Friday, August 17, 2012

The Dictator

Dinner and a Movie

The Dictator Benjamin

By Steve Herte

The Dictator (2012) 

I must admit that when I saw the trailers for The Dictator I was certain I did not want to see it, finding the humor offensive and in low taste. However, upon actually viewing the movie, the story turned out to be so ridiculous that the tacky comedy fit and got a few chuckles out of me.

Here we see Sacha Baron Cohen wearing an obviously fake beard (no mustache) as Hafez Aladeen (and later on as Efawadh, his look-alike) the leader of Wadiya, a fictitious North African oil-rich country. He is asked appear before the United Nations and discuss his nuclear weapons program. A ruthless dictator, he is unloved in his country and executes anyone who disagrees with him. Note to trailer viewers: As Aladeen is riding his camel down the streets of Manhattan, he does not say, “Ah, America! The birthplace of AIDS.” I was particularly happy that was an outtake.

A revolutionary catches him off his guard and shaves off the beard, but he escapes and is now left to wander the city in his underwear. Of course, no one believes him when he officiously tells them who he is, because he looks like a hippie of Middle-East extraction. He meets up with Zoey (Anna Faris) who is attracted by his idealistic speech and fiery determination. She becomes his love interest and they have an unusual but believable chemistry.

Ben Kingsley plays Tamir, the leader of the resistance who would like nothing better than to get this prancing maniac out of power and replace him with someone he can manipulate (Efawadh). He arranges to have Efawadh announce to the U.N. that Wadiya will become a democracy.

Aladeen’s time spent with Zoey changes him. He manages to get enough human hair to replace his beard and trades places with Efawadh, who really doesn’t want to rule Wadiya. He addresses the U.N., starting by tearing up the democracy document, but tempering it with a promise that Wadiya will be a different country from now on and everybody’s happy – particularly Zoey.

It’s a silly movie at best but harmless (although I could have done without the crack about attempting to take down the Empire State Building, spoken by a military greeter).

After his performance in Borat, this movie is no surprise for Sacha’s fans (if any). I just hope Ben Kingsley was paid well to appear in it. 

Benjamin Steakhouse
52 East 41st Street (Dylan Hotel between Park and Madison), New York City

The posters advertising the Benjamin Steakhouse enticed me to try making a reservation, but every time I tried, there were no openings within two and a half hours of my request on This only made me think there was something extraordinary about this steakhouse. My attempts at getting a reservation two weeks ahead were all thwarted and when I asked for the next available time I received the notification that nothing was available for 30 days. This place must be really special. I must get a reservation!

Then I changed the number in my party from one to two and I got my original date and time request. Oh-ho! They don’t accept parties of one. I quickly emailed a good friend of mine to join me for dinner but unfortunately she was unavailable. I tried. And that gave me my excuse for turning up solo.

It’s a nice enough looking restaurant, with the requisite dark wood décor, a winding staircase to a balcony level and large faux windows with curtains lit from behind on the far wall – a good steakhouse look. My table was by the fireplace. The waiters are all in black with the typical long white apron and they bustle about importantly. I ordered a Beefeater martini and my waiter was quite prompt in bringing it. The menu was standard steakhouse fare with a few interesting exceptions. Upon learning from my waiter that the Benjamin Soup was a beef-based broth with chunks of beef and vegetable in it, I chose it as my appetizer. It was hearty and delicious, though I thought it could have been thicker.

I’m fairly predictable in a steakhouse. I love my Filet Mignon and I like it “Black and Blue” (crispy singed outside, rare inside). My waiter understood the concept and the kitchen came close. It was brown on the outside instead of nearly black, but after cutting into it, I found it acceptable. The two sides I chose were Creamed Spinach, which they did very nicely, exactly as I expected, and Benjamin Home Fries – another invention, and a good one, where the French fries are cut the usual size, but are then chopped into smaller pieces and re-fried with onions. It reminded me of home except less greasy – I loved it, though I couldn’t finish it. The fun part was convincing my waiter that I wanted the 2009 St. Francis Old-Vines Zinfandel to go with this. “A glass?” “No, a bottle, it doesn’t come by the glass.” Then with a thumbs-up he bustled out and retrieved the wine, which was very good indeed.

They were out of Pecan Pie and the other desserts were pretty standard, so I went with Key Lime Pie, which had a good consistency and flavor. It was eclipsed however, by the Benjamin’s Coffee – this restaurant’s take on Irish Coffee but with three other liquors in it instead of Irish Whiskey, plus the whipped cream on top was definitely not out of a can. I was impressed.

Benjamin Steakhouse bills itself as “a cut above” other steakhouses, and in some ways it is, but in an overall competition it would come out as average in my book. It’s a good place to dine but not elite enough to have trouble getting a reservation.

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