Saturday, February 9, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Dinner and a Movie

The Silver Lined Bierhaus

By Steve Herte

Rule to remember: Expect nothing and you'll never be disappointed. That perfectly described what happened Friday night. I didn't know what to expect of the movie and it delivered in spades. I expected more from the restaurant than it could possible deliver and was mildly disappointed. Good thing it was only restaurant 2,519. I like to have great experiences on the round numbers. So next time, who knows? But for now, enjoy.

Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein, 2012) – Director: David O. Russell. Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Brea Bree. 

This romance about interpersonal relationships and insanity attained its high rating despite the language (which was strangely appropriate) and its lack of any special effects (which were irrelevant). Russell’s writing and direction gave the characters (all of them, not just the leads) the tools to be so believably annoying that one falls in love with them.

Cooper plays Pat Solitano, who has just spent time in a mental institution in Baltimore and who, through the finagling of his mother Dolores (Weaver) gets out early. Everyone in the audience can tell that he’s neither cured nor stable. He vacillates from moments of deep psychological insight and paranoid frenzy. Nevertheless, his therapy has given him an outline for sanity – finding Silver Linings – and a motto, “Excelsior!” In his more cogent instances he believes he will get back together with his wife Nikki (Bree) – who has long since sold the house and moved on with her life – and everything will be back to normal.

We learn the reason for Pat’s institutionalization later in the movie. He came home one night and heard his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amor,” playing and a trail of Nikki’s clothing leading up to the bathroom. Thinking she would like him to join her in the shower he follows the trail, but learns the shower is already crowded with her lover, whom he beats bloody and senseless. Diagnosis: bipolar disorder.

Pat’s father, Pat Senior (DeNiro), doesn’t know his son was released against medical advice and is delighted to have his “good luck charm” home. He has lost his job and is now making a living at making book on sports games involving Philadelphia teams. He’s also obsessive-compulsive and superstitious at the same time. He believes that if his son watches the games with him, and he has his lucky green handkerchief, they will win and he’ll make enough money to open the restaurant he always dreamed about.

Pat’s Mom, we learn at the end of the movie (Spoiler Alert), has other ideas. She knows Nikki’s situation and arranges a series of “chance meetings” between her son and Nikki’s best friend Tiffany (Lawrence) who, it just so happens, is just as crazy as her son and a perfect match.

The first day home, Pat Junior breaks both restraining orders imposed on him by the court by visiting Nikki’s home and the school where he formerly taught. He meets Tiffany and makes a deal with her: If she gets a letter to Nikki, he will help her compete in a local dance contest.

There are several good scenes in Silver Linings Playbook showcasing the talents of the actors. Twice at three and four in the morning Pat Junior wakes his parents (and the whole neighborhood on the second occasion) first to tell them how stupid A Farewell to Arms is after having chucked the book out a closed window, and second to obsess about finding his wedding video, a scene which gets manically physical.

Tiffany and Pat are getting closer with the dance rehearsals. Pat Senior decides to bet all of his savings on the Eagles/Giants game and insists his son attend the game (since he himself has been banned from the stadium for fighting). Pat Junior gets into a fight, the Eagles lose, and Pat Senior cannot understand how his lucky charm could let him down. After listing several Philadelphia team successes coinciding with Pat Junior and herself being together and explaining Pat’s motto, “Excelsior!” as being the same as that of the State of New York, and logically concluding that it was a really dumb idea for him to be at the Eagles/Giants game, Tiffany gets through to Papa Solitano.

Much to the entire family’s dismay, Dad sets up a double-or-nothing bet with his friend on the Eagles/Cowboys game with a parlay that Tiffany and Pat score at least a 5 in the dance contest. There are a few white-knuckle moments and the dance contest looks unwinnable, but they connect on the dance floor, blow the big move toward the end, achieve the average score of 5, the Eagles win and everyone is joyous. Even though the other dancers (who are dressed and dance like Dancing with the Stars contestants) look on in mocking shock.

Nikki turns up at the dance contest. Tiffany thinks Pat will dump her to get back with his wife and leaves, but he chases her, tells her he fell in love with her at first meeting, and the movie is complete.

There are several Oscar-worthy performances in this film (eight nominations). The writing is very clever and mildly humorous (some in the audience were laughing out loud – must have been America’s Funniest Home Videos lovers) and the cinematography was excellent. I even recognized the Llanerch Diner in one scene where I stopped for lunch a long time ago, and Chestnut Street where the last scene is played out. And I loved it when, at a crucial moment of introspection for Pat Junior, Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” plays. For a movie that I had my doubts about, it delivered more than I could have imagined. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Bierhaus NYC
712 3rd Avenue (45th Street)New York 

This restaurant is only the 28th German restaurant I have dined at in my career and only the 26th in the United States (the others were in Germany and Canada), so considering the rarity of the cuisine and my many pleasant experiences at German eateries, I was anticipating something wundebar.

Upon rounding the corner of 45th Street onto 3rd Avenue I located the second-story chalet-style façade with its charming gingerbread ornamentation. At street level however, was an empty, dismal glassed-in space and I started to wonder how I would get up there when the Munich-blue canvas door appeared. On opening the door a large brick-house of a man in a long black coat and matching knit cap was descending the stairs, so I turned aside to let him pass (he looked like a tall Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes on steroids). He was the doorman.

Okay, so I climbed the stairs as the loud music tried to push me back down them. I couldn’t imagine what I had gotten myself into this time. At the top of the stairs were two slim girls, one in black (the hostess) and one in a pink dirndl (a waitress). I bent down and shouted my reservation to them and the waitress led me to one of the long heavy wooden tables with equally long, heavy wooden benches. Already seated at the table were eight young ladies, drinking and awaiting number nine. Oh well, so much for awkwardness.

There was no place to hang my coat so I draped it over the end of the bench. The young ladies were deep in animated conversation amongst themselves, and I decided to take in the décor. To the left of the stairs is the bar, dominating that side of the room. The long tables stand in ranks leading away from it to a glassed-in verandah overlooking the avenue. In the extreme right corner is the stage, where a live, four-piece band (two guitars, keyboard and drums) was making the sound everyone seemed to be trying to talk over. Don’t get me wrong – the band was really good. They did some excellent reproductions of Beatles’ songs and Billy Joel’s She’s Got a Way and The Downeaster ‘Alexa,’ but I would have liked to hear German songs on this occasion. The blue and white Bavarian harlequin-patterned banners streamed from the center ceiling skylight, from which hung an impressively heavy chandelier. Three large flat-screened TVs played the night’s feature basketball game. That (aside from the band) severely detracted from the overall “Oktoberfest in Munich” atmosphere, not to mention the several bulked-up men in black patrolling the restaurant looking for unruly patrons.

My waitress, Hannah appeared and asked for my drink order. I was surprised at there being only four featured beers (Bierhaus means “Beer House,” really?) so I chose the Hofbräu Hefe Weitz in the 1.5 liter glass for starters, a rich, fairly sweet old-style wheat beer with “a wonderful combination of banana and clove flavors.” It was excellent, although I didn’t get the banana and clove thing. Hannah explained the restaurant policy of holding a credit card for the tab and returning it upon finishing, so I agreed.

The two-page laminated menu features the Grill Menu on one side: Appetizers, Wursts, Soups, Sandwiches and Sides; and the Traditional Items: Main Courses, Salads and Desserts on the other. None of the appetizers attracted me, especially not the fried sauerkraut balls or the smoked trout fillet, and certainly not the cold cuts platter. I toyed with the idea of the Wilhelm Wurst Platter, but then I saw that it serves 4 to 6 people. I chose the Haus Beef Goulash to start with. It was an impressively large bowl and a nice reddish-brown color and it had several pieces of beef in it but it was a little too soupy (that’s why it was under the category of Soups, Steve). Sorry, but I like authentic Hungarian Goulash. It came with two slices of toasted baguette.

I had finished my first beer and asked Hannah for a recommendation. I tried the Hofbräu Dunkel (Dark) Weizen (Hannah’s favorite), a dark variant on Weissbier (literally, White Beer), mild and sweeter but yeasty and malty. I liked it even better and stayed with it.

Normally, in any German restaurant I avoid Sauerbraten for fear of disappointment. It’s a dish that requires a long marinating period for the meat and therefore always has to be prepared beforehand. However, I went against my own rule and ordered it. One thing I noticed right away was that the unbearably cute waitresses only took the orders and served the beer. Young men served the food. As the place was packed with people standing around waiting for tables, there was a long waiting time between order and delivery. 

Eventually my sauerbraten platter arrived, with two rather thick slices that were tender enough to cut with a fork and were nicely sour; as was the gravy. The radish salad that came with it was the most exotic item on the menu – thinly sliced pickled “pink” radishes that surprised my taste buds with piquant flavor. Also on the plate: a sautéed zucchini side and some mildly tasty mashed potatoes. As none of the items on this plate was more than lukewarm, I considered sending it back but then computed the time it would take for it to come back right and decided against that.

The mashed potatoes wore thin on me and had me wishing I had substituted Spaetzle (home-made noodles) but then an idea dawned. I got Hannah’s attention and ordered a pretzel with spicy mustard. (Finally, something served hot!) Between the beer and the pretzel I believe I had the best Bierhaus NYC has to offer. Unfortunately, the portions were large enough to fill me to the point of demurring on the Black Forest Cake (one of my favorites). I asked for the check and nearly fell off the uncomfortable bench at the ridiculously low total. This explained why the place was packed – all the cheapies and tourists. I was already tired of shouting so I didn’t tell Hannah that I’ve paid more than that for an appetizer. I just paid the bill, did my necessaries and descended the stairs while “Schultz” let me out.

I don’t know if I will return to Bierhaus NYC or not. If I do, I’ll be wearing earplugs.

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