Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Dinner and a Movie

Carrie Me Back to Old Lasagna

By Steve Herte

After 16 days of furlough it was almost good to get back into the office (I never thought I would even think that) and Thursday was solid work. Friday, the anticipation of my movie and dinner plans got me through the entire day of attempting and failing to input the timesheets. The system was overloaded (several areas input them on Thursdays but it wasn’t available then) with the entire country trying at once.

Still, I’m glad the nonsense is over - at least until January 15th, when it all starts over again - and I can live my normal life. Enjoy!

Carrie (MGM, 2013) – Director: Kimberly Peirce. Writers: Lawrence D. Cohen & Roberto Aguirre Sacasa (s/p). From the novel by Stephen King. Cast: Julianne Moore, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Judy Greer, Barry Shabaka Henley, Ansel Elgort, & Alex Russell. Color, 100 minutes.

Being a constant reader and a “can’t get enough of Stephen King” fan I found this latest remake of the 1976 original (yes, I’m counting the failed Broadway musical) served as an Alpha and Omega opportunity for me. As I’m currently 85 pages short of finishing King’s newest book, Doctor Sleep, it seemed appropriate to see his first successful story (1974) told anew. This version opens to the agonized groans and wailings of Margaret White (Moore). We enter the house and slowly climb the stairs to witness Margaret giving birth to her daughter alone in the bedroom. Blood is everywhere. Carrie is born and her mother slowly pulls up the skirt of her nightgown seemingly expecting something horrific that must be killed (she has her dress-maker shears at the ready) but she relents and caresses the child.

The next scene shows Carrie (Moretz) as a painfully shy, naive high school senior. She has no friends and serves as the butt of all the other girls’ (and boys’) jokes. Per the original story, one day in the showers after gym class she experiences the shock of her first menstrual period and goes into a panic thinking she’s dying. The other girls under the leadership of Chris Hargensen (Doubleday) laugh at her and taunt her, throwing tampons at her while chanting, “plug it up!” Chris even makes a video of it on her I-Phone – later posting it online. 

Ms. Desjardin, the gym teacher (Greer) comes to Carrie’s rescue and takes her to Principal Morton (Henley) who, despite protests from Carrie (she causes the globe of the water-cooler to smash), calls her mother to come pick her up. Carrie’s mother – a raving religious fanatic – calls the episode, “the curse of blood because of the sin of Eve.” She locks Carrie into the windowless closet below the stairs to “pray for salvation.” None of Carrie’s frantic cries can dissuade her until, suddenly, the door is split down the middle! It holds nevertheless, leaving Carrie to wonder about the cause.

Excused from gym to study hall Carrie reads several books on telekinesis and discovers her power. Meanwhile, the gym teacher gives the other girls a lecture on the football field and doles out a punishment of running and exercises with the threat of suspension and exclusion from the prom for non-compliance. Chris refuses to comply, tries to recruit the others to follow her and fails, and is suspended. Her best friend Sue Snell (Wilde) feels sorry for Carrie and convinces her boyfriend Tommy Ross (Elgort) to invite Carrie to the prom in an effort to atone for what happened in the showers. Even though Carrie suspects trickery, she eventually accepts Tommy’s invitation and after demonstrating her power to her mother – she levitates all of the furniture in the living room and slams it down – prepares herself for the occasion.

Chris hatches a plan with her boyfriend Billy Nolan (Russell) to totally humiliate Carrie at the prom by filling a bucket with pig’s blood poised to dowse her when she and Tommy win King and Queen in a rigged election. Little does she know how dire the consequences of her actions will be?

It would not be fair to compare the performances of Moore and Moretz to those of Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek: they each did an excellent job in both versions. Under the direction of Peirce, the 2013 movie still holds the audience in suspense, even though the King fans know what will happen next (sort of). Marco Beltrami’s music further enhances the goings-on by adding palpable tension to every scene. The screenplay is faithful to the original book with a only a few updates, which do not detract from it and (of course) special effects – not available in 1976 – that contribute beautifully to the exciting final scenes. I particularly liked the sparking live wires striking like cobras at the prom goers. The new Carrie will not suffer the “why did they have to remake that movie?” comments and stands firmly as a new viewpoint. I can even see a few Oscar nominations coming. Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Lasagna Ristorante
941 Second Avenue (corner of 50th Street), New York

If I haven’t said this before, I LOVE lasagna! Only Garfield the Cat loves it more. Ever since I learned of the existence of Lasagna Ristorante I’ve been scheming how and when to visit. The online photos of the restaurant, beautiful as they are, do not prepare you for its actual appearance. 

The tasteful black awnings with white script lettering protect the charming wrap-around sidewalk café on the corner of 50th and 2nd while the golden glow of the interior lights shine through the fully glassed exterior. Inside, the young woman at the Captain’s Station (who obviously also dines there) asked me if I would like to dine outside. “Too chilly” was my response and she graciously led me to a table in the back just beyond the kitchen, which was perfect.

One of two Lasagna restaurants (the other is on 20th Street and 8th Avenue) open since 1993, this charming eatery boasts 17 different lasagna dishes, vegetarian, meat and seafood included. When my waiter (who simply went by the initials “NJ”) brought me my water and the menu, he took my Stolichnaya martini order (they didn’t have Beefeaters, so I was little more “James Bond” that evening). I sipped the martini while reading the two-page menu and single-sheet specials list. Not only was there the intoxicating list of lasagnas, but also Appetizers, Soups, Salads, “Pastas of All Nations,” and Chicken, Veal and Seafood entrées. I had to cover the main course page with the specials list to avoid seeing the Penne Jambalaya, the Saltimbocca Alla Romana (my perennial favorite Italian dish) and the Salmon Alla Calabrese. I was here for lasagna and NJ helped me create a three-course dinner. The wine list featured several good wines at very reasonable prices and I chose the 2012 Bolla Valpolicella – excellent!

NJ presented me with the breadbasket, four pieces of crusty garlic bread made with green olive oil that were simply wonderful. I started with a bowl of Stracciatella Fiorentina, a nice hot bowl of egg whites and spinach in a delicate chicken broth. It’s been a long time since I’ve this particular soup prepared with such care.

It was followed by the Caesar Salad, a plate of crisp greens and even crisper croutons in a Caesar dressing. It was a little lighter on the main ingredient, garlic, than I would have preferred. I laughingly told NJ that the garlic bread has more garlic than the Caesar dressing and we both had a chuckle over it.

Choosing a lasagna from 17 appetizing recipes was not easy until I noticed number 17, “Create Your Own Lasagna.” When NJ explained what I could do, I combined the Ground Veal with the Hearts of Artichoke Lasagnas and was transported straight to Heaven. It was a good inch thick, two inches wide and about seven inches long served in an oblong white ceramic bowl just a little larger to fit it in. 

The top was just the right crispness from baking and the inside was piping hot. The first bite was ecstasy. As Garfield would describe it, “the miracle that is lasagna!” A gentleman dining at the next table must have seen the sheer pleasure on my face, because as he left he commented to me that he loved seeing someone enjoy their meal as much as I did. There was not a scrap left of either the lasagna or the bread at the end.

And yet, there was room for dessert. “Tiramisu” said NJ. “Just that?” “The BEST!” “OK, bring the tiramisu.” The beautifully formed layered dessert was simply presented on a round dessert dish. It was topped with chocolate dust, firm enough to cut with a fork, but moist enough to melt in your mouth. NJ was not lying. The double espresso almost paled in comparison, but the healthy portion of grappa in its snifter was the crowning touch to the meal.

Lasagna Ristorante deserves not just one but several return visits, if not for the Prosciutto, Eggplant, or Crab Meat Lasagna, but for the many alluring main courses. Don’t worry, I’ll pace myself.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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