Think of a movie and the eats that come to mind are usually popcorn and a soda.
Think again if the movie is at the new four-screen Spotlight Theatres in Hartford's emerging Front Street entertainment district.
Conveniently located within the long-awaited movie house is the new Front Street Bistro, and it's already becoming a place to enjoy good food and some city vibe, whether you are taking in a movie or not.
Located across from the Connecticut Convention Center, the city's newest restaurant is sleek, sophisticated and diverse, offering upscale food at reasonable prices and a happy-hour scene that is already causing a buzz.
"It's unique, it's exciting and it's not just an extension of the theater but rather a restaurant that is standing on its own two feet," said restaurant manager Justin Morales. "You can make dining part of going to a movie or you can come here specifically to have lunch or dinner, or meet friends for happy hour."
Huge glass windows on two sides of the restaurant offer diners and those at the bar a close view of the Front Street area and the boulevard where city traffic and the science center, convention center and insurance buildings provide a cityscape that makes you feel as though your are right in the middle of the best the city offers. Décor is beige and black, simple, clean and modern, with the restaurant and bar separated from the movie theater operation by the main foyer. There is banquette, booth and table seating.
Former Burton's chef Chantal Roy, 28, is tearing it up in the kitchen in a good way, clearly enthused about her chance to create in her own kitchen.
"Previews" include fresh bruschetta, ginger shrimp cakes and a hummus platter. On a recent afternoon the lunch menu included homemade roasted butternut squash soup and her French roast bread boule, a roast beef and mushroom-laced onion soup in a bread bowl.
There are salads, burgers and flatbread, pasta dishes and a side dish called "waffle mash-up," fluffy mashed potatoes that are anything but ordinary after being cooked in a waffle iron and that become extraordinary when topped with two buttermilk fried chicken legs.
In the "show stoppers" category, menu choices included a pretzel coated salmon and a cider pork tenderloin.
"I use maple syrup as part of the salmon recipe, which might sound odd but it is a wonderful way to add flavor to so many dishes," said Roy, who hails from Vermont.
Desserts include the seasonal waffle a la mode, recently served with fresh pumpkin ice cream, as well as fruit cobbler and a brownie sundae.
The bar menu includes the traditional assortment of $5 and $6 bar bites offered at special reduced prices during happy hour that goes from 3 to 7 p.m. daily. A few of the appetizer and small-plate items are also available at the concession and can be taken into the theater, a nice alternative to the candy and popcorn choices.
"I think this is something new and fill a void," said general manager Steve Menschell.
"I think it is something Hartford can be proud of," said Menschell, "the way people used to be proud of Hartford. Plans are to add al fresco dining in good weather and in January, a Sunday brunch.
Entrée prices range from $14 to $18, with burgers from $10 to $12 and appetizers and salads from $6 to $8. Information: 860-422-7713.
>>Cavey's, 45 E. Center St., Manchester is serving its holiday lunches beginning at 11:30 a.m. through Dec. 21. The restaurant will also be open Christmas Eve and will be featuring a special "Feast of the Severn Fishes" fixed-price menu from 5 to 8 p.m. Information: 860-643-2751 or caveysrestaurant.com
>>The Litchfield Saltwater Grille, 26 Commons Drive, Litchfield, will also serve a Feast of the Seven Fishes menu on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, beginning at 5 p.m. The fixed-price menu is $70 a person plus tax and tip. Lunch will also be served from noon to 3 p.m. Information: 860-567-49000 or litchfieldslawatergrille.org.
>>Looking for somewhere to eat on Christmas Day besides the casinos and Asian restaurants? The Mill on the River, 989 Ellington Road, South Windsor, is offering a three-course fixed-price menu on Christmas Day beginning at noon. Cost is $36.95 for adults and $18.95 for children 12 and under. Dinner will also be served on Christmas Eve. Information: 860-289-7929 or themillontheriver.net. A second Mill River Group restaurant, Abigail's, 4 Hartford Road, Simsbury, is also serving Christmas dinner but is now only taking reservations on its waiting list. Information: 860-264-1580
>>Costa del Sol, 901 Wethersfield Ave., Hartford, is once again offering its famed paella-to-go for holiday dinner. Orders are now being accepted for pick-up until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Information: 860-296-1714 or costadelsolrestaurant.net.
New Year's Eve Dining
>>At Copper Beech Inn, 46 Main St., Ivoryton, executive chef Noel Jones will be serving a six-course tasting menu. There are also inn/restaurant packages available. Information: 860-767-0330 or cooperbeechinn.com
>>Millwright's, 77 West St., Simsbury, will offer seatings on New Year's Eve every half hour between 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. The normal dining room menu will be available as well as a chef's grand tasting menu for $125 per person. The tavern will be open but only offering the dining room menu. Millwright's will also be open on Christmas Eve with seats from 5:30 to 8: 30 p.m. on the half hour. Information: 860-651-5500 or millwrightsct.com.
>>The Hawthorne Inn, 2421 Berlin Turnpike, Berlin, will offer a plated dinner on New Year's Eve in its ballroom and a buffet dinner in its Bar 2421 on New Year's Eve. Live entertainment and a champagne toast will be featured. Information: 860-828-3571 or hawthorne-inn.com
>>Baci Grill, 134 Berlin Road, Cromwell, will host a New Year's Eve celebration for those 21 and older from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $67 per person, plus tax and tip and include a open bar, dining stations and the music of "Room for Two." Special $89 room rates will be offered that night at the nearby Cromwell Marriot. Information: 860-613-2224 or http://www.bacigrill.com.
>>Fresh off its ESPN Monday Night Football appearance, Connecticut band The Shiny Lapel will be featured at the New Year's Eve party at the Gelston House, 8 Main St., East Haddam on New Year's Eve. The group's performance is part of the $55 a person party that also includes a four-course meal and glass of champagne. The party begins at 8:30 p.m. Earlier in the evening, the restaurant's a la cart menu will be served. Information: 860-873-1411 or gelstonhouse.com
>>Besito, 46 S. Main St., West Hartford, will be serving its full dinner menu on New Year's Eve and an a la carte special including empanadas de langosta, grilled skirt steak and tortilla crusted Chilean bass with a tequila toast at midnight. Information: 860-233-2500 or besitomex.com.
>>Tuscany Grill, 120 College St., Middletown, will offer New Year's Eve specials Dec. 31 in addition to the regular menu. Specials include grilled mahi mahi with an herbed wild rice medley and broccoli tossed with toasted almonds, laced with a fig balsamic reduction for $22; and rosemary and Burgundy wine marinated rack of lamb with butternut and pancetta risotto, garlic haricot verts and mint pesto for $32. Information: 860-346-7096 or visit http://www.tuscany-grill.com.
>>The Cottage in Plainville will welcome the new year with a wine dinner featuring a 1999 Caymus Cabernet and the restaurant's new wine menu. The evening includes cocktails with entertainment and a five-course wine paired dinner for $99 a person. The dinner is also available without the wine pairing for $65. The menu includes scallop and shrimp cocktail, tenderloin of beef Wellington and hot dark chocolate risotto. Information: 860-793-8888 or cottagerestaurantandcafe.com
>>The Bee & Thistle, 100 Lyme St., Old Lyme, will featured a five-course fixed-price New Year's Eve menu with seating at 5:50 and 6 p.m. for $95 a person plus tax and tip, and seatings at 8:30 and 9 p.m. for $150 a person plus tax and tip with band and dancing. Entrée choices include filet mignon, pistachio encrusted rack of lamb or roasted sea bass. Information: 860- 434-1667 or beeandthistleinn.com
>>Peppercorn's, Main St., Hartford, says Bupon Anno 2013 with a four-course $85 a person fixed-price menu as well as its traditional a la carte menu on New Year's Eve. Seatings are at 5 and 8 p.m. with some flexibility. Information: 860-547-1714 or peppercornsgrill.com
>>The Mattabesett Canoe Club, 80 Harbor Drive, Middletown will offer three different parties, each on a different floor, on New Year's Eve. There will also be a Customer Appreciation Day Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. featuring saxophonist David Davis, and entertainment. Information: 860-347-9999 or mattabesettcanoeclub.com.
>>The Oyster Club in Mystic is offering three menus for its New Year's Eve dinner. Options include the Farm & Sea choice featuring New York strip, a Chinese menu with Peking suckling pig roast and an Italian option featuring handmade ricotta ravioli and mussels. Each option has four courses and is $75 a person and includes a champagne toast. There will be three seatings beginning at 5 p.m. Information: 860- 415-9266 or oysterclubct.com
>>Vivo at the Hartford Marriott Downtown will offer a New Year's Eve $59 per person fixed-price dinner on New Year's Eve from 5 to 10 p.m. Information: 860-760-2333
>>Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 44 S. Main St., West Hartford, will offer three special entrees on New Year's Eve as well as four nights of celebration from Dec. 28 to Dec. 31. Special cocktails, menu choices and wines will be featured each evening beginning at 4 p.m. On New Year's Eve, an entrée and appetizer menu will be featured ranging from $74.95 to $79 per person plus tax and tip. Information: 860-676-9463 or flemingssteakhouse.com
>>Angelico's Lake House, East Hampton, will host a New Year's Eve party that includes a red carpet and the chance to dress up as your favorite celebrity. There will be an early seating from 5 to 7 p.m. and a second at 8 to 9:30 p.m with a complimentary champagne toast. Then the party begins with live music, prizes for best dressed, most photogenic and other categories. Information: 860-267-1276 or angelicoslakehouse.com.
>>Angelico's is also offering Christmas dinner-to-go for six or 12 people. The menu, prepared to be heated and eaten at home, includes a ham, pork roast or turkey, side dishes and dessert. Cost for six is $69.95 and for 12, $99.95. Orders must be place by noon, Dec 22 with pickup on Dec. 24 between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
>>The Madison Beach Hotel, 94 W. Wharf Road, Madison, will host a Macallan Scotch Dinner on Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. The menu includes pastrami-cured duck breast, artisanal cheese and salamis, and chocolate monkey bread bombe. Cost is $85 a person plus tax and tip. Information: 203-350-0014 or madisonbeachhotel.com