Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Dinner and a Movie

Why Did The Gander Cross the Road?

By Steve Herte

My Stay-cation started with a bang for sure: A movie that I had expected to blow me away (and it did) and a restaurant that evoked a previous one (The Guilty Goose). How can it get better than that? Well, I'll tell you. This past week, a representative of (the ONLY source of my restaurant reservations) acknowledged that she had read my review of Hercules and requested to be a link on our Blog! (It's forthcoming.) How good is that? I thought, after 2,620 restaurants, that is pretty good. I welcome OpenTable to our family and hope they continue to read the best reviews of movies both past and present, and continue to enjoy restaurants as much as I do! Enjoy!

The Hundred-Foot Journey (Amblin/Harpo/Touchstone, 2014)  Director: Lasse Hallstrom. Writers: Steven Knight (s/p), Richard C. Morais (book, The Hundred-Foot Journey). Cast: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra, Aris Pandya, Michel Blanc, Clement Sibony, Vioncent Elbaz, Juhi Chawla, Alban Aumard, Shuna Lemoine, Antoine Blanquefort, & Rohan Chand). Color, 122 minutes.

It’s a love story, it’s a battle of wits, it’s a comedy, and it’s serious business. It’s the most beautiful movie of the year so far. Every superlative of praise applies to The Hundred-Foot Journey. I laughed, I cried (bring at least three tissues) tears of joy, I salivated, and rejoiced. The solid backing of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and the superb direction of Hallström combine with the flawless performances of Mirren, Puri, Dayal and Le Bon to create a breath-taking cinematic experience.

I admit I’m a little biased. I’m a foodie and two of my favorite cuisines are featured, Indian and French, but the storyline is also delicious. Papa (Puri) and his family have a restaurant in Mumbai, India, that is attacked by a faction in a major election war. Not only is the restaurant burnt to the ground, his dear wife also dies in the fire. Before the attack we see her and her son Hassan in the kitchen and she’s saying, “Cooking is about killing. You’re dealing with 'ghosts.' Can you taste the ghosts?” Though he’s a child (Chand), he seems to understand.

Papa decides to take the remainder of his family to Europe (anywhere but India) so that they can cook and live in peace. England is their first stop but the weather puts a very wet damper on their hopes. Once on the mainland, they pile into a rickety rattletrap of a van, and its brakes fail on a mountain road overlooking a picturesque French town. Fortunately, Marguerite (Le Bon) happens by, and can speak English. She helps the family down to the town (they literally have to push the disabled van) and opens her home to them for the night. The fresh vegetables and cheese she serves them lets Papa know that “brakes break for a reason,” and that this is where Mama meant them to be.

He finds a property for sale across the lane (exactly 100 feet away) from Madame Mallory’s (Mirren) single-star Michelin-rated French restaurant. Though she (and his sons and daughter) try to dissuade him, Papa is adamant and the Chateau Mumbai is born (complete with a false front Taj Mahal entrance. Hassan Kadam (Dayal) is the Chef, though he humbly calls himself a “cook.”) He learns through association with her that Marguerite is a Sous-Chef at Madame Mallory’s. She loans him essential books on French cuisine and gives him hints as to how to win over Madame Mallory (“Make her an omelet, if she likes it, you’re in”). A love affair begins to blossom.

Meanwhile, Madame Mallory and Papa are both beleaguering the town mayor (Blanc) with various allegations of infractions of the law and through their battling are becoming more and more attracted to each other. Papa’s daughter Mahira (Elahe) is the first one to notice what is happening. It’s not until Marcel (Aumard), one of Madame Mallory’s line cooks, has his friends toss Molotov Cocktails into the Indian restaurant and spray paint “La France a la Francaise” on the front wall that Madame Mallory realizes how serious the situation is getting. She fires Marcel (“I don’t pay you to BURN things”). Hassan’s hands are burned in the fire, but he invites Madame Mallory over to make an omelet (under his direction) and she is stunned at how good it is.

After haggling with Papa over the salary, Hassan goes to work at Madame Mallory’s restaurant and helps her achieve a second Michelin star. Then, as Madame predicts, the clamor arises from three-star hopefuls in Paris for this new Chef, and Hassan finds himself in an ultra-modern restaurant creating food art using all the latest break-through techniques in preparation. He’s lionized in Paris on magazine covers and news articles – that is, until his brother Mansur (Shah) appears one night with a traditional Indian dish. (Be ready with the tissues here.)

The Hundred-Foot Journey should receive several nominations for Academy Awards, not just for the acting, the story and the direction, but also for screenplay, cinematography, soundtrack and best movie. Mark my words. Up to now (in my humble opinion) it has no competition. Even children will like this film, though I’m not sure babies and toddlers will appreciate it. Maybe the two hour and two minutes will grant them some sleep time.

When Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet I just wonder whether he knew how timeless his story would be. There are elements of it throughout this movie and they’re just as poignant today as they were in Elizabethan times. If you never see another movie this year, see The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Gander
15 West 18th Street (Between 5th and Broadway)New York

The unassuming exterior of The Gander humbly invites you (the name etched onto the front window is in lower-case gray lettering) to the warmly-decorated interior. You pass by the bar with its bright copper swags and are led into the main dining area lit by clusters of large-shaded lights looking like bongo drums. The bare-wood tables and comfy avocado green banquettes state their welcome simply and do not prepare you for the amazing feast to come.

As soon as I was seated and my server, Chad, presented me with the menu and wine list, I knew there was something different and special about this restaurant. The entire staff seemed genuinely friendly and glad to see you there. No pretensions. While Chad was off getting my water, I found a cocktail I just had to try. It was called Paloma de Barrameda (the Dove of the Canary Island People, as far as I could discover) – a bewitching brew of Tequila, lime, grapefruit, Agave, Manzanilla Sherry, Cardamom bitters and Mezcal Mist. (The cardamom ingredient made it a perfect segue from the movie I just saw.)

The dinner menu was broken down into categories of “Snacks,” “Charcuterie,” “Cheese,” “Starters,” “Pastas,” “Mains,” and “Sides.” Everything appeared intriguing and innovative. Chad listed the specials, which were every bit as interesting as the rest of the menu. I thanked him for his advice on various dishes and he left me to decide on a wine. The wine list was as impressive as it was diverse (and comprehensive!) but I finally settled on the 2012 “Le Cote” Pinot Noir from Millton Vineyards in Gisborne, New Zealand. It was a bright flavored red with a spicy after-taste and it proved itself worthy of every dish I chose.

For sheer “outré” shock value I started with one of the “snacks” – the “Buffalo” Sweetbreads with Bleu Cheese dressing and celery. I couldn’t imagine the combination of the delicate taste of sweetbreads with the bold spice of the Buffalo preparation. But it worked! The spice did not destroy the sweetbreads and they in turn did not succumb to it. The resulting dish was simply amazing! I learned later on that Chef Schenker has just published a book this year entitled All or Nothing, and this dish was “all.”

Next on my list was Beet Tortelli, with goat yoghurt, coconut and almonds. The succulent beets (a little smaller than ping-pong balls) were wrapped in tender pasta, sprinkled with coconut and almonds, and resting in the yoghurt. The menu did not mention the braised spinach wrapped around this wonderful delight. It was colorful and well as delicious.

On to the main course, which, if you know me, was duck. But not just duck cooked crispy. This was breast meat over summer cassoulet (lots of beans) and crispy hominy (corn grits). It wasn’t your familiar cassoulet or your familiar duck filet, it was both. With the crunch of corn grits, it became an amalgam of styles and cuisines that tantalized.

Now you may say, “After all this, he couldn’t possibly want dessert!” and you’d be wrong. The brown sugar corn cake with a slice of plum sorbet, lemon verbena, sesame flax pecans and ginger topped the meal exactly. (That and the Brooklyn-produced coffee made the dinner.) Did I mention an after-dinner drink called “Cardamamo?” You’d have to try it to understand. I will be taking another “gander” at the Gander in the future.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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