Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

Dinner and a Movie

Cloudy With a Chance of Pad Thai and Pubs

By Steve Herte

My last full week of vacation was a real hoot! Perfect Autumn weather, out in the garden every day, and four nights of karaoke. What more could a guy ask for? I saw the movie I was most anticipating and was not disappointed, sang every song I wanted to sing and now have a weed free, manicured look to both the front lawns and the back garden – something I could never get control over on just a weekend. Now it can rain. I’m ready. Because of the multiple karaoke nights this edition of Dinner and a Movie has a special addition comparing the three pubs I had the good fortune to entertain at. Enjoy!

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Columbia/Sony Pictures, 2013) – Directors: Cody Cameron & Kris Pearn. Writers: Judi Barrett & Ron Barrett (characters), John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein (s/p), Erica Rivinoja (story & s/p), Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (story). Voices: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Partick Harris, & Terry Crews. Color & 3-D, 95 minutes.

This is the exception to the rule that the sequel isn’t every bit as entertaining and clever as the original. It is every bit as clever in the writing, excellent in the animation, clean in the digital effects, and musically beautiful as number one. And, it provided hilarious, non-violent, good clean fun for the whole family while teaching a lesson.

To sum up the first film, Flint Lockwood invents a machine that can make food out of water and in no time has it literally raining meatballs, and later hamburgers. The local politician tries to use the machine for his own gains but it goes out of control, throwing enormous food items all over the globe (the Eiffel Tower becomes the toothpick for a giant club sandwich), and causes a spaghetti tornado that devastates Flint’s home island of Swallow Falls. Flint finally disables the machine (he thinks) and the cleanup begins.

This movie opens with Flint as a young boy idolizing Chester V (Forte), Chief Executive Officer and Chief Scientist at Live Corp Company and creator of the most famous candy/nutrition bar ever. He aspires to work for Chester V in his light bulb-shaped Think-Tank/Laboratory. Now an adult, Flint (Hader) is promising a new laboratory to the friends who stood by him in the first episode; where they can work together on the rehabilitation of Swallow Falls. These include his girl-friend/news reporter Samantha Sparks (Faris), his Dad, Tim Lockwood (Caan), Brent McHale (Samberg), Manny, Samantha’s cameraman (Bratt), the burly policeman Earl Devereaux (Crews) and his monkey companion Steve (Harris).

Chester V however has other plans and lures Flint to his corporation with the job offer of his dreams while taking over the cleanup of Swallow Falls and evacuating the entire town to beautiful San FranJose, California. On his first day, Flint meets Barb (Kristen Schaal) an orangutan who not only can talk, but is a genius, and Chester V’s gal Friday. She gives him the orientation while plying him with ample cups of latté. Try as he might, Flint is incapable of inventing something impressive enough to make the inner circle of Chester V’s organization.

The machine Flint thought was disabled has been busy creating “veganimals,” some of which are quite large and menacing such as the Spiderburgers and Tacodiles.  Thus, Swallow Falls – now a jungle – has thwarted all of Chester V’s efforts to tame it and is rapidly depleting his army of scientists. Chester sends Flint advising him to go alone and tell no one but, once he tells Sam, then Manny, Brent, Earl and Steve are going too, and Dad supplies the boat. After navigating cliffs of cherry pie wedges, the small craft docks at the Swallow Falls pier. Chester V has given Flint the special “BS USB” to use to shut down the machine creating all these “dangerous” creatures that are “trying to learn how to swim and will eventually take over the Statue of Liberty!” This device is eaten by a cute little strawberry Sam names Berry who scampers into the jungle. Despite his protests, Tim is left with the boat and the rest chase Berry. In the process of finding the fleeing fruit they come upon a Jurassic Park scene where Flamangoes, Hippopotatomus, Watermelephants, and Bananostriches roam while creatures that look like Brachiosaurs made of scallions chew long strands of seaweed.

Chester however has eyes everywhere and learns that Flint didn’t go alone so he, Barb and his storm troopers take the private helicopter to Swallow Falls to ensure his plans are completed. From there on the film is a learning experience for Flint. The “veganimals” are not hostile; in fact, they have families. Live Corp backwards spells Evil. He should always listen to his friends and everything Chester V has told him has been a lie.

Usually a 3D film intends to throw something out at the audience. This one doesn’t. The effects are there simply to enhance the cinematography. The characters, though exaggerated, are still far from “cartoon” images, moving like real beings. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is wisely not a kiddy film. After all, who takes children to the movies? Parents! The writers included humor for adults throughout the movie, i.e., we see a bright yellow frog-like creature sitting on a lily pad croaking “Budder!” but when one of the mosquitoasts bites it, it deflates (or rather melts) and bleats “Parkay!” The children did not get that joke. In another scene, the group needs to get to a door that’s blocked by the cheesy web of a Spiderburger. Earl says, “Stand back! I’m gonna cut the cheese!” He does and we hear the all-too-familiar blat “Brraap!” and responds with, “That was the cheese, not me.” Everyone was laughing.

If this film is out on video before Christmas, I know it’s going to be on my list – along with the first one. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Little Basil
153 East 26th Street (between 3rd and 2nd Avenues), New York

For several years, I’ve been meeting two very good friends of mine whom I know from karaoke times past at a place called Japa’s, located above a Japanese restaurant named East on Second Avenue. Over that period of time we went to dinner at Little Basil’s many times after Japa’s (or rather East) changed their in-room menu to items we neither recognized nor liked. The food at Little Basil’s was reliable and good while being exotic, aromatic and well prepared. In fact, I was on the verge of having tried everything on their menu.

That said this tiny Thai with the yellow awning (there are less than 20 tables for two inside) was perfect for a 5 o’clock supper before singing. This time I started with a favorite, the Curry Puffs – chicken, potato and yellow curry packed into a crispy empanada-like crust and served with a cucumber salad dip. They were just as wonderful as I remembered. My friend Ed had the Scallion Dumplings – truly exotic-looking translucent rice dough puffs with the rich green of scallions inside on a slightly spicy red pepper sauce. They were delicious, even though they took a little getting used to in their appearance as well as their spongy texture. In the past I’ve had their Duck Spring Rolls, Pork Spare Ribs and Satay – chicken or beef marinated and served with a peanut sauce and cucumber salad – and all have been marvelous.

Janet wisely demurred on an appetizer and chose the Pad Thai – Rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, dried bean curd, egg, bean sprouts and ground peanut – and found the dish more than enough for her to finish. Ed enjoyed the Steamed Halibut – sliced ginger, onions, scallion, Napa cabbage,  mushroom pickled plum and lemon juice, while I spooned through the Stewed Beef Mussa-Mun Curry – Stewed beef, potato, peanuts, onions in a coconut milk soup with a “Holy” basil leaf as garnish. The beef was tender enough to cut with a spoon and the mound of white rice helped soak up the soup. I’m definitely glad I have no food allergies. In the past, I’ve tried their Striped Bass, Tamarind Fish and Duck Panang Curry, all delightful.

As usual, none of us had dessert because there was so much food already but if we had, the only interesting dish is the Fried Banana. The rest is ice cream.

Even though the food is great at Little Basil’s, this is probably the last time we will dine there. It’s been a few months since we ate there last and at the time Ed’s wife and he both had the Salmon in Green Curry and both had bad reactions to it. Since that time the restaurant came under new management and lost their Beer and Wine License, so all there was to drink was water. I’m used to a nice glass of cabernet with my meal. The third strike was the clueless service and the inability to deal with the walker Janet was using. For a small place that was never filled the whole time we were there, that’s akin to a death knell. Nevertheless, I will not forget the food.

Special Feature: A Three Night Pub Crawl

Gabby O’Hara’s Irish Pub
123 West 39th Street (between 6th and Broadway), New York

This is my usual Tuesday karaoke hangout and my version of Cheers. Martin and Aidan the bartenders, Elaine the waitress and Thomas the owner/manager all know and greet me when I arrive. The large bar is on the right as you enter and there is a raised space to the left where the karaoke is placed at about 7:30 pm to about 10:30 pm. Beyond the raised area are twin large round tables with semi-circular banquettes and chairs. The first is where the regular singers (including myself) can be found.

I’ve become a kind of mixologist when the bar buys uniquely flavored liquors such as Blueberry/Pomegranate vodka (from which we created the Blueberry Martini) or the Mandarin Orange vodka from which we created the Mandarini (combined with Triple Sec instead of Vermouth). The beers on tap are always reliable and include Guinness, Bass Ale, Killian’s Red, Smithwick’s and the current Samuel Adams. Otherwise, the most complex drink is Long Island Iced Tea.

The menu is a step up from usual bar food with Irish specialties such as Shepherd’s Pie (actually Cottage Pie, they make it with ground beef, not lamb) and Westmeath Chicken Pot Pie. The Chef hails from Mexico and sometimes he makes his signature chicken Quesadilla’s or Jalapeno Poppers. The thicker soups such as Cream of Mushroom and Split Pea are definite staples while the Cauliflower Cheddar varies in consistency. The chicken main courses are always well prepared while the steaks are variable, depending on the cut of meat. The Tuna Salad is a main dish in itself.

This time I had the Popcorn Shrimp with two dipping sauces – horseradish and tartar – always a favorite and the Lamb Burger. I don’t always see the Lamb Burger on the menu but when I do, it’s a juicy favorite with some of New York’s best French Fries.

We don’t usually have dessert (unless you consider Irish coffee a dessert – I do) but when we do, it’s the Bailey’s cheesecake, yummy.

Muldoon’s Irish Pub
692 3rd Avenue (between 43rd and 44th), New York

Muldoon’s only sees me once or twice a year for karaoke on Wednesdays when I’m on vacation and can afford two late nights in a row. Thanks to manager, “Murph” and his foresight, this establishment has recently gone from a typical dowdy bar to a sleek, spacious modern watering hole for the beautiful people. The formerly darkish interior hung with international flags has been spiffed up with shiny new wood floors, elegant new swag lighting, new banquettes in the back (where I usually sit) and a beautifully renovated bar. Outside, the drab brown wood has been repainted a sleek black and shiny brass coach lamps grace the upright sections between the windows.

The bar selection at Muldoon’s rivals and surpasses Gabby O’Hara’s in being one of only two places I’ve been to that serve Weihenstefan Beer, from the oldest monastic brewery in Germany, a fantastic wheat beer. The cocktails at Muldoon’s are to be respected, not taken lightly because they pack a punch and are professionally prepared.

The menu is similar to Gabby O’Hara’s, being a sister-pub also owned by Thomas but with a twist. When they serve Shepherd’s Pie, it’s really Shepherd’s Pie. The chef also makes a fantastic Chicken Curry with Rice and passable Lasagna. My choices this time were the Ham and Cheese Quesadilla (actually it didn’t need the word cheese since Queso means cheese in Spanish) and the Chicken Curry. Where else but in New York City can one go to an Irish bar and have a Mexican appetizer, an Indian main course and drink German beer? Muldoon’s, of course.

The karaoke starts and finishes a half hour later than Gabby O’Hara’s and is set up in the front of the bar by the windows. It’s always fun and usually an appreciative crowd are in attendance. Muldoon’s was my karaoke spot before Gabby O’Hara’s but now, little sister is all grown up and ready for more business.

Cassidy’s Pub and Restaurant
65 West 55th Street (between 5th and 6th), New York

Cassidy’s bright red awning leads you into a very lively bar scene where the conversation successfully competes with the rock music. At 7:00 pm on a Friday I had to worm my way through the crowd to get to the restaurant in back where several tables both round and oblong were ready. It’s a new place for me and counts as my 2,564th dining establishment.

Upon arrival at the back I saw the man I came to celebrate with, the karaoke host who goes by the handle “Chainsaw.” It was his ninth year doing karaoke at Cassidy’s as well as his birthday. I chatted with him while the waitress, Natasha, served me my Beefeater Cosmopolitan (usually this drink is made with vodka, but I think it tastes better with gin). Learning that people generally enjoy the food at Cassidy’s, I selected the Coconut Shrimp with Sweet and Sour Sauce appetizer, but they were out of it. My second choice was the Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara dipping sauce, a good, a reliable standard bar food.

The beer selection at Cassidy’s is varied and choice so I eventually switched to Samuel Adams Oktoberfest, a hearty unfailing ale. For a main course, I knew my host doesn’t like curry, so I asked him before ordering the Spicy Chicken Curry. He told me, “As long as you don’t make me eat it, it’s fine with me.” It was excellent, the chicken was cubed and just the right spiciness and served with both rice and Steakhouse Fried potatoes. Very unusual, but both starches were well done.

The karaoke that night was set up across the room from where I was sitting and was unique in introducing singers with appropriate music or sound effects according to their handles. I received the opening music from The Lion King (that’s my handle), my friend Indiana Steve received the theme from Indiana Jones and Chainsaw – well, what do you think? – the sound of a chainsaw. I had a great time and will probably return for other menu items. The karaoke usually starts too late for me – 10:00 pm – and goes to the wee hours of the morning. This time was a special 8:00 pm start.

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