Sunday, June 16, 2013

Now You See Me

Dinner and a Movie

Now Maxwell Sees Bailey

By Steve Herte

Lately I'm feeling almost like a dinosaur being thrust into the 21st Century. Up until now I was used to Windows XP on my old laptop until it died forever a few weeks ago. Now I have a new laptop with Windows 8, a touch-screen monitor and a Wi-Fi hotspot, and I'm so steeped in new technology that my head is spinning. But I will prevail. Once I can activate Windows and get onto the internet, I'm sure I'll be surging forward into . . . whatever.

This edition of Dinner and a Movie is more like a movie sandwich with two restaurants forming the bread – a lunch and a dinner.  Enjoy!

Maxwell’s Bar & Restaurant
59 Reade Street (between Church Street and Broadway), New York

With the promise of lunch to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day, I jumped at the invitation from my boss to eat at Maxwell’s. The former site of Spaghetti Western, Maxwell’s has earned an “A” rating and high accolades from dining websites. I pass it on the way home from work and appetizing aromas are always emanating to the street. Upon entering, however, the featured Fish Burger was the dominant scent and I began to have my doubts.

The formerly garish posters featuring cowboy movies made in Italy (hence the former name) have been removed, as have the booths that lined both walls and the center divider (which made navigating the place difficult for patrons as well as servers), rendering a more spacious, inviting restaurant. The dark wood paneling remains and antique memorabilia line the shelves over the tables and chairs. Three very large mirrors hang on the walls, two facing the bar and one over it to add to the illusion of increased space.

The menu features Soups & Salads, Appetizers, Sandwiches, Flatbread Pizza, Burgers and Entrées. The selection is eclectic and includes such diverse choices as Guacamole, Hummus, a Cuban Sandwich, a Cayenne Turkey Burger, Shepherd’s Pie and Pasta. I chose the soup of the day: Spinach Arugula. It was a delightful – but unusually dark green – puree of the two title ingredients with four floating croutons and a mild peppery aftertaste, served in a crock. I can honestly say that I’ve never had this combination before and I really liked it once I got past the color. The Bison Burger (yes, real ground bison meat) was juicy and lean (as bison meat is compared to beef); the Swiss cheese and a healthy slice of onion topped it nicely. It was sided with some of the crispest doubled fried French fries I’ve ever eaten, tomato slices and pickle slices. Other dishes chosen by my group were the Iceberg Lettuce Wedge salad (which has definitely evolved from the simple title dish and had bacon as well as a flavorful dressing), the Fish and Chips – a good sized offering of crispy fried fish, the Penne al Pesto (which smelled divine and was enough for two), and the Tuscan Vegetable Wrap (which was colorful and good sized as well as satisfying).

Since I didn’t hear any complaints and the pasta was wrapped to go, I think I can safely conclude that all enjoyed the food as much as I did. In fact, I still want to return for a dinnertime dining experience. Maxwell’s – a definite improvement over Spaghetti Western – is an asset to dining in downtown Manhattan.

Now You See Me (Summit Entertainment, 2013) – Director: Louis Leterrier. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Isla Fisher, Melanie Laurent, & Dave Franco. Color, 115 minutes.

It’s tough not to rave about a movie so completely well-constructed as this one. The casting, acting, stage sets, special effects, locations, cinematography, soundtrack, stunts, and superb direction by Letterier blend together like a fine mouthwatering recipe passed down from generation to generation. Each scene delights the eye, excites the mind and makes you want more.

The story tells of four Illusionists (not Magicians, mind you) who are so-so in their individual performances and who are “recruited” by a mysterious man in a gray hoodie to join together in a spectacular act as the “Four Horsemen.” J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) deals in sleight of hand, card tricks and picking locks, Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) is the more traditional stage performer who saws women in half, Merritt McKinney (Harrelson) reads minds and does mentalist work, and Henley Reeves (Fisher) a former assistant, is now an escape artist. Together, they perform their amazing feats in three venues: the huge stage in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, a beautiful old theater in New Orleans and the 5 Pointz (not the 5 Points in Manhattan, but the Aerosol Company building in Queens). Unfortunately, these “magical” moments involve robbing the French Republique Bank in Paris (right from the vault), draining their “benefactor” Arthur Tressler’s (Caine) $144 million bank account into those held by victims of Katrina, and swiping an enormous safe and distributing the money to the crowd at the third performance.

The FBI and Interpol both become aware of these major heists, so Jack Wilder (Franco) and Alma Dray (Laurant) have to get over their diametrically opposed police methods to try and capture the thieves. Freeman adds a cynical touch to the plot as Thaddeus Bradley, a magic trick debunker (yet he still believes in voodoo) who gets paid handsomely to figure out how each illusion was constructed.

All four illusionists are excellent actors and believable characters in their confident, arrogant demeanor and their cautious interaction with each other. Harrelson is at his peak. You never know whether to love him or hate him. Franco is great playing the befuddled FBI agent who cannot understand why the Four Horsemen are always one or two steps ahead of him. Freeman does his usual grade “A” acting being mysterious, condescending, greed-motivated and yet lovable self. He manages to explain the first two robberies and the third becomes evident at the end.

In the course of these performances there was one that totally awed me. Dylan was creating large soap bubbles out of nothing but his two hands and sending them floating over the audience. He makes a particularly huge one and Henley jumps into it like Glinda and sails above the crowd. It pops and she falls into his arms – a truly wonderful special effect. The lighting and projection effects at the 5 Pointz building are mesmerizing, first turning it into a huge projection screen and later rippling across its graffiti-covered exterior to make it appear as if the building were alive.

Now You See Me is a thrilling mystery within a mystery with something for everyone that keeps you guessing until the end, and even then leaves the audience slack-jawed. There’s even a subplot about a former illusionist who locked himself in a safe and had it thrown into the East River in New York who was never recovered, and a mysterious place called the Eye of Horus to which all illusionists aspire. You’re always wondering who is the antagonist or the protagonist and if what they are doing is really good or bad. It’s definitely a must-see. You won’t be disappointed. Considering it was the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that wasn’t animated, a fantasy or a science fiction, I was gob-smacked. Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Bailey Pub & Brasserie
52 William Street (Pine Street) New York 

The words “Pub” and “Brasserie” have always had contradictory definitions to me as their English and French origins would imply. How in the world does one reconcile the combination of the two? And yet, The Bailey manages this seemingly impossible feat by creating a pub atmosphere with a varied, distinctly European menu featuring pub food.

I opened the door and tried to scale the three or four steps up while the lively crowd noise at the bar combined with the music tried to blow me back. When I successfully ascended to the captain’s station I took a deep breath and projected a “Good evening” and my reservation time over the swirling din to the attractive young lady who was only then able to hear me. She checked the computer and indicated that I follow her past the enormous white plaster bull looming to my left (ready to charge) and the 65-foot curving bar on the right to a table all the way in the back where normal conversation was possible.

Seated on the bright red leather banquette facing the rear window, I was able to read the name of the restaurant in reverse through it. The walls are muted shades of gray and the lighting subtle. The only art besides the bull was a large brightly colored painting of a tropical fish on the rear wall. After I commented on the “lively” crowd, the captain agreed, stating that it’s a usual and necessary recurrence, smiled and returned to her duties.

My waitress soon appeared, took my water preference, and presented me with the Dinner, Cocktail and Wine menus. Even though the cocktail list featured 50 beers, 4 Ciders, 3 non-alcoholic beers, 15 Tequilas and drinks with such titles as “Big Irish Lebowski,” “Pink Floyd,” and “Effin’ Bloody Good,” I decided to order my traditional Beefeater Martini (made my way, not James Bond’s). The decision was good, exactly as I would make it at home. Noting that my waitress seemed eager to take my order for food or questions on the menu I formulated three questions: “Is the Shepherd’s Pie made with lamb?” “No, beef.” “That’s Cottage Pie.” “Yeah, we know.” Second question, “Is there ample garlic in the Caesar Salad dressing?” “No.” “Pity, I like it that way. It’s the original recipe.” “Me too.” Third question, “What is the Soup of the Day?” “Cream of Asparagus.” “Hmmm…”

I finished the martini and ordered today’s soup, the Seasonal Oysters on the Half Shell, and the Fettuccini Pasta (and the twin of my martini). My waitress asked if I wanted the soup or the appetizer first and I assured her it didn’t matter, as long as everything didn’t come at the same time. The soup arrived first and was a surprise. It was made from white asparagus, not green, and was as delightful in flavor as it was in color. At this point I might reiterate how I love restaurants that understate their dishes and I told my waitress. It most often results in pleasant surprises as opposed to severe disappointments when a dish is over-described. I used the hot fluffy biscuit-like rolls to mop up every drop.

The second martini was indeed the clone of the first as the oysters were delivered on a bed of ice and accompanied by both a horseradish/tomato sauce and a vinegar sauce (I used both). I agree that oysters are an acquired taste, but when you get to my stage you appreciate the fine quality and flavor of these beautiful tender bivalves.  While I was still reveling in the first two dishes the main course came.

The Fettuccini Pasta filled my head with the aroma of its Basil-Mint pesto and caressed two of my other senses with juicy chunks of lamb sausage, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese (and yes, it was indeed fettuccini). Remembering the wine list by the glass, I ordered the Argentinean Cabernet Sauvignon, Cuvelier Los Andes by Michel Rolland – Mendoza. It was perfect. “Pub” and “Brasserie” became one in The Bailey and I was waxing rhapsodic. Using the second order of bread to finish the pesto sauce I started thinking about dessert.

Sticky Toffee Pudding and a Cool Swan Irish Coffee were the crowning touch to the meal. The pudding was like an English Plum pudding (more like a soft, moist cake) and the toffee sauce provided the “sticky” part – delicious. What makes a Cool Swan Irish Coffee better than any other? The smooth, creamy flavor with only a mild kick is the answer. The Bailey Pub & Brasserie will have my recommendations for a lunch or a dinner and will definitely get a return trip.

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