Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Dinner and a Movie

The Darkness of Cherbuliez

By Steve Herte

With the crazy weather we've been having added to the conflicting dress codes for the restaurant on Friday I played it safe and went NY black - well, you'll see how that played out. While the new Star Trek cast encourages me I think they should find some of the old writers (if any are left). All in all, it turned out to be a very interesting evening. Enjoy!

Star Trek Into Darkness, 3D (Paramount, 2013) Director: J.J. Abrams. Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, John Cho, & Bruce Greenwood. Color and 3D, 132 minutes.

Two hooded figures are running frantically through the red-leafed white trees on the M-Class planet Nibiru and are being chased by natives in skeletal white body make-up bearing spears. We hear, “Jim, what did you take from them?!” and see that young James T. Kirk is holding what appears to be a scroll. The Enterprise cannot beam them up because it is hiding in the planet’s ocean. The volcano is about to erupt and destroy the entire civilization, the scroll is dropped and the two figures jump from an impossibly high cliff into the ocean, accessing the Enterprise under water. Thus begins the second installment of the new Star Trek.

It’s a small sample of the high-action adventure yet to come. In order to save the developing primitives from extinction, Spock has to detonate a fusion device inside the volcano but his umbilical from the shuttlecraft breaks and it looks like the end for him until Kirk breaks the Prime Directive and has Enterprise rise out of the ocean before the astonished natives to go save Spock. Meanwhile, the alien race has forgotten their sacred scroll and now worships an enormous starship-shaped god.

Back on Earth, Kirk is relieved of his command by Admiral Christopher Pike (Greenwood), Spock is reassigned to the starship Bradbury and a mysterious man named John Harrison has just blown up an underground compound critical to Starfleet Command. Pike has arranged that Kirk now become his First Officer on board the Enterprise and a meeting is held to decide what is to be done about this character attacking Starfleet. Kirk notices an anomaly on a video screen and concludes that the next target for this person is the very same meeting hall where they now sit. Too late, a small ship explodes the windows and is firing on all in the room. Kirk thwarts the attack using a convenient fire hose, jamming the small ship’s propulsion device and crashing it, but not before Admiral Pike becomes a casualty and the perpetrator escapes to the Klingon home world.

The evil doer is later revealed to be none other than Khan (Cumberbatch) and he wants the remainder of his genetically engineered “crew” (who are now in cryogenic capsules) back, so they can take over. But Admiral Marcus (Weller) knows of Khan’s plan and is prepared to manipulate it into a full-scale war with the Klingon Empire. Is this too complex for anyone yet? How about a continuing love affair between Spock and Uhura? Or a cameo appearance by Leonard Nimoy as . . . who else?

There is enough action and explosions in Star Trek Into Darkness to satisfy the biggest Die Hard fan (both literally and figuratively) and the entire cast has grown into their roles beautifully. Though Pine’s performance in the first movie was a bit rocky, he is much more believable now. Spock (Quinto), Doctor McCoy (Urban), Uhura (Saldana), Scotty (Pegg), Chekov (Yelchin), and Sulu (Cho) have got their sea-legs (or rather space-legs) and are completely acceptable young versions of the characters we know they will grow up to be. The only character I had a problem with is Khan. I do not believe he will age into Ricardo Montalban.

The 3D effects in the film are generally well done (I actually ducked a spear) but there was one effect I found distracting and at times annoying. Whatever the intent, it appeared that I was watching the movie through a “glass” and there were reflections on that glass as a part of the the 3D effects. Also at times the action and the lighting counteracted the 3D to the point of making the movie look more like a video game than an actual reality. If you like make-up there are a number of aliens I’ve never seen, including one who works with Scotty who has a head shaped like a blue Patty-pan squash and another one on the ship whose skin is like burnished copper. There are a number of “gifts” in this Star Trek, such as the Café Kelvin in one scene and the two beautiful girls Kirk wakes up with in another (until you see their lion-like tails).

Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun movie with several white-knuckle moments and the typical Star Trek humor (“I once performed a caesarean section on a pregnant Gorn – octuplets! – boy, they can bite!” – Bones), although I expected more of that than there was. And yes, it’s science fiction but Isaac Asimov would have had fits about the temporal anomaly in it, that and the starship Enterprise looks more modern than the television version (until you see the warp core, that is). Are the Academy award possibilities to be had? Maybe, just maybe, in the special effects, make-up, or costume departments. Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Chateau Cherbuliez
47 West 20th Street (6th Avenue) New York

When choosing a restaurant on, I was immediately attracted to the photo of the interior of Chateau Cherbuliez and the formal French name. Interested in the dress code I was shocked to see merely “Smart Casual.” Hmmm. I made the reservation anyway. When the confirmation notice came up on my email I saw the request to “please respect our dress code of elegant chic.” Now I was really confused. The second made sense with the photo and the first made no sense at all.

The building is a de-consecrated gothic-revival Episcopal Church built in 1840 (originally The Church of the Holy Communion) which was revamped into a disco club called “Limelight” and later the name was changed to “Avalon.” A fancy French sign hung over the entrance to the “Biergarten” (not French), which was the church courtyard. I was definitely overdressed compared to the Greenwich Village motley group assembled there. I stood by what appeared to be the Captain’s Station until someone who seemed to know what was going on noticed me and I announced my reservation and was led inside.

The room in which I was seated alone was a little smaller than my living room/dining room space at home and supported a bar and - at most - eight bare slate pedestal tables, open brick walls, a very large mirror on one wall and the “wine cellar” behind French graffiti-ed glass forming another wall. The sconces and the chandelier were elegant works of glass and bronze artistry had not someone tastelessly hung strands of faux pearls from them. The two patterns of the tiled floor told me that this room was sectioned off differently at one time.

My waiter, William presented me with the menu and asked my water preference. “Tap” is always my answer in New York. When he brought the water I had time only to view the cocktail part of the single card, two-sided menu and he asked if was ready for an appetizer. I started worrying. I told him I would like a cocktail and that the one entitled “Limelight” – Alacran Tequila, Angostura bitters, fresh lime juice, pomegranate and soda water - was appropriate considering this building’s former incarnation. He was delighted and noted it down and was off to put in the order.

Shortly thereafter he was back to take my food order. I asked for a wine list. He said he had Chardonnay, Rose, and Montepulciano. I asked if that was by the glass or by the bottle and he said, “both.” And indeed, when I inspected the “wine cellar” there were only the three colors of wine behind the glass. I chose the Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Colli Bruni vineyards (sorry, I didn’t see a year on the label) and it was brought out promptly. The taste was satisfactory and William poured a glass and let the bottle breathe. I chose my appetizer so that he could have something to work on. (Meanwhile, just outside the door, the courtyard was bustling with activity and sound.)

The Slow-Cooked Duck Confit salad arrived in a simple white ceramic plate covered in fresh wild arugula and shaved Romano cheese. Underneath was the tasty, slightly shredded warm duck meat on a bed of goat cheese with cubed beets and a mushroom dressing. I was enjoying this with my wine when William returns and apologizes for the bar because they have not finished making the lime juice for my cocktail, and wondered if I would like a different cocktail – maybe a La Fontaine? I agreed on the cocktail change and thought, “What a silly place.”

The experience thus far changed my main course choice much as it had my appetizer. There was no way I was going to order carpaccio or steak tatare here – nothing uncooked – because I now didn’t trust anyone, including the chef. The White Veal Ragu looked promising but it was over rigatoni, which is one of my two least favorite pastas. When I mentioned my dislike of rigatoni William did not suggest a substitute. I decided to go basic and order the Boeuf Bourguignon.

The La Fontaine arrived with much effusion from William (“it’s my favorite cocktail”) looking like a bubbly pink tutu in an old-fashioned champagne glass (the one you see in all the old black and white movies, not a flute). It was indeed Prosecco mixed with raspberry syrup and Grey Goose Cherry-noir. By now my tastes were not ready for something that sweet but I tasted it, suppressed a gag and smiled up at William. He had already put in my order for the main course and I noted that I had forgotten my side dish, Brussels Sprouts with Bacon. A quick jot on his pad and he was off again.

I took another taste of the happy little girly drink when the side dish arrived via a different server. What the? The Brussels sprouts were fairly large and halved, a little crunchier than I might have liked but liberally coated with a garlicky bacon mixture which I eventually finished. William was back. “Would you like bread?” Thoughts of Disney cartoons flashed in my mind. “Yes, bread always goes with a meal.”

The breadbasket came next, the main dish still in the wings. It was similar to the wonderful crusty bread I had at Landmarc TriBeCa except this was not quite as fresh and was toasted rather than just warmed. Nevertheless it became useful. While I was mopping up the bacon sauce in the Brussels sprouts, William remembered the olive oil that should have arrived with it. (This must be a cartoon!)  The main course finally made its appearance, an enormous dish with a soup-bowl sized depression in the center, wherein resided the finely riced mashed potatoes with the dark rich beef cubes on top. The plate was definitely hot and it maintained that heat until I finished the sauce with the bread.

The dessert menu, like the wine list was all in William’s head. Hey, there were only two choices. I chose the Peanut Butter Molten Chocolate Cake, and a double espresso. If you read my reviews, you might recall the excellent volcano cake I had at 12th Street Osteria. This wasn’t it. It did not ooze chocolate and the limp beige sauce tasted nothing like peanut butter. Then I complained (probably to no avail) but at least I let them know.

Being a demon for punishment I asked William about an after-dinner drink and got a blank stare. “How about the cocktail you wanted at the beginning?” Sure, why not. It was the strangest, backward meal I ever had. The “Limelight” was delicious, the food was definitely good but for four months in the business the organization could be much, much better. Especially considering that only one other table in the room was occupied the entire time I was there no matter what was happening outside. 

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