If you’re still mourning the demise of Marblehead’s old Warwick Theatre, cheer up. You and a friend can now enjoy an early bird, three-course meal at Palmers, the upscale restaurant that recently opened in its stead, then take in a first-run movie in the all-digital, reserved-seat cinema just down the hall.
This prix-fixe twofer, offered on Sundays and Mondays only, costs $50 per couple. The movie tickets alone here would be $30. Sounds like a deal to us.
Palmers Restaurant and Tavern and the two-screen Warwick Cinema are the centerpieces of the new Warwick Place development in downtown Marblehead. The restaurant’s co-owner and executive chef is John Palmer Ingalls, who opened an earlier version of Palmers in Swampscott in 1988 before relocating it to Andover in 1995.The new venture opened in Marblehead last July.
When our party of four arrived at Palmers with a 7 o’clock reservation on a Friday, there were still plenty of open tables, but the room filled rapidly. We sat in the more sedate of two dining areas; the other features a large bar and offers live music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
The menu is new American, with entrees that range from $19 to $28. A selection of “tavern snacks” includes lobster rolls ($17.50) and fish and chips ($16.50).
Moviegoers down the hall can order these and similar snacks — or cocktails — from Palmers’ kitchen and bar as they wait for a film to start.
In the dining room, we started with a bowl of roasted cauliflower and curry soup ($6.50). It was creamy and not too spicy, and its surface was decorated with a calligraphic drizzle of oil and a dollop of apple-ginger puree. A $15.50 appetizer of seared scallops with foie gras torchon came with an almond puree and pickled red grapes, which was a novelty all around. The scallops were pleasantly juicy and arrived piping hot.
A watercress and grilled-pear salad with almonds and shaved prosciutto ($9) got two thumbs up for its pleasing mix of flavors and textures. A marinated-beet salad with pickled onion and goat cheese ($9.50) had ingredients that were fresh and tasty, but the buttermilk vinaigrette wasn’t assertive enough for everyone.
For the most part, the entrees, too, were nicely prepared. The 20-spice grilled Faroe Island salmon ($21), served with tahini, chickpeas, and herbed couscous, was flavorful, and it was abundant enough for leftovers.
One of the evening’s specials was swordfish wrapped in bacon ($29) with lentils and cauliflower. The fish was tender and moist, but the bacon disconcertingly well done.
An order of slow-braised beef short ribs ($22) won high marks: The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the cinnamon and red-wine braising sauce was tasty, and a side of pureed parsnips was an unusual touch.
The one disappointment was a $16 pasta dish, pappardelle Bolognese, which came with pork, beef, and veal. The meats in the sauce sounded like a cornucopia, but the mixture tasted bland all the same. Worse, many of the thick, flat noodles had congealed into a stiff shingle, possibly from having sat in a colander too long.
We ended on an up note, with key lime pie and sticky toffee pudding ($7.50 each), which were as photogenic as they were delectable.
Those who don’t like to wait for dessert should note that the new Marblehead complex includes a small cafe next to Palmers that serves fresh-made pastries, raw fruit and vegetable smoothies, and homemade whole-milk yogurt.
Being movie buffs, we tried the cinema’s dine-in offerings on another night. Settling into rocking leatherette armchairs in the 60-seat theater, we perused the abbreviated cinema menu, then pressed a “push for service” button on our armrests when we were ready to order.
The food, arriving during the movie previews, was nothing special. A small mushroom flatbread ($9.50) had the texture of frozen pizza. And the food wasn’t cheap—three small beef sliders with caramelized onion and Boursin cheese cost $15.50. But we should note that this is exactly what you’ll pay for a hot dog and French fries at the AMC Loews cinema at the Liberty Tree Mall.
Also, we agreed it was weird to eat dinner in the dark. When you go out to eat, seeing the food is normally part of the experience you want.
At Palmers’ dining room, that wasn’t a problem. We all agreed the restaurant is a welcome addition to the North Shore dining scene.Coco McCabe and Doug Stewart can be reached at newmarch@