Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Despicable Me 2

Dinner and a Movie

Distilled and Despicable

By Steve Herte 

As I rapidly approach my 63rd birthday I’m beginning to discover actions that have consequences now that didn’t have them before. When I last encountered my great-niece Serafina and she asked me to lift her to the ceiling I did so without thinking about it. Only the strange scowl I received from her mother told me it was wrong. “You know she weighs 50 pounds, right?” Frankly I was proud to have actually pressed and cleared that amount until the next day when my left arm went out and I was on Ibuprofen the remainder of the week.

The evening was drizzly but I was prepared. Helene always told me to expect nothing, for then you’re never disappointed (I think a few reviewers should have done that with The Lone Ranger), but both the movie and the dinner were delights. Enjoy!

Despicable Me 2 (Universal, 2013) – Directors: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud. Voices: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand, Elsie Fisher, Steve Coogan, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nasim Pedrad, Ken Jeong, & Moises Arias. Color, 98 minutes.

“Good-night Agnes, never grow up,” says Gru (Carell) to Agnes (Fisher), the youngest of three girls he adopted from Despicable Me, as he puts her to bed. In this sequel we find Gru playing the part of a loving single father, no longer a super-villain, worrying about his oldest, Margo (Cosgrove), and her interests in boys, and using his huge underground complex to create a line of jellies rather than weapons of mass destruction. The middle child, Edith (Gaier) is the tomboy/ninja who grosses out when “mushy stuff” happens. All three girls are now plotting to get Gru a girlfriend (and hopefully a mother for them) as is the meddling next-door neighbor Jillian (Pedrad).

His army of minions are assisting Doctor Nefario (Brand) make millions of jars of jelly that taste disgusting to all. Doctor Nefario quits because he longs for the times when they were a team of super villains (and he claims he has a better offer).

Meanwhile, someone steals an entire Russian base at the Arctic Circle with a giant flying magnet and the AVL (Anti Villain League) decide that the only way to find the perpetrator is to enlist Gru as an undercover agent. They send their operative Lucy (Wiig) to bring him in, which she does successfully along with two of his minions, Bob and Stuart (both voiced by Coffin). But Gru will have no part of Silas Ramsbottom (Coogan) – the minions have a field day over his name – because he has accepted his new role in life. He calls Silas “Sheep’s Butt” and storms out. But when his minions start disappearing by the dozens he agrees to the job.

His cover is as the owner/operator of “Bake My Day,” a mall bakery in the same mall as the suspected villain, who by the way has invented a serum (purple, of course) that can change a sweet cuddly white rabbit into a voracious purple killer (sounds like Monty Python, right?) – there were killer rabbits in The Lone Ranger as well. Unknown to Gru, Lucy is assigned to be his partner (because she was the newest employee, and nobody else wanted the job) and the two learn to work together. Suddenly the extremely rotund Eduardo (Bratt), owner of the Mexican restaurant Salsa Y Salsa, bursts into the bakery to order dozens of cupcakes with the Mexican flag on them for his Cinco de Mayo party. Gru has a flashback: He remembers a super villain called “El Macho” who looked (much better then) and spoke like Eduardo. But he supposedly died after strapping himself to a shark that was then strapped to a rocket that flew into the mouth of an active volcano. They never found the body. He convinces Lucy to break into Eduardo’s shop after closing, and they are attacked by his watch-chicken.

The AVL however are convinced that the true villain is Floyd (Jeong), the Asian version of Truman Capote and owner of a wig shop in the mall. Traces of the serum are found behind a wall in his shop. Case closed, it would seem, but Gru’s not convinced. Especially when Margot develops a crush on Antonio (Arias), who happens to be Eduardo’s son and thus gets Gru and his girls an invitation to the Cinco de Mayo party. Eduardo acts suspiciously at the party and Gru follows him down to a secret underground hideout. (The code to his elevator is a musical dance floor and the tune is “La Cucaracha.”) Gru’s suspicions are confirmed when he meets Doctor Nefario in the sub-basement and discovers “The Plan” – to turn all of Gru’s minions into vicious purple monsters and unleash them on the world and take it over.

Several friends of mine have recommended “comedies” which left me cold and shocked (Hot Tub Time Machine comes springing to mind), but this movie had me burst out in laughter many times. Not since the remake of The Three Stooges have I laughed so much. Even though the minions speak no English, they’re extremely funny and the dialogue between Gru and any of the other characters is clever as well as funny. The story and the animation were so good I believed in all of them, even if they were improbable in real life. Thank you, Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul for the excellent screenplay, and Universal Studios for a wonderful animated film.

At one hour and 38 minutes it neither gets tedious nor leaves any salient detail out. It just leaves the audience wanting more – although (Spoiler Alert) with the marriage of Gru and Lucy at the end I can’t see where another sequel will be created. I’m also slightly in awe that this is the second film in a row that was good clean fun and a delight for the whole family (the other was The Lone Ranger). I may even see it in 3D, now that I know where all the effects would be. Oh, and make sure to stay for the credits. The fun continues when the movie ends. Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Martini Glasses.

Distilled New York
211 West Broadway (at Franklin Street) New York

In my early years of dining out I made it a point to visit all the most fashionable (and expensive) restaurants in New York City. That done, with the exception of Rao’s (which even Jackie Kennedy couldn’t get into without knowing someone) and maybe a few newer ones (which I will get to eventually), I found the experience had converted me into a snobbish, effete-elite diva who expects proper service at a table away from the unwashed public. This past year or so, all that has changed because the restaurants are more mainstream yuppie places lacking tablecloths and the quiet I became used to.

Distilled New York is a one-month-old bistro (they call it “redefining the public house”) with nothing notable by way of décor except the mediaeval-style wrought iron ring chandeliers. The first thing I noticed was the lively (that is, noisy) bar action to the right and the limited table selection to provide an escape from it (only a few were unoccupied of the 20 or so visible). “We’re going to seat you at the Chef’s table. Is that alright?” said the young lady at the Captain’s station. Affably agreeing, I was then led to a stool at a counter by the open kitchen at the extreme back wall of the restaurant. I noticed that the counter was only about six inches below my chin and the next stool was only an inch away from mine (there were three more). “How in the world was I going to eat like this?” I thought.

Shortly, my waiter, James arrived and introduced himself, handing me the two-sided single-page menu and similarly constructed single-card wine list along with a glass of water. He explained the setup of the menu, the specials, and the popular favorites, and then was off to take care of other customers. The specialty cocktails, beers, meads (I mentioned Mediaeval right?) and wines by the glass were on the reverse side of the food menu.

I decided to try the Mead Americano – an intriguingly delicious mixture of Carroll’s honeyed wine, Aperol, Spring 44 Gin and grapefruit bitters “charged in-house.” While I was enjoying this drink and the free popcorn dusted with brewer’s yeast, garlic and cumin, James reappeared and helped me assemble a three-course meal. I started with the Liver Paté – Chicken Skin Crackers, whipped honey and red wine pickled shallots. This dish was presented on a cutting board; the six-inch long flaky-crisp chicken skins were layered with toasted baguette fingers. The smooth (almost pudding-like) liver paté was in a small glass, as were the whipped honey and red shallots. When I asked how one eats this dish, the server explained. Each little glass had a little spoon – take a piece of chicken skin, add a dollop of liver, a dash of shallots and top it with the honey. It was sinfully delicious even though awkward due to the height of the counter. When I finished it, the chef came over and introduced himself while complimenting me on how cleanly I finished the paté. He then offered me a glass of Moonshine, which I did not turn down. (OK, so “Distilled” means more than one thing here.) I had ordered a glass of 2009 Ernesto Catena Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina) to go with the appetizer and James was surprised to see the shot of white lightning and accompanying lemon soda chaser show up after it. It was a first for me by itself and definitely an acquired taste for most but I liked it – smooth but with a definite kick.

At about this time, a good-looking young couple was seated at the two stools one stool away from me. They also ordered the moonshine and chicken wings. I had to remark on how beautifully presented the wings were, all golden brown and glistening and stacked like cordwood on the plate. I was on my second course, the Carrot and Kale salad – three colors of carrots (purple, white and orange) thinly sliced with kale and golden raisins and cilantro in whole grain mustard vinaigrette. It was a good-sized salad and I was starting to hope my main course was not that large. The server who came to remove my finished glass of Malbec caught my attention and I asked her to replace it with a glass of 2012 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc (Dry Creek Valley) to go with the salad, which she did (much to the surprise of James – he thought I’d performed a miracle). The young man to my left noticed that I also tried the moonshine and asked if I would like another (he was celebrating his birthday). Again I did not demur and thanked him. We toasted when it arrived and in moments it was gone.

Then my main course arrived. I had been monitoring the dishes as they virtually flew from the kitchen accompanied by the barked codes from the chef and had pretty much figured out which would be mine and I was right. The Country Fried Duck & Waffles was a five-inch-long, thick cutlet of duck meat in a crispy tan coating resting on a mattress of French toast waffle over which the server poured rich maple syrup. Having survived the two previous courses I was glad I’m not a diabetic. One taste and I was back in Atlanta at that plantation mansion having the richest dinner in my career. The celebrating couple saw my dish and asked about it. I warned them how rich and heavy it was and they ordered it too. Then I instructed them in the way to get maximum decadence out of the experience and it produced the same awed reaction for them as I got. A glass of 2011 Slingshot Vineyard Cabernet (Napa Valley) became the perfect partner to this dish and it amazed me that I finished them both.

“Dessert?” said James. “Why not?” I said.  Of the four offered on the menu the only one that interested me was the strawberry cheesecake with pink peppercorn, rhubarb and mascarpone sauce. I took my time and relished every bite. Coffee after such a fattening feast didn’t cut it, so after a few “don’t have its,” I settled on a glass of Grand Marnier. Suddenly the stool and the height of the counter didn’t matter anymore. I had a dinner I really liked (couldn’t seriously think of doing it too often – way too dangerous) and met a chef and had delightful dining companions. I paid my bill, wished the gentleman a Happy Birthday and left feeling a lot better than I did when I was seated. Distilled NY is definitely not the place for romantic, quiet conversation but is a fun place with excellent food.

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