "Color Me Kubrick," which is another conversation for another time.