Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mad Money

Dinner and a Movie

Mad Money Stowed in Casinos

By Steve Herte

What a wonderful country we live in. The more I see of it the more I love it.

This week the travel whirlwind did not include time to go to an actual theater and the public transportation simply did not exist as it does in New York. This week’s movie is one I saw on DVD. And rather than a single restaurant I decided to give a travelogue of my personal experiences with dining included. When we left Milford for Vermont we wisely planned for a tour stop on the way and found Hilldene Mansion, which belonged to Abraham Lincoln's last surviving son. It was beautiful even though they did not allow photography inside. It provided the perfect rest stop in a four-hour ride. As for the rest of the tour, read on and enjoy! 

Mad Money (Overture Films, 2008) - Director: Callie Khouri. Writers: Glenn Gers (s/p), John Mister (earlier s/p), Neil McKay & Terry Winsor (s/p “Hot Money”). Cast: Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes, Ted Danson, Adam Rothenberg, Peyton ‘Alex’ Smith, Charlie Caldwell, Richard F. Law, Meagen Fay, & Christopher McDonald. Color, 104 minutes.

Crime is contagious. You can catch it from someone else.” Bridget Cardigan (Keaton) announces at the beginning of this clever comedy about “wanting” and “needing.” Husband Don Cardigan (Danson) has been “downsized” (out of work) for over a year with no prospects and his wife wants to maintain their upper middle class lifestyle. So she goes to work, landing the undignified job of custodian in the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. During her training she can’t help but notice and be dazzled by the stacks of “over-used” money being hauled around by co-worker Jackie Truman (Holmes) and shredded by Nina Brewster (Queen Latifah).

She hatches a scheme to “appropriate” this seemingly wasted money by convincing Nina and Jackie that it’s the way to get what they’ve always needed and deserved – Nina has two sons who could do well in college if it’s affordable, and Jackie and her husband Bob (Rothenberg) live in a ratty trailer that could definitely use an upgrade. In the course of her duties, she notices the master lock on the large rolling Plexiglass carts is similar to one she can buy in a store, so she buys one and smuggles it into work in a large belt buckle with the key. Later, in a coordinated series of hand-offs and stashes, the three women manage to steal an enormous amount of cash by concealing it under their clothes as they leave the bank.

Don is horrified when he walks in on the girls while they’re tossing money around like confetti and has to be talked into the scheme. All is going well until one of the security guards (who has eyes for Nina) figures out what they’re doing and it looks like the jig is up. Not for Bridget. She has Nina talk the guard into joining their little “organized crime ring” for a cut of the money. Nina warns her compatriots over and over again not to spend the money and Don cautions not to invest it in increments of over $10,000 or it will raise tax flags. Unfortunately, Bob does exactly that and the Feds are after them, first showing up as an uninvited guest at one of Don's and Bridget’s garden parties, followed by a bank examiner.

One by one the “ring” is arrested, save for Bridget, who uses what cash she can grab from her house to get a lawyer (her former best friend’s husband) to act as counselor for the group.

Mad Money is a delightful test of the various actors’ skills. Keaton in particular is wonderful as she morphs from congenial hostess to beleaguered employee, to scheming criminal, to raving madwoman. Latifah is adorable switching back and forth from alluring to domineering. Holmes is the perfect backwoods ninny with a hidden intelligent side. Danson is well, Danson, and he does it perfectly.

The movie, obviously a fantasy/comedy, has moments of tension and comic relief. The fantasy part is trying to believe the IRS would ever work hand-in-hand with the FBI (toward the end). The DVD has a special commentary from Director Callie Khouri, a special Behind-the-Scenes feature called “Makin’ Money” and a theatrical trailer and is available through Though an adult film, it can be viewed by children old enough to understand the humor. Small children will get bored in the first 15 minutes. I enjoyed it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Charlie B’s Pub
The Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa
1746 Mountain RoadStowe, Vermont

The Stoweflake wasn’t our first choice for our stay in the Green Mountains but it proved to be charming. The rooms were good-sized and quiet and the employees friendly, especially the concierge, Sue. She gave us recommendations for dining and touring that we had not learned from our research. Charlie B’s Pub featured several of the beers from the local Vermont breweries including Magic Hat and Alchemist. However, I was there for the Maple-tini – a deceivingly sweet concoction of vodka, cream and maple syrup that tasted like more – but beware.

The most interesting appetizer on the menu is the Vermont Style Poutine. I looked up the word “Poutine” and learned that it is a Canadian creation – French fries topped with cheese curds (in this case, Maplebrook Farms’) and house-made chicken gravy. I’m sure they included some maple syrup in the recipe as well because it was sinfully delicious, gooey and cheesy. My main course was an 8-ounce Filet Mignon topped with Bordelaise sauce and sided with rice and a salad. Though not the best filet I’ve ever had, it was done well and the rice was a mix of white and wild rice. The salad lacked enough dressing but Bre (pronounced Brie) the waitress was happy to procure more. We were too tired from the drive up and we eschewed dessert and went back to our rooms to relax.

The next morning, we checked out and had breakfast at the Green Mountain Coffee Café and Visitor Center, 1 Rotarian Place in Waterbury, Vermont. After a large mocha and a raspberry stollen, I was ready for the self-guided tour – which was surprisingly informative. 

From there we visited the headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road) for a factory tour and tasting. The tour was fascinating and funny (lots of cow jokes and puns) and the Milk and Cookies flavor tasting was rich, creamy and chocolaty. Later I bought a large cup of the new flavor, “Scotchy, Scotch Scotch” – an intense butterscotch creation – to eat while touring the grounds, especially the Retired Flavor Graveyard, a clever fenced in group of headstones mourning the passing of flavors such as Turtle Soup and Wavy Gravy.

Then it was on to Bragg’s Farm Sugarhouse for a brief tour of the family owned and operated maple syrup business. Again, I learned things I never knew like how intermittent the running of the sap was depending on the temperature. There was also a tasting of four flavors of maple syrup (believe it or not, they were different and distinct). Next we visited Grandview Winery in East Calais Vermont. The wines here are made from berries and fruits rather than grapes and some were surprisingly not sweet. We tried the Seyval (the only grape wine), Cranberry, Strawberry-Rhubarb, Raspberry-Apple, and Blackberry wines. All were unique in character and flavor but none could be classified as a dinner wine.

Is anyone getting hungry yet? Our next stop was the Cabot Creamery (2878 Main Street in Cabot, Vermont) where again we had a guided tour of the cheese-making factory ending in a tasting of at least 25 yummy cheeses. I didn’t need lunch that day.

Trapp Family Lodge
700 Trapp Hull RoadStowe, Vermont

This charming Alpine-style lodge, located at what seemed to be the top of a mountain, is obviously Austrian-Swiss inspired. The architecture and cobblestone driveway transports one to a set from The Sound of Music. The hotel staff is courteous and friendly and the rooms are beautiful and have individual balconies. The views are spectacular and the grounds beautifully flowered. The only disappointment came at dinner.

The cocktail was a perfect martini. The White Asparagus and Maine Crab Soup with poached egg was not as creamy or asparagus-y as expected, but was loose and fishy smelling. The Sweet Pea and Ricotta Agnolotti (they misspelled it “Angolotti”) was not homemade, but tasted like it was pre-frozen. The Pea Tendrils garnish was chewy to inedible, but the spring onion cream sauce was tasty. After a long while, we couldn’t help but notice that half the staff was catering to a large table of people celebrating a child’s birthday. We began to wonder where our main courses where.

Finally our waiter arrived. My Smoked Spring Lamb Ribs with Charred Green Garlic, Roasted Marbled Potatoes and Rhubarb Slaw looked like Hiroshima after they dropped the bomb. It was a tasteless scorched teepee of bones and chewy, inedible meat. I sent it back with the description “Horrible!” Surprisingly, the replacement dish, the Corned Quebec Duck Breast with Maple-Lime Gastrique, Fava Beans, Fingerling Potatoes and Spring Onions arrived in five minutes. Hmmm. I noticed that the large table was cleared. The duck was cooked properly and even though I don’t like fingerling potatoes, these were good. It was the only dish that did not require salt. On the good side, the wines were lovely. And then there was the stodgy, uninspired and totally inauthentic Black Forest cake (free because of the entrée disaster). Good, but not right. But wait, there’s more. The “Pineapple Sorbet” did not qualify as anything remotely resembling a sorbet. It was more accurately described as pulverized unripe pineapple pulp frozen to icy consistency.

The next morning we checked out and had breakfast at K.C.’s Bagel Café at 17 Stowe Street in Waterbury, Vermont. What a great place! They had breakfast sandwiches, deli sandwiches, several flavors of cream cheese and 18 different “New York Style” bagels and several coffees. This may sound strange (but take it from whom it comes) but it was delicious. I had a toasted Jalapeno bagel with peanut butter with a large Green Mountain Blueberry coffee. Wonderful! And just what I needed for the long drive to our next destination. Note: if you go to K.C.’s bring cash. They don’t take credit cards.

Todd English’s Tuscany Restaurant
Mohegan Sun
1 Mohegan Sun BoulevardUncasville, Connecticut

Fortunately, the road trip from Vermont to Connecticut was pretty uneventful, and we arrived at our next hotel at Mohegan Sun. I never cease to marvel at the lengths the artisan went to decorate this fabulous resort. The beautiful beadwork in the lobby still dazzles me every time I visit. The rooms are spacious and lovely but this time we didn’t have rooms high enough for the sweeping views (we were only on the sixth floor). We enjoyed the casinos while the time passed before our dinner. Tuscany is located at the base of an artificial mountain waterfall near the spectacular glass waterspout just down the escalator from the hotel lobby. I have enjoyed my dinner there before and was looking forward to this one.

Large Medieval-style chandeliers and moody sconces light the dark recesses of the restaurant. Again, I was served a perfect martini in a chilled glass. As the pasta dishes were not interesting, I chose two appetizers. One was the special Stuffed Fried Squash Flowers (stuffed with cheese) in a rich, thick tomato sauce. I remember first having this dish in Pisa and loving it ever since. This time was no exception. Second was the Mason Jar Meatball – a spicy veal meatball actually filling a small pint Mason jar with porcini mushrooms, roasted peppers and parmesan cream. I’ll have to tell the chef at Umberto’s about this one. Totally decadent!

The main course was veal Osso Bucco with Forest Mushroom Risotto. Our waitress asked if I needed a small fork for the marrow and indicated that the bone was sliced in half from top to bottom. I agreed and she told me to just turn it over when I wanted it. It was heavenly, meat falling off the bone tender, risotto just the right consistency and nothing requiring any further seasoning. Is that enough for you? Not for me. The special bread pudding dessert with pecans and a scoop of vanilla gelato finished my meal perfectly (even if I couldn’t finish it). Tuscany more than made up for dining at Trapp Family Lodge.

All in all it was a lovely trip. Rain came and went but did not diminish the experience. Of course winning $200 on a penny slot machine didn’t hurt either.

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