Friday, October 18, 2013

Enough Said

Dinner and a Movie

Enough Said About Desmond

By Steve Herte

With the government shutdown over, things can return to normal. Although I love working outdoors and the weather has been more than cooperative, I was running out of things to do. The front lawns are now manicured and tamed, the hedges are free of weeds, the back garden is immaculate, and I was able to give a neighbor a rooted cutting of my white lilac. I guess I could have started inside of the house – lots to do there. I just have these routines – and my reading slowed down because I’m used to reading while commuting. And I downloaded and finished three computer games. Fortunately, it did not hinder my Friday activity. Enjoy!

Enough Said (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2013) – Director: Nicole Holofcener. Writer: Nicole Holofcener. Cast: Julia-Louis Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Lennie Loftin, Jessica St. Clair, Christopher Nicholas Smith, & Ewe Hawson. Color, 93 minutes.

It took years for John Travolta to shed the type cast of Vinnie Barbarino. Elaine Benes is still alive and well in Louis-Dreyfus – not that that’s a bad thing (as the running gag once went in an episode of Seinfeld).

In Enough Said, she plays masseuse Eva, a 10-year divorcée with a daughter about to leave for college. She has three regular clients: Martin (Loftin), an older man with bad breath, Cynthia (St. Clair), a non-stop chatterbox, and Hal (Smith), a young man who lives at the top of a long flight of stairs and who never offers to help Eva with her heavy massage table. One evening at a party a friend introduces her to Marianne (Keener) and promptly deserts her to fend for herself in an awkward conversation with someone she knows nothing of. 

When Marianne states her occupation as “Poet,” Eva quickly comes back with the Neil Diamond-esque “…and I’m a dreamer” (from the song “Longfellow Serenade”). This gives the audience an idea of how deep the comedy goes in this film. Nevertheless, they hit it off and Marianne becomes Eva’s fourth regular client.

At the same party she meets Albert (Gandolfini) and after they’ve both agreed that there’s no one at the party that either of them are attracted to, a relationship is born. He also has a daughter, Tess (Hawson) about to leave for college, and is a divorcée as well, but for four years. Slowly the affair blossoms as they both begin to realize that a person doesn’t have to be perfect to be attractive or a lover.

Gradually, though, Marianne befriends Eva, and in confidence tells her all the things she disliked about her ex-husband: “He will fish out all the onions in guacamole because he doesn’t like them, and push them aside before removing his chip.” Eventually she reveals his name as Albert. This is where Eva morphs into Elaine, for rather than telling Albert she’s got Marianne as a client or telling Marianne that she’s dating her ex-husband, she tries weakly to defend him to Marianne while Marianne is affecting (actually poisoning) her relationship with Albert by her constant negative comments. Things really go sour when Eva and Albert attend a private dinner party and, after several glasses of wine, she totally embarrasses him about his inability to whisper. “Why do I feel like I just spent the entire evening with my ex-wife?” he says. End of relationship.

I was hoping to see another side of Louis-Dreyfus, but she has difficulty being believable when acting hurt and contrite. Remember the “Show about nothing…?” In Seinfeld, the “nothing” was how much each of the main characters cared about anyone else in the show. Julia still seems to be doing that.

On June 19, Gandolfini passed away after a successful television role as Tony Soprano and I can see glints of that character in his Albert. Sometimes he puts on a wry smile or winks a certain way, but generally, he played the big old Teddy Bear of a guy very well. I was glad to see the “For Jim” in the credits.

One reviewer I read described Enough Said as sweet and charming. It was definitely both, with light comedy threading throughout. The musical soundtrack was neither oppressive nor memorable. And while the story was engaging, it seemed like more could have been done with the situation. No one in the movie ever reflected back on why they got married to their ex-spouses. No Oscar nominations here. Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Desmond’s Steakhouse
513 Seventh Avenue (corner of 38th Street), New York

Walking east on 38th Street from Eighth Avenue it’s easy to spot Desmond’s on the southeast corner. A large white plastic banner with red lettering over the two glass-block walls told me I had found the place. However, on closer inspection, it looked boarded up. 

Luckily I saw the small sign directing me to the entrance on 38th Street, a much more inviting doorway lit by a lantern and graced by a curving wall of block-glass. Once inside, a short stairway up and I was at the Captain’s Station. The young woman in a chic little black dress led me past some empty tables to the bar and asked if I would prefer a booth here or proceed down the hall to the main dining area. It was quiet, and since I really do like a booth to myself, I chose the first booth.

Then it occurred to me that aside from the three people sitting across from me at the bar, the place was virtually deserted – at 7:00 PM on a Friday? Then I thought more about it and realized I was still in the “desert” of Manhattan where restaurants can be established and not found. This area of the “Fashion District” closes down faster than Wall Street at the end of the workday. And the area already has three reputable steakhouses: Nick and Steff’s, Keen’s and Uncle Jack’s (my current benchmark). I asked my server Mario how long Desmond’s has been in operation and was told six months.

The décor of Desmond’s is very comforting, standard steakhouse dark wood paneling and brass sconces with soft golden glow lighting. The piano player was entertaining a table of tourists in the main dining area with strange lounge-versions of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Billy Joel’s “Miami 2017,” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” I ordered my favorite martini, and it was made to my specifications, but Mario forgot whether I wanted a twist of lemon or olives, so he brought both on the side, which was OK by me.

The menu was a single card with nothing but the restaurant logo on the reverse side. I wondered whether to give them the ultimate challenge and order all my favorites or to deviate and try either the Veal Chop or the Colorado Lamb Chops. Judging by the lack of customers I decided on my favorites. Just maybe they might make the extra effort. At about this time Mario brought out the bread plate and I fell in love with their focaccia – homemade with cheddar cheese and onions. Their Italian-style bread was good, and also homemade.

The King Crab Legs appetizer was beautifully presented on a long narrow plate and split lengthwise affording easy removal of the tender meat from the shell – fantastic! I noticed that the 2011 Ravenswood Zinfandel was available by the glass and ordered one. I asked what the soup was but Mario sadly noted that the lunch crowd cleaned them out of the New England clam chowder. The salads were pedestrian and I opted to go straight to the main course, Desmond’s Filet Mignon.

This dish attracted me because it was topped with foie gras and I loved the combination when I first had it at the Judson Grill (intentionally spelled like the phone exchange). This dish was not that dish. The filet was much flatter than I expected and the foie gras on top, though delicious, was a lot more delicate and moist than I remember – and it was square. 

The side dish of sautéed wild mushrooms with truffle oil on the other hand was spectacular! I originally thought adding truffle oil to mushrooms was gilding the lily, but what a wonderful flavor – the perfect apology for what the steak lacked!

After a second glass of Zinfandel, my main course and side were finished and it was time for dessert. Again, the lunch crowd was one step ahead of me. They were out of the Homemade Bread Pudding with a Brandy Syrup and Strawberry Sauce. The chocolate ice cream was good, but far from what I wanted. I decided to visit the piano player to see if he could back me on Glenn Miller’s “Serenade in Blue,” but the chords he improvised were just not right. We had a great conversation, though, and I got his business card before returning to my table to finish my ice cream and double espresso.

I really enjoyed dining at Desmond’s. The people (what there were of them) were wonderful; some of the dishes were transporting; and the piano player was a hoot. They should know however that their competition is fierce and after 87 steakhouses, I expect the steak to be the main act on the table, not the side dish. Maybe I should go there sometime for lunch.

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