Dinner and a Movie
Good Night, Sweet Prince
By Steve Herte
I began this vacation week with an idea of what I wanted to do and accomplish. Anyone who has an actual attic knows what can accumulate over time. My basement is the equivalent to an attic with 50 years of “stuff.” It was like a treasure hunt where I didn’t expect to find anything, but things my Dad thought were lost forever turned up and that made it all worthwhile. That, plus the fact space that was cleared up, making it safer to walk there, and the knowledge of everything still there will make further clearing out easier. It was a good first step.
As for playtime, I sang at karaoke in my usual haunt and joined some friends to sing at a private place two days later.
The week had a lot of enjoyable times despite the rainy weather. I didn’t get to the zoo, but I did find my old Odyssey game. I capped it all with a movie featuring actors I respect and depend on to give great performances and a restaurant that surprised as well as delighted. Enjoy!
I’ll See You in My Dreams (Bleecker Street Media, 2015) - Director: Brett Haley. Writers: Marc Basch, Brett Haley. Stars: Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, Sam Elliott, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, June Squibb, Mark Adair-Rios, Malin Akerman, Aarti Mann, and Patricia Belcher. Color, 92 minutes, PG-13.
Carol Petersen (Danner) lost her husband Bill in a plane crash 21 years ago and she has a routine. She wakes up, greets her now 14-year-old yellow lab Hazel, goes through her day, and plays bridge with girlfriends Sally (Perlman), Rona (Place) and Georgina (Squibb) at Royal Oaks Senior Residence. The girls are all concerned with Carol living alone in her house without a man and are always trying to hook her up. They even talk her into a “speed dating” session at the residence later on.
Then one morning everything’s different. Hazel is no longer at the foot of her bed and has to be taken to the veterinarian for the last time. Carol is devastated.
She then finds her pool-cleaning man replaced by the young, handsome, bearded Lloyd (Starr). This is distracting enough, but when a large, black rat makes its appearance in her home and she spends the night on her patio couch, Lloyd arrives the next morning thinking she passed away. This begins their friendship as she asks him to investigate her house to see if the rat is still prowling about. He finds nothing but she’s grateful he searched.
The exterminator (Adair-Rios) also finds nothing the next day and tells her that this species is native to this area of California and they sometimes are in trees (wouldn’t make me more confident – nor would I sleep outdoors with this knowledge). Still nervous, when Lloyd comes to clean her pool again, she asks him in for a drink and conversation. One drink leads to another and Lloyd falls asleep on her couch.
The next morning girlfriend Rona arrives delivering Royal Oaks brochures and sees Lloyd leaving Carol’s place. What else can she think? “You’re a cougar and I’m proud of you!” she tells the bewildered Carol. The next bridge game finds Carol quieter than usual and Rona grinning broadly.
Then one day at lunch with Sally, Carol notices an intriguing man at a nearby table with a full head of white hair and mustache to match, but with big black eyebrows (Hollywood!) and an unlit cigar clenched in his teeth. Sally wants to find out who he is after concluding that Carol is interested, but Carol reins her in. Later, in the parking lot Bill (Elliott) drives by and stops. Carol is dumbfounded but lets him talk her into giving him her phone number (totally memorized, not written down).
Carol needs to talk to Lloyd and agrees to go to a karaoke bar with him. He sings a passable version of Tiffany’s cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” (originally by Tommy James and the Shondells), and she performs a sensitive and sweet “Cry Me A River,” which brings raves and applause. They learn more about each other and their friendship grows.
Carol’s daughter, Katherine “Kath” Petersen (Akerman), wants to pay Mom a visit and leaves her a message on her answering machine. Along with her message are two from Bill. She agrees to meet him and he takes her out on his boat – strangely named “So What?” The meeting becomes a day together and the relationship grows. Carol almost forgets about her daughter’s visit.
Carol’s second date with Bill ends with an intimate night (the first in a long time for both of them) and the two are having breakfast when who should comes to the door but Lloyd. An awkward scene occurs as Bill appears at the door and invites Lloyd in for breakfast, but Lloyd retreats. Kath arrives in the afternoon and they go to lunch. Kath senses that Mom is different and Carol confesses to dating Bill. Kath is overjoyed and wants to meet him. Carol knows that Bill feels the same.
Then comes the ominous phone call from Sally. Carol and Kath rush to the hospital but, because they’re not relatives, they are not allowed to see Bill. They leave Carol’s number with the receptionist and learn the grim news later on.
And what about Mr. Rat? He makes two more appearances, resulting in another patio-sleeping night for Carol and ultimately, his capture by Lloyd under a glass bowl. Lloyd empathizes with Carol’s situation and listens to her story. Having learned on their karaoke date that Carol was a part of a band in her younger days, Lloyd tells her he wrote a song. She finds a ukulele and he sings “I’ll See You in My Dreams” to her. Carol is comforted (and changed).
The next bridge game she agrees to spontaneously cruise to Iceland with Sally and soon after that she goes to the animal shelter and adopts 10-year old Beenie, a dog “nobody else wanted” per the keeper, played by Belcher (the Louisiana lawyer from Bones).
I’ll See You in My Dreams is a well-acted, well-cast, leisurely-paced movie about people dealing with long life, losing loved ones, and being tentative about new relationships, reticent to fall in love for fear of experiencing that loss again. It’s also about friendship and the need for friends’ and relatives’ encouragement to help accept change. Blythe Danner is exceptional as Carol – stead, cautious, doubtful and eventually freed from routine. Rhea Perlman is playing a friendlier version of her character Carla on Cheers and is totally lovable. Sam Elliott is sexy, confident and scarily believable. I wish he had a bigger part in the film. I would definitely like to have Martin Starr as a best friend. He’s a good listener, sincere in his reactions and a fun karaoke singer.
I mentioned that the movie is “leisurely-paced” but never is it “too long.” Director Brett Haley timed each scene to last only as long as is necessary to get the point across. He even shows up as one of the first singers in the karaoke bar. My only criticism, Brett, is next time, more Sam and more Rhea. Otherwise, great movie! My favorite scene: near the end, Carol dusts off the urn containing her husband’s remains, the smaller one containing Hazel, and the plastic-wrapped cigar, all on her mantel. Favorite line: Carol to Bill, “Are you ever going to light that thing?”
Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.
199 Prince Street (6 th Avenue) , New York
How French can you get? This cozy little boîte with wood-framed glass doors for front windows, pink and white potted petunias hanging above, and tasteful tables extending out onto the sidewalk walled in by boxes planted with begonias was a welcome sight both online and in actuality. The dozen or so tables have white cloths and butcher’s paper on top, keeping the bistro look of the place.
I arrived 15 minutes before my reservation, and though he was having a staff meeting, the manager welcomed me in for “Happy Hour,” which began at four o’clock. He led me to a perfect table by the window and I sat on the banquette side with a great view of the street. He took my water preference and presented me with the menu, wine and drink list. and happy hour bar specials list. I chose the French Intervention Cocktail – Tanteo jalapeno tequila, pineapple and cilantro – an interesting drink indeed. It was pale green, slightly spicy with that “green” taste of cilantro. Garnished with a wedge of pineapple, it was a charming way to begin my meal.
Having all the time in the world, I enjoyed my drink while the staff meeting continued two tables away. I didn’t even notice I had finished it when my server, Greg, came over and said, “Your drink?” “Is…Gone!” I said, “I must need another.” And Greg was off to procure the replacement.
When Greg returned, he asked if I had any questions about the menu. I told him I had a good appetite and was considering one “Snack,” two “Starters” (appetizers), a main course, a side, and a wine. He genuinely seemed to think that was a good idea. Between the two of us we constructed a lovely meal with a 2010 Rabasse Charavin Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault blend from Cairanne, Cotes de Rhone, as accompaniment. It was an absolutely beautiful red, powerful both in nose and first taste, and heavy with berry fruit flavors. Though no one in the restaurant even had a French accent, I felt I was being transported to Paris.
“Chicken liver mousse” – two words I would never have associated with the third, proved to be an attractively presented dish. The mousse made a crescent-moon shape on the plate, mixed with hazelnut, rhubarb, and sorrel, served with toasted brioche, and topped with thinly sliced red radishes and pink onions. As delightful as it was to the eye, it was amazing to the taste – light, sweet as well as musky, with the sharp accents from the toppings. I used the brioche carefully to make sure there was enough left to get every last bit of that mousse from the plate.
Being a loyal acolyte of Julia Child and also a lover of butter, those of you who know me know that I rarely order a dish called “healthy.” But since my first taste of quinoa (edible seeds, not an actual grain) I was hooked. Here, the quinoa salad is made with diced butternut squash and currents and garnished with crackly roasted kale. This salad is seriously as close to sinful as health food can get. It’s crunchy, nutty, sweet in places, and fun to eat – and all the girls passing in the street think you’re a responsible adult. Couldn’t be better. I got a smile out of one lovely.
Generally, I like my soups hot and usually avoid “chilled” soups, even on the hottest dog day of summer. But this one interested me. The “chilled pea soup” with pickled ramps and guanciale (an Italian cured meat made from pork jowl) was a beautiful shade of green and was artfully garnished with an arabesque of greens, white grains and lavender flowers. I didn’t want to disturb the attractive pattern. The soup had that fresh-from-the-garden pea flavor with occasional scallion or light accent from the other ingredients.
The first three dishes were not “excessive” in the amount of food and I understood why Greg nodded approval at my selections. The main course, roast duck with Swiss chard, duck confit, and rhubarb in a sauce bigarade (a sweet and sour sauce featuring the flavor of bitter oranges – and in this case, rhubarb as well) was only slightly larger and every bit as well presented. The crunchy but tender Swiss chard surrounded the crispy-skinned slices of tender duck meat on the plate while the sauce bigarade faded from burnt orange to pink, end to end. It was heavenly. Another server (who will be forever known as the bread man) noticed how I used the brioche and supplied me with a mini baguette and a sourdough roll with a ramekin of sweet butter with sea-salt sprinkled on top. Mercy! And Merci!
And if you’re having duck already, what better side dish than duck fat roasted Brussels sprouts – crunchy halves, white inside, bright green outside (except where roasted black and sweet) served in their own oblong iron skillet? Brussels sprouts have been competing with onions for the title of “My Favorite Vegetable” and this dish was a major case for sprouts.
How to describe the dessert? Think intense, hot PINK in color. Think strawberry sorbet, fresh-shaved off of a block of ice by a trusted street vendor. Then put your spoon in and discover the strawberry/rhubarb zabaglione underneath in a shade of bubblegum pink. You’re already in a rosy cloud when Greg brings over a glass of golden dessert wine to raise you to a higher plateau.
Yes, they also made a wonderful double espresso. No, they didn’t have Grand Marnier but the intense flavor of Frenet Branca substituted nicely.
If you have been following my reviews, you know I keep a database, and I like to go somewhere special when the number of the restaurant in my database is a round number. Well, number 2,670, Little Prince, was most definitely a very special place, one that I could recommend to any foodie or connoisseur. Will I return? Surely! I can’t wait to try their ratatouille. It’s on their list of Main Courses. Incroyable!
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