Friday, October 17, 2014

Dracula Untold

Dinner and a Movie

Of Dracula and Rare Steak Or Never Take a Vampire to a Steakhouse

By Steve Herte

When I was a teenager I had a passion for building models, mostly model cars. I had a Cadillac, a Lincoln Continental, a Corvette Stingray, a Toronado, an Avanti, and a Chevrolet Impala. I customized them and painted them in great detail. I wonder where they went? Then I got into ships, but I stopped after the Aircraft Carrier Shangri-La - too many parts. It was simpler to build the models of the Universal Studios monster collection. Number one of these was Dracula (the Bela Lugosi model), which was easy to do because it came in black plastic and I only had to fill in the pale face and red cape inside, and minimal painting before display. But all of these are in the past with only the memories remaining. I still think vampires are cool, but I'm not sure I'd like to be one. The only thing you get to eat or drink is blood. I like my restaurants too much to give up food for immortality. Which brings me to Dinner and a Movie. Enjoy!

Dracula Untold (Universal, 2014) Director: Gary Shorte. Writers: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless (s/p). Based on characters created by Bram Stoker. Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance, Diarmaid Murtagh, Paul Kaye, William Houston, Noah Huntley, Ronan Vibert, Zach McGowan, Ferdinand Kingsley, Joseph Long, Thor Kristjansson, & Jakub Gierszal. Color, 92 minutes.

"Sometimes people need a hero, and sometimes they need a Monster."

Having read Bram Stoker’s original story of “Dracula,” “Nosferatu,” all of Anne Rice’s tales of the vampire Lestat, and having seen all the incarnations of Dracula from Bela Lugosi (still the best) through Max Shreck, Louis Jourdan and George Hamilton, I was eager to see the movie that explains where it all began. Granted, Lestat had his own beginnings back in ancient Egypt, but it’s the inspiration for the legend of Dracula (Son of the Dragon), that this Universal film relates.

For this we must go back to the mid to late 15th Century in Romania, where Vlad Tepes III (Evans) is king. The Ottoman Turks are advancing into Europe and are about to attack Hungary and Austria. Romania has been paying tribute to Turkey to avoid war. Vlad’s father paid a human tribute of 1,000 young boys for the Turkish army, but Vlad will do anything to keep his people safe.

When a battalion of Turkish soldiers venture onto and inside Broken Tooth Mountain, they are mysteriously slain to a man. The Sultan thinks it was Vlad and his troops and sends an emissary to collect the tribute, plus 1,000 boys (including his son) to fill his ranks. Vlad tries to reason with his old friend Mehmed (Cooper). They became friends when Vlad’s father sent him to the Turks along with the 1,000 boys the first time around. His prowess and violent methods in battle won him the title “Vlad the Impaler.” But now that his kingdom is at peace he wishes it to stay that way. Mehmed, however, is unmoved.

A small contingent of soldiers comes to pick up the boy and Vlad kills them all in a whirlwind of swordplay. Mehmed is really mad now, and sends a large army after Vlad. The Romanian people accuse their king of starting a war they cannot win. But Vlad has an idea. He had met the creature living in Broken Tooth Mountain in an earlier scene where a Turkish helmet washes downstream from the peak and, investigating the cause, he and his men enter a cave. The remains of the Turkish battalion are scattered all over the floor of the cave when the creature attacks. Vlad loses a man, but was spared by the daylight streaming into the mouth of the cave. He knows that this monster has a secret to his power and that he might gain that power to vanquish the Turks.

Vlad climbs back up the mountain to the cave and confronts the Master Vampire (Dance) with his dilemma. The creature breaks a skull open, slashes his wrist with his teeth and pours his blood into the skull bowl. He tells Vlad to drink it and he will gain the awesome power of the Master Vampire. If he can resist the thirst for human blood for three days he will revert to his normal self. If he cannot resist, he will remain a vampire forever and the Master Vampire will be freed from his mountain prison. Vlad drinks.

From then on the movie is a computer-graphic joyride. Vlad discovers his new powers quickly and uses the capability of dispersing into a colony of bats and reforming to slay an army of 1,000 men solo. Vlad tells his men not to relate what happened on that battlefield.

But Mehmed figures out what Vlad has done and sends 10,000 men after him.

What does a vampire do when his men are hopelessly outnumbered and he can only fight at night? Well, he calls upon the millions of bats living in his country to do some of the fighting for him, creates a huge thunderstorm to enable him to fight in the daytime, and makes his entire people into vampires (except for his wife and son) to completely decimate the Turkish horde. Unfortunately, he loses his wife in a plunge from the highest tower of the monastery (where his people took refuge) and she begs him to drink her blood with her dying breath. Ergo, he’s a vampire forever and the Master is released.

Dracula Untold is a typical blockbuster-style movie, grand in scale and with a lot of fast action. It’s not the scary Dracula story we all know, but it’s a good concept for a prequel. Evans is much better looking than any of the pictures of Vlad Tepes, but that’s Hollywood. It’s quite jarring to hear Mehmed drop the Turkish accent and sound Russian several times, and the Castle Dracula looks more like Notre Dame Cathedral than a castle in the Carpathians. The special effects are great. Needless to say, there is a lot of bloodshed and impaling (parents, this is where your good sense comes in). There are also primal growls from the vampires and bone-crunching sounds when they bite.

The theater, for the first time in a long time, was almost full with a wide range of ages. In the last scene of the movie I heard someone say, “Sequel.” The scene is modern day Romania, castle Dracula is a tourist attraction, Vlad, who was saved by Shkelgim (McGowan), meets a beautiful blonde flower sales girl named Mina. This is where I came in.

Rating: 3 ½ Martini glasses out of 5.

The Strip House Next Door
11 East 12th StreetNew York

There’s nothing like a good old vampire movie to make one hungry for a rare steak and, two blocks from the theater at Union Square, the opportunity exists to have one. The Strip House is a 14-year old establishment in Greenwich Village at 13 East 12th, and the adjacent downstairs location (once a speakeasy) is its 2½-year-old offspring, “Next Door.” Sheltered from the garish red neon sign and black awning of the parent restaurant by a tree in autumn color, it’s only 10 steps down from the sidewalk.

Inside all is red-flocked wallpaper and photos of famous actresses as pin-up girls, and if you look closely, the pattern of the flocking on the walls is composed of female forms as well. A cheery young blonde girl in a black dress wearing killer lace stockings greeted me at the Captain’s Station and led me to the “perfect” table at the end of the bar. The intimate space comprises some 20-odd tables in addition to the massive bar. The lighting is low, but not dark, and there are votive candles in red glass on the white-clothed tables.

The equally cheery young man who would become my server welcomed me and took both my water preference and cocktail order as he presented me with the menu and separate wine book. He reappeared with my Beefeater martini before bringing the water and made witty note of the odd situation. I did my best W.C. Fields and told him, “I don’t really drink water. Fish DO IT in it.” He laughed and went to get the water.

Meanwhile, another server brought a silver bowl of homemade potato chips (complete with dip) as an Amuse-bouche and the breadbasket – one roll and a pretzel breadstick (that went first). I told my server I already felt spoiled. He recited the daily specials and left me to decide.

After a little while, sipping my perfect martini I choose three courses and a side. The menu was surprisingly simple. To start, I chose the Lobster Bisque – Maine lobster, pearl couscous, and a dollop of sour cream. It arrived without a spoon. I looked around to see if I missed it but . . . no. My server hurriedly produced one with, “This usually comes with this dish.” We both laughed. The bisque was smooth, hot and creamy and the pearl couscous at the bottom was a pleasant surprise.

The wine book was impressive in amount of pages and after hysterically giggling at the huge number of outrageously priced bottles I found the reasonable ones at the back of the book. There I found a 2011 Bucklin Bambino Zinfandel from Sonoma County, which was exactly what I needed. It was full-bodied without being overbearing and a rich red color.

My second course was a plate of oysters, three East Coast, three West Coast. They were deliciously fresh and cold, served on a bed of ice and accompanied by both a vinegar sauce and a horseradish sauce. Another server saw me taking pictures of my food and asked if I wanted a photo of myself with the oysters. (Another light-hearted moment.)

The main course (and the thing I craved after the Dracula movie) was a special of the day, a 14-ounce, bone-in Filet Mignon (On second thought, doesn’t the bone cancel out the Filet part?). It was a good inch and a half high blackened crisp on the outside and bright red on the inside, just the way I like it.

Sharing the plate was a head of baked garlic with a tree of rosemary sprouting from its center. The side dish was one I craved since I saw it on the website, Crispy Goose Fat Fries. I had no idea what this dish would look like. It was a baseball-sized crispy brown-coated ball of potatoes crowned with rosemary leaves. It was tasty but could have used less rosemary and more goose fat – something I noted to my server.

I was rapidly becoming sated but enjoying myself nevertheless when dessert time arrived. “The cheesecake’s on the house!” announced my server, and I agreed. But the slice of fluffy cheese on a graham cracker crust proved to be too much for me and I had them box half of it to go. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t even have room for espresso or an after-dinner drink. I called for the check.

The Strip House Next Door is a pretty, definitely cheery, little steakhouse, and comes in at number 92 on my database of steakhouses. But it ranks up in the top 20 as far as enjoyment goes and food quality. I may go back with a guest because, when my server was listing the specials he mentioned a 40-ounce T-Bone. I’m dying to see what that looks like but I don’t think I can finish it alone.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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