Thursday, October 10, 2013


Dinner and a Movie

The Gravity in Malaysia

By Steve Herte

After a week of vacation in which I worked daily on the grounds around my house I was little prepared for a one-day workweek to follow. However, Congress (the opposite of Progress) in its infinity insanity opted to cause a government shutdown rather than accomplish anything. So now I was faced with four more days of spiffing up my garden and the various paths and lawn spaces gracing my modest home. I hope we don’t go into another week (although I do have projects I could complete) because I’ve gotten used to commuting and getting my reading done. I’m only halfway through Stephen King’s new Doctor Sleep. Nevertheless, nothing stops me from my favorite Friday occupation. Enjoy!

Gravity (WB, 2013) – Director: Alfonso Cuaron. Writers: Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron. Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Paul Sharma, Amy Warren, Orto Ignatiussen, & Basher Savage. Color and 3-D, 90 minutes.

“I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife. It’s lonely out in space.” – “Rocket Man,” Elton John

For Medical Engineer Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) these words become more and more meaningful when, on a repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, everything goes as wrong as it can get.

The movie opens in total silence after a dramatic musical fanfare to a glorious space view of Earth. Gradually we hear inter-suit communications between Matt and Ryan and Shariff (Sharma). Then, just as gradually, we begin to see the white-clad figures working on the silvery telescope clutched by the robotic arm extended from the bay of the space shuttle. Ryan is busy trying to simultaneously keep her last meal in her stomach (she hasn’t got her “space legs” yet) and adjust the telescope so that Mission Control (voice of Harris) can receive data, however unsuccessfully. Matt is more concerned with breaking a space-walk record and is zipping around the space shuttle using the jets on his backpack and making trite remarks.

Suddenly Mission Control announces that the Russians are testing an anti-satellite missile on one of their own dormant communications satellites. The test is a success and the satellite is destroyed. Unfortunately, the pieces explode in all directions at hyper-velocities and start hitting other satellites and debris already in orbit and the chain reaction sends a plague of metallic fragments rocketing toward the space shuttle. Ryan’s program has not finished downloading and she has trouble with the hitch on her tether. Matt comes to her rescue just as the first objects come slicing by and the tether is broken, sending Ryan pin-wheeling into space. She’s hyperventilating while wondering why her oxygen levels are decreasing so rapidly. He manages to talk her into relative calmness and, after a brief communications silence (which doesn’t help her mental state) tethers her to his suit and, using the remainder of the power he wasted in his jet packs, tows her to the International Space Station before the ferocious flock of fragments make their second orbit.

The plan is to use the Soyuz Capsule docked at the station to return to Earth. But, the ISS also sustained a lot of damage and the Soyuz’s parachute has deployed and wrapped itself around several projections on the station. With a last power spurt of his jets the two bounce over the surface of the ISS, the tether breaks again, and Ryan’s foot becomes entangled in some loose ropes on the ISS. She grabs onto the remaining tether linked to Matt, but Matt realizes that his centrifugal force is pulling on her too much. He releases the claps on his tether and goes drifting away while she yoyos back to the ISS. In his last communication he tells her to get the Soyuz Capsule, use what little power it has left and take it to the Chinese space station, ultimately to use their landing capsule to return to Earth.

Ryan is left to deal with a fire on board the ISS, two violent returns of the fragments, flying instructions in Russian and Chinese, a bout of depression when she considers suicide and a violent re-entry.

A good pre-requisite for Gravity is the IMAX movie Space Junk. Based on the research of Donald Kessler, the “Father of Space Junk,” it follows his proposal that there is so much debris in orbit around Earth all it would take is one collision to set off a chain reaction of collisions that could disrupt telecommunications globally and send pieces raining down randomly. The title “Gravity” obviously refers to the situation rather than the force that keeps humans on the ground.

Gravity is a beautifully made film using solid science (no sounds where they shouldn’t be, no flames except where there’s oxygen, and ample proof of Newton’s laws of motion) and stunning shots of Earth from space. The gravity of the situation is broken by occasional light moments. (Ryan says, “I hate space!” in one.) A Marty the Martian doll drifts out of the destroyed space shuttle – a Warner Brothers gift/product placement. Sandra Bullock gives a superb performance and George Clooney plays the hotshot know-it-all perfectly. The 3D effects are most amazing during the fire onboard the ISS where we see little blobs of flame as pieces detach from the main fire, when Ryan cries and a single crystal tear floats out over the audience and when the ISS blows up and the audience has to duck. There’s even an Alfred Hitchcock moment. Though not for little kids (below teenage, that is), Gravity is an excellent film, one of the best this year. Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses. 

15 East 17th Street (between Broadway and 5th), New York

Of the several candidates for my 2,565th restaurant, the one that boasted Malaysian/Singaporean/Thai food caught my eye and set my taste buds into anticipatory delight. Though I’ve dined at several Thai establishments and love the cuisine, the opportunities for Malaysian or Indonesian food are rare (this is only my 4th Malaysian). 

From the street you see a huge front window with the name in big block letters overhead. At seven o’clock on a Friday it seemed that every one of the 20 or so tables was occupied, but then I was led to the one I reserved. The conversation provided ample competition with the ambient music. The one wall has a mural of exotic towns and buildings and the two bare-brick walls have Buddhas or koi representations. The entrance to the kitchen at back is enshrined in tiny blue twinkle lights, while the ceiling is an interesting black retro-tin paneled one.

I was so thirsty from watching Gravity that I drained the large tumbler of water the server brought. Then my waitress Wenny appeared (a very sweet-spoken girl) and I ordered a Lychee Martini. Served in a hefty glass with a lychee fruit as the garnish, this sweet cerise-colored cocktail was exactly what I wanted to start.

The menu is five pages long, running the gamut from Appetizers (the entire first page), to Soups and Salads (page two), Entrée 1 – a list of differing preparations for beef, chicken, fish or vegetables, Entrée 2 Special dishes (page three), Curries (4 of them), Fried Rice, Over-Meal Rice and Noodle dishes (page four), and Lunch Plates and Specials (page five). The cocktail, beer and wine menu is a separate page.

After conferring with Wenny on which dishes were large or small I decided to start small with the Beet Soup. This dish is exactly what it sounds like, a delicate, ruby broth, barely flavored with large slices of beets (one I had to cut, which wasn’t easy with a Chinese spoon) and was a perfect beginning. The wine I chose to go with my dinner was a 2011 Mas de Guiot Grenache/Syrah from Vin de Pays du Gard, France – a deep garnet red with blueberry flavors and just little tannic edge – excellent for the varied flavors of the meal.

The next course was one I saw pictured in Laut’s website, the Stuffed Crab Claws – obviously Snow Crab claws with a fried batter dough wrapped ball of ground chicken and shrimp clinging to the juncture of the pincers. Again, delicate flavors and the combination of three meats made a lovely dumpling-like experience.

When I mentioned that I liked curry, Wenny suggested the Rendang Curry, but I was not there for Indonesian. I went right to the Malaysian Curry and Wenny warned me that it was medium-spicy, which was OK by me. A good-sized bowl arrived filled with strips of beef, okra, eggplant, string beans, onions and tomatoes in a “yellow” coconut milk broth (it was actually a rusty orange color). 

It was indeed medium – spicy – and, for the first few mouths full I had to intersperse it with the white rice served on the side. Eventually I got used to the spice and was fully enjoying the dish. The okra was slightly crunchy and not mushy, the string beans were also crisp and the other ingredients were perfectly cooked and flavorful. I had decided that when I finished the solid parts of this dish I would soak up the remaining broth with the white rice. This proved more than I could handle and I wanted dessert. So I left some curry-soaked rice in the bowl, finished my wine (much to the manager’s surprise) and asked about dessert.

Wenny told me the Sticky Rice with Mango was “on the house,” and I didn’t complain. It was light flavors once again, slightly sweet, a tiny grain with cubes of less-than-ripe mango. It was the only ho-hum part of dinner. After a nice glass of hot Jasmine Tea, my meal was complete. Throughout my stay at Laut, the place was full of diners. When one table was vacated, minutes later it was occupied. The owners, Kathy Wong and Michael Bong both hail from Malaysia and it makes me wonder why it took me several years since Laut opened to find it. There are several dishes yet to be tried.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here. 

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