Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dinner and a Movie: Free Birds

Turkeys At the Odeon

By Steve Herte

This past week was busy in a different sense than most. I spent Veterans Day weekend caring for my 91-year-old World War II veteran Dad who took a spill that Saturday. Thank goodness, nothing broken, not even bruised (and he bruises quickly); just a stiff neck and shoulder pain. It precipitated a change in routine but it will be manageable. The four-day work week was highlighted by our fourth annual partner/volunteer summit where we invite volunteers to meet the people from the organizations who provide free tax return preparation and filing for low-income taxpayers, the disabled and the elderly. It was a big success, 119 volunteers and about 30 partner representatives. Then Thursday there was a “members preview” of a new exhibit at the Museum of Natural History called “The Power of Poison” – very interesting, and I’ll be writing more about it. Friday, our computer service division made the last repair to my office laptop, linking in my scanner and making me fully functional again. I was definitely ready for my dinner and movie night. This time it was something new and something old. Both were entertaining. Enjoy!

Free Birds (Relatvity Media, 2013) – Director: Jimmy Hayward. Writers: Jimmy Hayward & Scott Mosier (s/p), David I. Stern & John J. Strauss (story). Voices: Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, George Takei, Colm Meaney, Keith David, Dan Fogler, Jimmy Hayward, Robert Beltran, & Kaitlyn Maher. Animated, Color, 91 minutes.

The first screen before the movie starts is the disclaimer that “Any historical references in this film are purely fictional. The parts about talking turkeys however, is real.” Later we hear the main character Reggie (Wilson): “Let’s face it…Turkeys are dumb . . . Really dumb” as we watch a turkey obviously entertained by the wiggling of the toes on his own foot. Reggie is the voice of reason in his hopelessly ignorant flock. He tries to make them realize that they’re only being fattened up for the dinner table, but no one listens and he is an outcast. When the farmer comes to choose a turkey, they literally cast him out of the coop. Reggie is sure he’s doomed until he is taken to Washington, D.C., and is chosen as the Officially Pardoned Thanksgiving Turkey – an honor he almost loses because of his small stature, but wins with the help (and whining) of the President’s daughter (Maher).

While living in D.C., Reggie discovers television, a soap opera about a character he identifies with who calls himself “El Solo Lobo,” and the wonders of pizza (which he learns to order in large amounts). One day he is kidnapped (or rather turkey-napped) by the burly Jake (Harrelson) and becomes involved in his mission, given to him as a chick by the “Great Turkey:” to go back in time and take turkeys off the Thanksgiving menu. Together they break into a secret underground facility housing an egg-shaped (appropriately) time machine, acronym S.T.E.V.E. (Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy, voiced by Takei), which takes them back to Plymouth Colony 1621, just before the first Thanksgiving.

Reggie and Jake join up with a flock of wild (and surprisingly, not dumb) turkeys led by Chief Broadbeak (David) and Ranger (Hayward – who also voices the President, Leatherbeak and several other characters). It is here that Reggie meets his love interest, Jennie (Poehler), sister of Ranger and daughter (of course) of Chief Broadbeak.

The people of Plymouth Colony are starving – with the exception of Governor Bradford (Fogler) who is obviously well-fed – and they pressure Miles Standish (Meaney) to round up turkeys for their dinner with the Indians, whose help they need to survive. It becomes a battle for survival between the humans and the turkeys. In the process of destroying the colonists’ firearms shed, Jake takes a leaky powder horn back to the secret hiding place of the flock and leads Standish there. A large number of turkeys are captured, the hiding place is burned to the ground, Chief Broadbeak meets his demise, and Jennie becomes the new Chief. She rallies the remainder of the flock and they engage the humans with flaming pumpkin loaded catapults. In the words of Chief Massasoit (Beltran), “Those are some really Angry Birds!”

Reggie meanwhile has gone back to S.T.E.V.E. and learns the he is indeed the Great Turkey when he meets three more of himself in what should be the ultimate time paradox. He and S.T.E.V.E. return to 1621 in a spectacular “Deus ex Machina” that ends the battle and replaces turkey dinner with (what else?) pizza! While the colonists and Indians are enjoying their pizza someone spills anchovies on the Chief’s slice. He takes a bite and speaks the best line in the movie, “Tastes like old sock, but still better than anything my wife cooks.”

Free Birds is a crazy story but a fun movie for the children (providing the parents advise them not to take it seriously). If you’re looking for light entertainment without violence or vulgarity (even the kiss scene is off-camera) and a mindless film you don’t have to think about, this is a good choice. It doesn’t even have a moral. But stay through the credits for the last line. Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Odeon
145 West Broadway (at Thomas Street), New York

The reviews I’ve written up until now have been of first-time visits to restaurants. This one is a return visit after a long absence. A little after 1985, when the “Odeon Cafeteria” opened its doors and Andy Warhol made it his hangout I first dined there around Christmas time (when the downtown crowd is lighter). Being that my memory of the experience is sparse, but not unpleasant, I decided the time had come for a revisit. I do remember that the “cafeteria” part of the name technically did not apply, since I did not have to serve myself or wait on a line. “Diner” would have been more appropriate, what with the Art-Deco décor and blazing neon sign outside. But The Odeon is more than a “diner.”

Billed on as “French” (which I also don’t remember, per se) the restaurant has added a red “air lock” entry to keep the cold air out in winter and the air-conditioning in during summer. At 7:00 pm on Friday night, it is one of the few restaurants in downtown Manhattan that is crowded, with every table (about 30 of them that I could see) occupied by a mixed clientele of old and young, children and adults. A reservation is definitely a must. The only empty seat was mine. The young woman at the Captain’s station sat me on a banquette between a table of two gentlemen and one of two ladies.

Shortly after being seated, a young man offered me the single page menu (cocktails and drinks on the reverse side) and the single page wine list, and took my water preference. Right away I saw a cocktail that attracted me called the “Sazerac” – Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, Peychaud’s Bitters, Absinthe and Lemon Juice. A little while later, my waitress Rachel brought the orangey-red concoction to the table. It was a little spicy and a little sweet – perfect. Then I had a “Eureka” moment: the “French” part of The Odeon was New Orleans, not France. My dinner order was easy from then on.

I started with the Spicy Chicken Dumplings – six little pasta purses stuffed with ground chicken, lightly coated with a Tabasco-y sauce and served with a Bleu Cheese dipping sauce and small frisé salad. Aside from the pasta part it was comparable to eating Buffalo Chicken wings without getting messy. Rachel thought the comparison appropriate. The menu was not large enough to create a three-course meal and the only main course calling out to me was the duck. But I had just enjoyed duck the night before and wanted to diversify. 

The daily special was Rack of Berkshire Pork. I ordered it. The 2010 Malbec by the glass seemed a good match and I ordered that. A little later the two gentlemen to my left were served identical dishes that I hoped I recognized. “Is that the pork?” “Yes.” “Excellent!” Soon I had my own hefty serving of inch-thick pork on the bone nestled in Baby Brussels Sprouts and spaetzle with bacon. My side order of crispy, thin French Fries arrived soon after with a dipping sauce comparable only to Russian dressing (hey, don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.) The wine was indeed a good match and I was having a delightful meal. Did I mention the breadbasket? Thick, crusty slices of fluffy bread, ideal for sopping up any delicious sauce. I nearly finished it except for a server absconding with the last slice before dessert.

Rachel gave me the dessert menu after I had successfully cleaned two plates to perfect whiteness and emptied the butter dish. The Warm Doughnuts with Raspberry Jam Maple dipping sauce were irresistible. The fluffy, sugarcoated confections were almost sinful and definitely New Orleans. Coffee would have been an anticlimax and a mood changer. Therefore, a glass of Hennessey VSOP cognac later, and I was happy. In two years The Odeon will celebrate 30 years of existence and, considering the short turnover of most restaurants downtown, I will be there celebrating with them.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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