Friday, August 8, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Dinner and a Movie

Galactic Guardians and Gastronomic Goodness

By Steve Herte

Dad and I are still eating the leftovers from my boss's barbeque last week. What a party. Only a few days of work to go before my New York stay-cation; I can't wait. The new bathroom is nearing completion. George said he could do it in five days (it's already been six), but I guess the plumbing (my house is almost 100 years old) was the biggest problem. The walls are tiled, the tub and shower-head are in, the medicine cabinet is in and the ceiling light/vent is operational. Just the flooring, shower curtain, sink, vanity, trim around the window and door, and toilet are left. Oh, and the radiator. I can't wait to see him try to put that back in place! The two layers of flooring already in place barely allow the door to open fully. When the tile is down something is going to have to be done about the door – it won't have any clearance. The radiator is another thing altogether. The steam pipe downstairs is resting on a box of dominoes on a shelving unit. It will have to be jacked up to meet the opening on the radiator and I know how much strength that takes. Been there, done that. But we'll see. I hope he finishes before I leave. It does look really good so far (well, anything would look good compared to our mismatched, multicolor bathroom of yore – sorry, I forgot to take a "before" photo). Friday, I was tired after a crazy week of performing my "toilette" in our laundry room downstairs and I was ready for entertainment. I got it! Enjoy!

Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Studios/Disney, 2014) Director: James Gunn. Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman (s/p). Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning (comic book). Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Laura Haddock, Sean Gunn, Wyatt Oleff, & Peter Serafinowicz. Color and 3D, 121 minutes.

What makes a summer blockbuster movie? Is it an epic storyline, skies filled with exploding spacecraft, unlikely heroes fighting evil villains, or brilliant special effects that make you wonder, “how’d they do that?” Or is it a script that mixes clever humor with seriousness, a cast that works together as if they were related or a soaring musical soundtrack? If you answered “all of the above,” you have the essence of Guardians of the Galaxy, and it qualifies as a blockbuster. Having never read the Marvel comic that gave birth to this movie I was unprepared for the strange reality that unfolded before my eyes.

The opening scene has pathos galore as in 1988, young Peter Quill’s (Oleff) mother is on her death bed, giving him a present (which he doesn’t open) and reaching out her hand to him. She dies before he takes it and in his grief he runs from the house out into a field, where Yondu Udonta (Rooker) abducts him. Udonta is a blue-skinned alien who raises Peter to be an intergalactic mercenary. The scene zaps forward 26 years and we see Peter (Pratt) now calling himself “Star-Lord” (though apparently, no one else does) as he pops in his Awesome Mix #1 tape into his Walkman (which he retained from his childhood), and veritably dances across a barren alien landscape, booting vicious creatures aside and rocketing over deep ravines filled with snapping jaws to eventually steal an ornate silver orb (similar to the first Indiana Jones episode) from its force-field cage using a high-powered magnetic device. Korath (Hounsou) and his “Ravagers” are right on his heels, but he escapes them.

Meanwhile, Ronin (Pace), an all-around bad guy with dreams of ruling the universe, has been ordered to procure the same orb by Thanos (Brolin) and (of course) is threatened with dire consequences for failure. He assigns Gamora (Saldana), a green-skinned lovely with bright red hair, to accomplish what Korath failed to do. Her sister Nebula (Gillan) is upset that she wasn’t chosen for the task.

Peter brings the orb to the planet Nova intending to sell it to Nova Prime (Close), when Rocket, the genetically-altered raccoon (voiced Cooper), and his tree-like alien sidekick, Groot (voiced Diesel), waylay him. (Groot’s entire lexicon consists of three words: “I am Groot.”) They want to capture him to collect the bounty. Gamora arrives just as Peter escapes Rocket and Groot, and the game of “who’s got the orb” continues through the streets of Nova until the Nova police force capture all four. They are all sentenced to incarceration at a high-security prison on an artificial planet called “Knowhere.” There they meet Drax (Bautista), a muscle-bound blue-skinned alien with bright red bas-relief tattoos, and a vendetta against Ronin and Thanos for the deaths of his wife and daughter. Gamora reveals the true value of the orb and piques the interests of Rocket and Groot. Using Rocket’s master plan and their diverse talents, they become a team and break out of Knowhere.

Before going to Nova, in an attempt to sell the orb to the Collector (Del Toro) Peter learned that inside it is the Universe Stone, a glowing purple element that, in the wrong hands, can destroy worlds. But in the course of their escape from Knowhere, Gamora winds up drifting in space and near death. Peter saves her, but Ronin and Nebula capture them. Ronin extracts the Universe Stone and inserts it into his staff with intent to destroy Zandar, Thanos’ planet (as well as other worlds, including Nova).

Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderfully entertaining movie about five “losers” (Peter’s words, which he quickly amends to “those who have lost something”) who, prior to being forced together as a team thought they needed no one else. It’s a tale on the same scale as Star Wars with similar wry humor throughout and some very funny moments. Rocket has most of the funny lines and the biggest reactions to being called such things as “vermin.” Even the battle scenes have humor. In one, Groot extends a limb to skewer about 15 oppressors and then slam them back and forth into the walls of a corridor. Saldana is at her best, beautiful in green skin and full of snide remarks and comebacks. Pratt is still playing an idiot, but it works in this film, even when he’s singing and dancing to “O-o-h Child” (by the Five Stairsteps) to distract Ronin while Rocket constructs and fires a weapon.

There are no spots in this movie I would call dead space (where nothing is happening). In fact, you would be well advised to watch what’s happening in the background, especially right before they break out of prison, and Rocket is finalizing (he thinks) the order of his plan. It’s a movie for the whole family – no gore, no gratuitous sex (although Peter does develop a crush on Gamora). I enjoyed it thoroughly and . . . it makes no indirect hint about a sequel. Stay through the credits. You’ll see “the Guardians of the Galaxy will return.”

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 martini glasses.

V Café
345 Greenwich Street (between Harrison and Jay Streets)New York

Can you believe it took 10 years for me to discover this charming haven of traditional Vietnamese cuisine? It wasn’t; it couldn’t have been. I checked my database and less than five years ago this location was Turks and Frogs. Still, when I walked past it twice without seeing it I began to understand. The undistinguished pale gray narrow street front does not make a statement, and the small red sign over it is just about out of vision level (until you look back from a block away).

Inside, the warm glow from the tubular, paper-wrapped swags and the dark wood, bare-topped tables invite you to another world of dining. At first I recoiled at the heavy chairs and bare-wood benches (nothing was cushioned) but, as I got used to it, I concluded that this lack of comfort enhanced my eagerness to enjoy my food (there was no way I was going to fall asleep here). My servers (there were two) presented me with the four-page menu and took my water preference. The last page of the menu was the cocktail and wine list. I had just opened to it and was considering a cocktail when the male server (the one of the 10-year existence theory) reappeared asking if I was ready to order. I guess they must get a high turn-around of diners here. I explained what stage I was at and ordered the Tet Cocktail – Coconut Vodka mixed with exotic fruit juices and ginger – very nice.

The menu was divided into Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Lettuce-Wrapped Rolls, Steamed Rice Crepes, Seafood Entrées, Meat Entrées, Stews, Broth Noodles, Vegetarian Entrées, Noodle Bowls, Fried Rice and Sides. Though Heather was my main server, the young man (whose name I did not get) was most helpful in understanding the portions and putting together a three-course meal. It was he I told about my appetite and slow dining propensity. He recommended several dishes and at last I was ready. One appetizer, a soup and a meat entrée sounded perfect and I ordered the 2012 McWilliams Shiraz from Australia to go with it all. It tasted slightly tannic with fruit overtones and a delightful aftertaste.

My appetizer (to prove that Vietnamese cuisine is more than just transparent Spring Rolls) was Ha Noi “Pillow” Dumplings – delicate steamed rice dumplings stuffed with shrimp, pork, scallions and jicama root and served with a tangy soy sauce. They were so tender and fragile it proved a challenge to handle them with chopsticks without breaking them in half but I mastered the technique. Heather also produced a ramekin of sriracha, a thick, red, fiery Vietnamese hot sauce that, in small doses, gave a spicy kick to the dumplings.

Next was a hearty bowl of Spicy Coconut Soup – made with chunks of white-meat chicken (or shrimp), tamarind, tomato, mushrooms and herbs in a spicy tamarind broth – fantastic! Heather commented that it was her favorite dish on the menu. I told her she was right. The broth itself was dominated by coconut flavor only accented with sweet tamarind and not quite as spicy as I expected. Good thing I still had the sriracha sauce. A couple of spoonfuls mixed in and I was having a culinary delight.

At this point, the Shiraz was doing a great job accompanying each dish and nothing was brought out early. I finished the soup with many compliments to the woman chef, Lan Tran Cao. (I saw her but she never visited my table.) 

My main course arrived, the Roast Lacquered Duck – tender slices of duck meat cooked perfectly in a five-spice “lacquer” with a “Nuoc Mam” (it means fish sauce and is made with vinegar, sugar, garlic, lime and chilies) glaze and in a tamarind-ginger sauce. The ginger was again dominated by the tamarind flavor, but I was in heaven. The garnish of Vietnamese cilantro (not as pungent as the Mexican version) was a special accent to the dish. A bowl of plain white rice made every bite a new adventure.

V Café boasts on their website that “…organic Vietnamese cuisine has been, for thousands of years, oriented (great choice of words) for balance and nutrition. It uses an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables for texture and color, marinated meats in spices rather than relying on excess oil for cooking or enhancement of flavor.” I was impressed.

It was dessert time and they only had two. I chose the Coconut Crepe Cake and Heather sighed. “That was my birthday cake!” The almost two-inch-high slice of snow-white coconut cream was divided into at least 25 layers by the thinnest of rice pancakes (thinner even than paper – but somehow this cake stayed together). And the taste…celestial! It was so good I forgot about the fact that no one had Angel Food Cake for my birthday. This cake substituted for it perfectly.

I considered tea after dessert but changed my mind when I thought about the long commute home. I thanked both my servers for a wonderful time and was surprised that a restaurant that has existed as long as V Café has had no business cards. I’ll just have to make a return trip.

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