Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Croods 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Of Food and Croods

By Steve Herte 

I would not call myself either impulsive or spontaneous. I like planned events that work out to the second so going to a restaurant without reservations is outside my comfort zone, but that's exactly what I did. The movie had a deeper effect than I thought. The female lead, Eep, looked so much like Helene I couldn't take my eyes off her - right down to the big eyes, reddish hair and voice (maybe a little higher pitched). Well, read on and enjoy!

The Croods 3D (DreamWorks 2013) Director: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders. Cast: Voices of Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Randy Thom, and Chris Sanders. Color, 3-D, 98 minutes.

DreamWorks has truly outdone itself with a movie that lives up to every hyper advertisement! The Croods is as visually beautiful (especially in 3D) as its plot and writing is imaginative and funny. The characters are drawn to be unusual and different but they are so well created and animated that the mind accepts them as real, right down to the last hair blowing in the breeze. There were no empty spaces or dead time in the entire one hour and thirty-eight minutes and there was always something new to see and wonder at.

The Croods are a cave family consisting of Grug (voiced by Cage) the father, Ugga (Keener) the mother, Eep (Stone) the daughter, Thunk (Duke) the half-witted son, Gran (Leachman), Uggas mother, and Sandy (Thom) the baby daughter. They’ve lived in the same cave for as long as Eep remembers and she’s had enough. She wants to explore other lands, see where all the light is coming from, and discover new things. But Grug, being the over-protective father, warns that everything new or exists beyond the cave is dangerous and even the story he tells (he only has one) describes what happens to the disobedient child who strays from the cave and “Dies!” (as he slaps a handful of red clay on the wall).

Eep cannot restrain herself. She sees a strange flickering light one night and leaves the cave to find its source and meets Guy (Reynolds), the only surviving member of his family – who met their untimely demise in a tar pit, we later learn – and she is both fascinated and attracted to him at once. Guy has discovered fire, something the Croods have never seen. When Eep first encounters him the 3D effect sends embers floating around the theater audience. Guy’s wearing a warthog skin complete with head and she thinks he’s a beast and attacks – until he removes the head. Later on she tells Gran that she thought he was a warthog but then he turned into a man and Gran tells her, “Usually it’s the other way around with men.”

Guy has a hard time making friends with the rest of the Croods, especially Grug who views him as a double threat. He’s taking his authority away as well as his teenage daughter. But gradually he wins over the whole family – and by the end of the movie, Grug too – and convinces them to follow him to the sun and the land of “tomorrow.” He tries to explain that the land is changing and they must make it to the twin peaks before all they are familiar with is destroyed (as an intro to the movie, the explanation is given that this is the time of continental drift on Earth and Pangaea is literally breaking up). Still, it’s not until they actually see their home cave destroyed that they agree to follow. This is also where actual science stops and we have to suspend our belief.

They travel through a myriad of topographies from jungles of carnivorous plants, through mazes of arroyos, to dry desert, to bayous, to extinct ocean floors (where Guy makes shoes for all of them because the coral is too sharp for their bare feet). They encounter flocks of carnivorous red birds, herds of tiny elephants, whales that walk on stumpy legs and a giant saber-toothed cat (for want of a better word – the fangs are protruding from the wrong jaw and he’s mostly robin’s egg blue and pink fur). There are bird-like creatures with two sets of wings like a dragonfly and leafy swimming beasts with long necks topped by elephant-like heads. Along the way he tells the Croods stories and teaches them what a joke is. Gradually they become more and more civilized.

The Croods is an extremely fanciful tale with completely believable characters and – dare I say it? – excellent acting jobs by an all-animated cast. I’ve always said that I’ve loved Cage more when I can’t see him and he does a remarkable job as Grug. Stone is the perfect rebellious teenager ready to take on all the adventure life can give. Even Guy’s clinging, long-armed simian sidekick Belt (Sanders) – you know him from the trailers saying “Dun, dun, DUN!” – is a wonderful endearing character. I heard the children in the audience laughing at the funny gags. The adults got the references to other films like Avatar, Journey 2 Mysterious Island, and several Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner parallels. It deserves the highest recommendation and is a must-see for the whole family. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Saravanaa Bhavan
81 Lexington Avenue (corner of 26th Street), New York City

Nothing is more perfect for a Friday night dinner in Lent than an all-vegetarian restaurant, and for me an Indian vegetarian should be absolute heaven. I must admit, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from Saravanaa Bahavan because I’ve only been to one Indian vegetarian place before (Vatan, not too far away from SB) and it was lovely. May I preface this by saying I shy away from restaurants that are too brightly lit, serve “fast” food, and do not display their menu online. Nevertheless I needed to try Saravanaa Bhavan because of its Zagat ranking as the fifth most popular Indian restaurant in New York.

The company owning Saravanaa Bhavan has many worldwide locations including 10 in India proper, six in the U.S. (two in New York), two in Canada, two in England, one in Paris on the Gare du Nord, and more in the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Singapore, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain (it’s all on their take-out menu, believe me). The décor is minimalist Indian, white walls, banquettes and chairs with pedestal tables and a couple of artfully carved partitions between windows to the street.

The menu is a single-laminated card with Appetizers, Dosas (thin crisp wheat and rice crepe-like creations), Uthappams (fluffier pancake-like dishes), Breads, Thalis (complete dinners), Specialties, Rice, and Sides on one side and the Wines and Drinks, and Desserts on the other. It was difficult to choose my dinner because 90 percent of the menu was completely new to me. I’ve had Dosas before but never seen a selection of 26 of them and there were nine different Uthappams. My waiter, who hails from Africa and only goes by the moniker MB, was very attentive bringing me a steel cup of water and took my drink order (they had an Indian beer I’ve never tried, 1947). The beer was smooth and refreshing as I considered my choices. I had read from a review that it was easy to order too much food here and I know Dosas are usually platter-sized.

I decided to go with an appetizer, a soup and a Dosa. From the wine list (which was much shorter than the Dosa list) I chose a 2010 Zinfandel from Double Decker vineyards, California. It was a screw-top bottle but you really cannot go wrong with a Zinfandel – especially with Indian food. It was great. The appetizer was Plantain Bajji – slices of plantain coated with a chickpea batter and deep fried, served with sambar, (a spicy sauce) and mint and cheese chutneys. It was served on a segmented steel platter that gleamed in the already bright light. When it arrived MB asked me if I wanted a knife to cut it (there was none on the table to begin with) and supplied the needed silverware. The dish was delicious as were the accompaniments. The spice in the mint chutney was a cumulative effect, though.

I had not finished my appetizer when the main course and soup came together. My fault, I didn’t warn MB that I’m a slow eater. Fortunately the table was large enough to accommodate both steel platters. The Dosa was a little over a foot square on the main part of the dish and the two chutneys occupied two of the three other segments. The Rasam (a spicy Indian lentil soup) was between them in the third segment sitting a steel ramekin of its own. The Onion Chillie (that’s how they spelled it) Rava Masala part of the Dosa (its stuffing) was served in a pile on top of the Dosa. 

There was no conceivable way to eat this dish with fork and knife so I tore a piece of the Dosa and used my fork to ladle some of the potato and peas-based stuffing into it and ate with my hands, dipping it into the chutneys. It was wonderful and delicious and again, spicy but not what I’m used to. In my favorite (now, unfortunately burnt to the ground) Indian restaurant the Dosa was served rolled, like a proper crepe with the filling throughout. It was easy to eat with fork and knife.

Saravanaa was doing an extremely lively business that night and I guess I should have been happy I got a table (they don’t take reservations) and I was but, being so close to the front door, the wintry breeze every time it opened chilled my dinner as well, so I ate a little faster than usual. Recapping: bright lights, no online menu, ‘fast’ food, all were covered.

MB was surprised I wanted dessert. I always love Indian desserts and there was one I’ve never tried called Rava Kesari. It was described as roasted sooji (semolina) sweetened with sugar, mixed with raisins and nuts and garnished with ghee (buffalo butter). What arrived were two fluffy carrot-colored, egg-shaped delights that tasted like melt-in-the-mouth Halwah. What a wonderful surprise! The Masala (spiced) tea was also excellent and made the proper way, with evaporated milk.

I found all the food and drink in Saravanaa Bhavan excellent – a little too spicy for people less used to it than myself – but authentic, honest Indian cuisine. I believe I will try their Upper East Side restaurant (which does take reservations) now that I know what I’m doing in the hopes that the lighting is more subdued and the speed of service is more relaxed.

As a final note, the car parked around the corner from the restaurant was more interesting than the ambiance.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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