Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Pirates! A Band of Misfits

Dinner and a Movie

The Pirates of Almayass

By Steve Herte

Editors' Note: Nearly every week, Steve watches a movie on the big screen and eats at some of New York City's best - or at least most interesting - restaurants.

The Pirates! A Band of Misfits (2012) 

When I first saw the “clay-mation” show Gumby I had no idea how far the technique would go. When I saw Wallace and Grommit a few years ago, I got an idea of how far. 

The Pirates take clay-mation to new heights of computerized stop-action photography. The characters (who strangely do not have actual names, e.g. Albino Pirate, voiced by Anton Yelchin), Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate (Ashley Jensen) – obviously a female with a big fake beard, The Pirate who Loves Sunsets and Kittens (Al Roker) and Number Two (Martin Freeman)) move as smoothly as live people and are beautifully, and comically conceived.  The year is 1873 and Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton), who HATES PIRATES reigns. 

The Pirate Captain (for that is all he is known as – voiced by Hugh Grant) leads his motley (and this word really applies) crew in the quest of booty on the high seas so that he can finally win Pirate of the Year at an annual awards night on Blood Island. The pirate with the most booty wins. However, he’s up against Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), a sexy female pirate who arrives with a diamond large enough to give Elizabeth Taylor a hernia, Pegleg Hastings (Lenny Henry), and Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) who arrives from inside a sperm whale flung from the depths onto the pier and slides into the room on an avalanche of gold and jewels from its open jaws. 

The Pirate Captain realizes they need way more booty and attack ship after ship – the first, a leper ship, the second a children’s class outing, the third a ghost ship – and fail miserably. Their final attempt lands them on The Beagle where they meet Charles Darwin (David Tennant). The camera pans across creatures, a fish, a fish with four limbs, a chameleon, a chimpanzee, and lastly, Darwin who is wondering why he can’t get a date. 

The Pirate Captain demands his gold and he admits he has none but spies “Polly” on the pirate’s shoulder – not a parrot, but a Dodo – and convinces them to come with him to London to enter (and win “untold riches”) at the Scientist of the Year competition held at the Royal Society. At Darwin’s home we meet Mr. Bobo, Darwin’s monkey butler who only speaks by holding up pre-printed cards. 

After many attempts at stealing the Dodo they all arrive at the Royal Society, win the competition – but there’s no untold riches – Queen Victoria shows up and trades the Dodo for a roomful of booty, supposedly for the royal zoo. 

However, we find out that she’s a member of an international Adventurers Dining Club and wants the Dodo for her featured dish. The rescue is elaborate and full of crazy twists and turns. The theater I was in had several children with “adult” supervision and none of them were laughing when I was. This movie is not geared for children. 

The clever lines are many. I tried to remember one and another came on its heels and I forgot it. This is one of those movies one has to be seen twice to absorb all of the innuendoes and comic devices. There is the usual map scene where you see the progress of the pirate ship from one place to the next with a trail of red dots. Then you see the actual ship with a pirate tossing red Frisbies onto the ocean from the rear to create those red dots. Brian Blessed voices the Pirate King, who eventually awards the Pirate of the Year award to The Pirate Captain. After all, he attacked (and sank) the Queen’s own flagship. 

24 East 21st Street (between Broadway and Park), New York

Upon entering Almayass, one sees the bar to the left and a good-sized comfy looking lounge area featuring plush chairs and coffee tables. But where is the restaurant? I drift to the back and discover a left turn the leads to the main dining area, a beautiful space dominated by a colorful collage on one wall, and an array of blue-glass long-stemmed roses on a pedestal, live potted plants and trees and spider-armed chandeliers above. 

Billed on opentable.com as Mediterranean, the cuisine is actually Lebanese/Armenian (intrigued? I was). The menu is daunting, containing 26 Cold appetizers (mezze) and 20 hot ones. The entrees number 9 and the soups 2 so they are less problematic. My waiter, all smiles and energy asks if I would like to know about almayass (or Al Mayass in Beirut). He explains how Lebanese and Armenian women shared recipes and the combined cuisines created the dishes I see now.  OK, I trust him. He knows what he’s doing. 

I order a Beefeater martini while I read the menu and find so many things I would love to try that I’m baffled. My waiter returns and asks if it’s my first time there and upon learning it is, suggests four “small” dishes, and then if I wish, an entrée. Sounded good to me. 

I pick a 2009 Argentine Malbec and the feast began. First to arrive is the bread basket with both pita bread and crispy chip-like fried pita. The Moutabbal Almayass comes to my table. It turns out to be mashed beetroot and eggplant seasoned with fresh lemon, sesame paste and fresh garlic and topped with pomegranate seeds – Fabulous! I never would have ordered it from the description alone – sweet and tangy at the same time with a peanut-butter aftertaste. 

Next comes the Hummos Almayass, an unbelievable chick pea spread/dip blended with sesame paste “special Almayass sauce” and topped with pine nuts and marinated diced filet mignon – truly erotic. 

The third mezze was Basterma Almayass (does anyone see a pattern happening here?) which was Armenian pastrami slices as a canapé on soft bread and topped with a fried quail’s egg. My waiter related that people say the salt in the pastrami balances out the sweetness of the egg, but I tasted paprika, not salt, which was infinitely better. These three were cold appetizers. 

The fourth was Traditional Mantee – an oven-baked boat-shaped ravioli filled with seasoned ground angus beef served with a cold fresh garlic yoghurt sauce and topped with sumac – totally awesome. 

My waiter advised me to finish this dish before attempting to finish the others because it is better while still hot, and it was. Since I agreed to a main dish, the Sweet and Sour Kebab arrived next. The charbroiled seasoned ground beef was topped with the most delightful sweet and sour cherry sauce – wow! Now I had a challenge as well as a hobby. I finished the kebab, the Mantee and the Basterma, and asked them pack up the remaining cherry sauce, Hummos and beet dip. 

By now I don’t know if you would call me a trencherman or a hedonist, but I ordered dessert. The Ossmalieh Almayass (what else?) was golden crispy sweet vermicelli (I wouldn’t compare it to the pasta) filled with ashta (a sweet cheese) and topped with traditional floss halva (very much like cotton candy). OMG. With an Armenian coffee and a glass of Castello Banfi Grappa I was mellowing out smoothly. I was already contemplating my return when I saw something at the next table. It was a tall pitcher of some milky liquid that looked like Absinthe. When I asked my waiter about it he replied that it was an Armenian liquor very much like Absinthe and with a similar preparation. Whoa, by the pitcher! I have definitely got to come back here.

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