Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

Dinner and a Movie

Hyde Park and a Kangaroo

By Steve Herte

The first Dinner and a Movie adventure of the new year involved going to a movie at a theater that does not support online ticketing and for the first time in a long time I actually had to pay cash at a ticket booth. Then, the restaurant did not accept reservations for one or two people and is small and extremely popular by the local gentry. The Brooklyn Heights Cinema only has two theaters, one upstairs and one down and has the most unusual configuration of seats - seven on the left and four on the right - so that the aisle is off-center and the seat immediately on the aisle to the left is perfectly centered (go figure). The theater is so small that until they closed the door I could hear the conversations in the lobby while waiting for the previews to start. Thoughts of Hooterville passed through my mind. But it became a lovely evening as you will read. Enjoy!

Hyde Park on Hudson (Daybreak Pictures, 2012) – Director: Roger Michell. Starring: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Marvel, Elizabeth Wilson, and Olivia Williams. 94 minutes.

Not knowing the story behind this movie is probably the best way to be prepared for it. I wasn’t. I knew Bill Murray would be playing the part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and he did a marvelous job, especially with the severe handicap of not being able to use either of his legs. It made me wonder who the body-builder was who physically carried him from one place to another. I knew the film involved the meeting of the President with the King and Queen of England. Samuel West did a convincing job as the stuttering King George (Bertie) and Olivia Colman portrayed a passable Elizabeth. Frankly, I think the real Elizabeth would have reacted slightly differently to the situation.

What I didn’t know was revealed at the end of the movie, that when Franklin Roosevelt’s fifth cousin Margaret Stuckley (Daisy – played by Laura Linney) died at 100 years of age, her letters and memoirs were revealed and thus, the story behind Hyde Park on Hudson.

The year is 1939. America is in the Depression. Hitler has set his sights on England. The young King and Queen visit the Roosevelts in hopes of gaining America’s support in the eventuality of a war. The American point of view is that England will fail against Germany for lack of leadership and the English royalty have no idea what to make of this informal American leader who treats everyone like a commoner.

But for all that, the main story narrated by Daisy is of how she was summoned to Hyde Park on Hudson to “take care” of Franklin and it becomes a love affair. We know this when Franklin takes Daisy on a jaunt in his specially-made car, parks in the middle of a field of purple clover on a hill and gently places her hand on his thigh. After having experienced a few philandering presidents the audience is only mildly surprised and Daisy is only abashed for a moment and then accepts it. That is until she learns that she’s one of three women, one who is the president’s personal assistant, Missy (Elizabeth Marvel) and another who is married. Then she’s outraged and, in one confrontation with Franklin we hear what she thinks of him but doesn’t say it aloud. Acceptance comes eventually after several conversations with Missy and a personal visit by the president to her house.

Needless to say, this is neither a comedy nor even a happy tale. In fact it is a dark time in history, a dark side of a major president, and filmed mostly in the dark to emphasize this. Daisy’s first meeting with Franklin is in his dark office, only slightly lit by glancing daylight. A good 15 minutes of the 94-minute movie are shot using only moonlight. Even the musical background is dark, minor key and foreboding. The combination of artful direction leaves no doubt that what is happening is wrong.

The only light comes from the sub-plot of the meeting of the world leaders. Franklin and Bertie come to be friends after an all-night session (with drinks) which started with a mutual acknowledgement of their disabilities. Queen Elizabeth’s horrified reactions to not being noticed by American farmers, being asked by Eleanor (Olivia Williams) if she would mind if she called her Elizabeth, the servants tripping and smashing china at dinner, attending a “picnic,” being served “hot dogs,” Bertie eating one, and American Indian performances at said picnic are priceless and well done. Her dismay at learning that Franklin’s mother (Elizabeth Wilson) actually owns the house and that Eleanor doesn’t even live there is charmingly comical.

Hyde Park on Hudson is not a movie I would own, but an interesting story. I must confess, Bill Murray was a major draw to see it as I’ve been a fan for a while. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Henry’s End
44 Henry Street (near Cranberry), Brooklyn Heights, NY

People ask me why this small (some say cramped) restaurant is my all-time favorite. It’s not grandiose and expensive, there is not a drop of crystal, there are no tablecloths, the décor could only be described as chaotic, and it’s not even my favorite cuisine, Indian. Henry’s End represents a lot more to me. When I enter the unassuming brick front establishment marked only by the neon sign and a maroon banner featuring the logo, experience the puzzle of the two doors (the Brooklyn version of a New York airlock) and am immediately greeted by smiling owner/Chef Mark Lahm, I feel the warmth of being home. But Steve, they say, you’re from Queens! Surely there is a favorite in your own borough. Nope, I tell them, Monte Carlo closed a long time ago and my first Indian restaurant, Kalpana also no longer exists.

I’ve had many wonderful dining experiences here and some interesting discussions with Mark, especially about the décor and Zagat ratings (where Henry’s End always just misses being in the top 10 by one or two points). I can honestly say that I’ve tried a good three quarters of the dishes on the menu and never been even slightly disappointed (most of the time I’m transported by them). I attended an excellent wine-tasting dinner there and shared dinners with Helene on New Year’s Eve, and I never miss the annual Game Festival (usually October through March).

After the movie (one block away) I still hurried to make sure I would get a table. Henry’s End only accepts reservations for parties of three or more and the 30-some-odd seats fill up rapidly, especially on a Friday. Fortunately I obtained the last single table by the door. Mark already knew the way I like my martini and quoted it before making it perfectly himself. While I contemplated the menu, the two servers who knew me from the first time I dined there greeted me with handshakes and hugs (I told you, home). The bread basket arrived with three selections, fruit/nut bread, Italian and sesame bread sticks. I love the first but moderated my intake, know what would be coming.

Since it was solidly in Game Festival season I decided the start with the Gnocchi with Wild Boar Ragout (slowly-cooked Texas wild boar, smoked bacon, paprika and tomato). I usually salivate from any of the enticing aromas pouring from the open kitchen, but I had to use my napkin when this dish arrived. Look up the word “savory” in the dictionary and there should be a picture of this marvelous dish. The potato gnocchi were substantial but melted in the mouth and the sauce with small chunks of boar and bacon coated it with rich, meaty flavor. It was an effort not to go into a feeding frenzy.

Henry’s End has won the Wine Spectator’s Award for Excellence every year since 1984 and they post five or six featured white and red wines on white boards on the walls. I chose a glass of 2006 Murphy’s Law Red and it complimented the gnocchi nicely.

Having had it on a number of occasions and already anticipating it I ordered the Spice Rubbed Kangaroo for the main course (in a Syrah and green peppercorn sauce over mashed parsnips) with a side of Brussels sprouts sautéed with pancetta. The usual side of broccoli also arrived. The kangaroo was like a hearty, lean filet mignon but a bit chewy and duskier in flavor. The parsnips were creamy and smooth and, to my tastes the perfect substitute for mashed potatoes. The Brussels sprouts were a beautiful green, crunchy and bacon-y and cut into halves. I switched to a glass of 2008 Joel Gott Zinfandel for this dish and was delighted.

From my vantage point near the door I could not help but see the possible patrons who clamored for admittance, but only the ones with reservations got in. The others were given possible times when they could return by Mark. Did I mention that he also manages the Brooklyn Heights Wine Bar two doors down? Now most of the desserts at Henry’s End, though decadent are too much for the meal I just had. So I ordered the Persian Lime Pie (a nice, manageable, tart lime pudding in a light pie crust with an equally light whipped topping) and an Irish coffee and chalked up another wonderful evening at my favorite place. 

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