Friday, April 4, 2014


Dinner and a Movie

Noah and the City of Crabs

By Steve Herte

Two things I don’t like going through are Inventory Time at work and having a cold. These two both started on Wednesday morning. Colds worry me because of their ultimate consequences – laryngitis (then I can’t sing) and nasal congestion (then I can’t taste my dinner). Neither one is acceptable. Inventories likewise have a double consequence. In trying to catalogue everything in storage I always find several items not in their correct place, and when I store them in their correct place I find other items that are either obsolete or misfiled as well. Between the light-headedness from the cold medication and the extreme boredom of working inventory I was ready for an adventure on the high seas with Noah and a culinary undersea adventure at City Crab. Enjoy!

Noah (Paramount, 2014) – Director: Darren Aronofsky. Writers: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel (s/p). Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Nick Nolte, Adam Griffith, Ariane Rinehart, Martin Csokas, Dakota Goyo, Finn Wittrock, & Leo McHugh Carroll. Color, 138 minutes.

Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory, falling on my head like a new emotion…” These words, as sung by the Eurhythmics, partially describe the new telling of the Genesis account of Noah and the flood. Only it’s my memory that was jogged by what I saw and the new emotion was the one depicted by Crowe as Noah. In an interview, he stated that, when one thinks of it, Noah was not always a nice man. The first thing he does after getting off the ark is to get drunk and curse his son Ham (soon to be the ancestor of Canaan). But no one had a more stressful life than Noah. (Except maybe Jonah – I can’t imagine what life was like inside a great fish.)

Biblically appropriate this newest movie starts with Adam and Eve (Griffith and Rinehart), the temptation of the serpent, and a ghoulishly artsy silhouette of Cain killing Abel. Cain and his newest brother Seth go out into the world and start two rival populations. Cain’s people are better at subduing the Earth, as is graphically depicted by a view from space, where we see black marks on Pangaea (yes, all the continents were joined) and slowly but surely, Seth’s people were wiped out down to Lamech (Csokas) and his son, Noah (Goyo).

We join them in a devastated, treeless barren land caring for small sedges and vegetation when a wounded creature flashes by pursued by hunters. This is definitely a creature that did not survive the flood: It had scales like a pangolin, an antelope’s body and a mouth full of teeth like a predator. The lead hunter, a young Tubal-Cain (Wittrock) accuses Lamech of stealing his kill. Lamech, in turn, tells Noah to run and hide and Tubal-Cain kills Lamech while Noah watches from his hiding place before running to safety. 

In the next scene Noah is a grown father of three, and he and his wife Naameh (Connelly) are raising the boys as caretakers of the Earth (the first ecologists and vegans). Noah has a dream/vision of standing in bloodlike lava before a great green mountain and then being drowned in a great volume of water. This is his cue from The Creator (the word “God” never appears in this film) to visit his grandfather Methuselah (Hopkins) in his mountain cave refuge. Amazed that his grandfather should still be alive, Noah takes the entire family to the mountain. Along the way they encounter “The Watchers” – fallen angels sent to watch over the children of Earth who had become disenchanted with the corruption of mankind – now transformed into enormous grotesque rock creatures with no trust or even liking for mankind. (The Bible does say at this point, “There were Giants on the Earth…”) The exception is for Samyaza (voiced by Nolte), who sees Noah as a just man and leads them to Methuselah’s cave. Then with Shem (the oldest son) Noah goes to visit Methuselah, who gives them a single seed that was all that remained of the Garden of Eden.

When planted, the seed first sprouts a bubbling spring that expands to five rivers reaching the ends of the Earth and just as quickly, with a great rumbling a forest explodes from the ground in minutes. And I was wondering what Noah would build his ark from when the land was treeless. Thanks to Samyaza, Noah now has The Watchers to help him build the ark and the wood to build it. The rest of the story we pretty much know. Shem (Booth) had found Ila (Watson) wounded beyond being able to have children as a child and grows up into loving her. Ham and Japheth (Lerman and Carroll) are not so lucky – even though the Bible states all three had wives on the ark.

The first animals to enter the ark are bird that fly in and roost in the uppermost decks. Snakes and crawling creatures come next, with mammals of all kinds being last. Naameh, who knows everything about herbs, burns a concoction that puts all of them to sleep. (This was a nice explanation of how they could have all coexisted on the ark.) But a movie without conflict does not fill theaters. So, seeing the birds and animals herding to the ark inspires the now-grown Tubal-Cain (Winstone) to lead an assault by his people to take over the ark. 

The Watchers hold them off for a while until Tubal-Cain discovers a method of “killing” them with fireworks on spear tips, and one by one The Watchers geyser to Heaven in brilliant towers of light as they fall. The last to go is Samyaza, who says goodbye to Noah as the rain falls, the waters under the Earth spew up in great gushers and the remaining people of Cain are prevented access to the ark. That is except for Tubal-Cain, who hacks his way in. (What? A stowaway on the ark?) Well that leads to another set of complications both story-wise and biblical.

Noah is told with accurate Biblical quotes and conformity to the dimensions and shape of the ark itself. Crowe gives a sterling performance as an obedient servant of the Creator who can be the gentlest of men to an animal and yet a savage willing to sacrifice a newborn baby. (Did I mention that Ila gives birth to twins on the ark after the 40 days and 40 nights plus the 150 days of rising water? That’s only six months in my reckoning). Connelly gives a passionate performance as she defends the babies. Hopkins is his usual awesome self, and provides the only comic relief in the movie. (For instance, Shem mentions “berries” to him upon their first meeting, and he obsesses about them until the flood, when he finds only one.) The special effects team did an admirable job in creating an epic from a Bible story. The computer graphics on The Watchers were flawless. The scenes accompanying Noah’s story of the creation were grand and spectacular and followed the biblical text beautifully while obviously depicting the Big Bang and Evolution in action. As for children, there is bloodshed and extreme violence (bodies flying left and right) so, if your child is not ready to see that, I would not recommend Noah.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

City Crab & Seafood Company
235 Park Avenue South (at 19th Street), New York

A little beyond halfway in my database spanning the years from 1973 to 2014 is my record (number 1,698 to be precise) of first dining at City Crab & Seafood Restaurant. This works nicely since this restaurant has been operating successfully for nearly 20 years and I first visited them shortly after they opened. I remembered liking my visit and, since this site did not exist back then, I never had the chance to write a review. So, I felt a return trip was merited. I remembered the place as being huge, with a balcony and as Petula Clark would describe, “…a cellar full of noise…”

Unfortunately, as with so many lovely buildings in Manhattan, the restaurant is surrounded by scaffolds, which makes it difficult to capture the grand exterior. A shame, since they’ve added red chili pepper lights to the evergreens outside in order to make the space more festive. Inside, a multitude of conversations washed over me as I stood at the Captain’s Station and stated my reservation. The noise is not overwhelming, and they can hear and understand the customers. When the young lady led me to the stairs I was secretly hoping she would lead me to the last table bordering the balcony in the back where the view is most spectacular. And she did.

I noticed right away that the votive candle sitting on the brown paper tablecloth emblazoned with names of seafood both real and imaginary (there’s no such thing as a Chilean Sea Bass) was extinguished. A large vase of spring branches with artificial hydrangea flowers towered behind me. Below, I could see all the diners engaged in business deals, personal affairs, or just enjoying their food. My waiter Kyle brought a menu and apologized as he tended to a table of six young girls next to mine. Another server brought the breadbasket and a glass of water. I was starving after being on the ark with Noah, and so I grabbed the first slice of bread. When I had a little trouble tearing off a piece I knew it was beyond its prime and tried the roll instead. It was fresh and, with butter, quite satisfying. Kyle came by at that moment and I asked him to “light my fire,” pointing to the votive candle. When he returned it was indeed lit, but with a tiny electronic candle, which gave off a feeble illumination to my table.

The menu is a large affair: food on one side and drinks on the other. The food, in turn, is broken down into Soups, Starters, Oysters, Cold Cocktails, Cold “Towers,” House Specialties, City Salads, Fish, Shrimp, Crab, Lobster, Pasta, Chicken and Steak & Combo Dishes, and the ever popular Sides.

On the drinks side, I noticed that one cocktail had “Bulldog” English Gin, a very close second to my favorite, Beefeater. I ordered my usual martini and after a little while Kyle was pouring it straight from the shaker. I had to take a sip before it all fit in the glass. I began liking this place all over again.

There were four soups to choose from but Kyle noted that they were out of the Maryland Crab Soup (I had my eye on that one) and I knew the Louisiana Style Gumbo had Andouille sausage in it and the special Potato-Leek soup came with pancetta (no meat on Fridays in Lent for me). That left the New England clam chowder, to which I have a rather high benchmark in my history for comparison. Then Kyle said the Potato-Leek could be made without the pancetta. Sold! It was a nice creamy pale green (the only color I could assume given the low lighting) puree, nice and hot with a distinctly good flavor. Being ravenous, I finished it without a trace left in the bowl.

Next came the half-dozen West Coast oysters on the half-shell, resting on a bed of ice, and perfectly chilled. Their variation in size and shape indicated different species, but Kyle did not volunteer names (nor did I ask). I just enjoyed, especially with the fresh horseradish/catsup sauce. I was glad I switched from a starter to the plate of oysters because the only starter that was remotely interesting was the Buffalo Shrimp with Maytag Bleu Cheese. Kyle, meanwhile, was keeping me in martinis and I was happy.

I was anticipating the main course from the first moment I saw it described online: the Crab Pot, containing Alaskan King Crab, Pacific Dungeness Crab, Snow Crab and Maryland Blue Crab with corn on the cob and boiled potatoes in a Sam Adams orange/saffron broth. Though sounding like the perfect sampler to me, it turned out to be a little disappointing. It was mostly Snow Crab (sure, they’re cheaper), with only a couple of pieces of King Crab and a single Maryland Blue Crab perched on top that was nowhere near as peppery as I remember Maryland Crab to be. The potatoes and corn were there, but the Dungeness must have left the building. Granted there was plenty of food and cooked perfectly; it was just not what I expected. As for the saffron, well, let’s just say it was light enough to be non-existent. Still, I was having fun cracking crabs and dipping the meat in the drawn butter.

At this point I decided to have a glass of the 2011 “Cigar” Zinfandel from Mendocino County as a change of pace, and it helped me choose dessert. The Florida Key Lime Pie stood out even though I’ve never heard of Key Lime Pie from anywhere else. It was a thick cylinder of Key lime mousse on a graham cracker crumb base with a thin slice of lime rising from it like a tiara. It was delightful (but not quite what I had in the Florida Keys). The coffee made everything come together again. It was called Caramel Coffee and was mixed with Kahlua and Caramel Vodka. Yum!

City Crab is a fun place to dine. It’s not quiet and romantic, but rather boisterous and active. There’s nothing chic about it. Again, in the words of Petula Clark, “It’s a swingin’ place…”

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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