Thursday, July 9, 2015

Little Boy

Dinner and a Movie

A Little Boy, Merci Bocuse

By Steve Herte

What a great four days! I should take more short vacations like this. Even though it took an inordinate amount of time to get to Poughkeepsie (track work) the rest of the time was fabulous. When I finally met my sister and brother-in-law we headed straight for the Culinary Institute of America for the tour. Really, this place is like the Hogwarts of Gastronomy. It looked so much better than my college, and the classes were fascinating. The tour guide was well versed and answered every question.

The next day, we toured the Vanderbilt Mansion and continued on to Boscobel (home of loyalist Morris Dyckman), the Hyde Park home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Val-Kill, the retreat of Eleanor Roosevelt. So much information. The visitor center had a wonderful mosaic in the floor mapping the entire Roosevelt estate.

Topping these experiences were visits to the twin estates of Philipsberg Manor and Kykuit (the Rockefeller Estate). The first was entertaining as well as informative because the various guides were dressed in period costume and acted in character. The second was gorgeous! Who knew there was an art gallery in the basement? And the grounds were horticulturally sculptured.

Fortunately, during this week, one of the hotels had pay-per-view and I was able to view a movie that left the theaters before I could get to see it. From there it was easy to pair the film with the most amazing restaurant of the vacation. Enjoy!

Little Boy (Open Road Films, 2015) – Director: Alejandro Monteverde. Writers: Alejandro Monteverde & Pepe Portillo. Cast: Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson, David Henrie, Michael Rapaport, Matthew Scott Miller, Kevin James, Ben Chaplin, Tom Wilkinson, & Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Color, 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.

James Busbee (Rapaport) and his son Pepper Flynt (Salvati) have a unique and very close father/son relationship. James actively participates in and initiates their fantasy adventures. One day they’re on a sailing ship in a high storm, the next they could be cowboys trying to save the ranch. It always works into a dire situation and when Dad asks, “Do you believe we can do this?” Pepper confidently shouts back, “Yes, I believe we can do this!” This idyllic lifestyle lasts only until World War II breaks out and the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor.

Pepper’s older brother London (Henrie) tries to enlist in the Army but is turned down because of his flat feet. Dad enlists and is accepted. His wife Emma (Watson) understands but doesn’t like the idea and Pepper is devastated. He’s the smallest in his peer group and is called “midget” by the chief bully at school, Freddie Fox (Miller) until his father, the local doctor in O’Hare (James) determines it’s only a temporary growth condition and Freddie is forced to call Pepper simply “Little Boy.” The entire town takes up this moniker and no one calls Pepper by his true name.

Ben Eagle,” the magician in comic books, fascinates Pepper and when the real Ben Eagle (Chaplin) comes to town, he joins the throngs of kids for the magic show. But, much to his chagrin and embarrassment, Ben chooses Pepper to assist in a telekinesis trick involving moving a soda bottle across a table using mental powers only. At first it doesn’t work. But when Ben unwittingly says, “Do you believe you can do this?’ Pepper answers with the affirmative he always answered his dad, and the bottle moves. The audience is stunned – so is Pepper – and his reputation is improved.

Thinking he has real power and that he might use it to bring his Dad back from the war, Pepper consults Father Oliver (Wilkinson) who tells him the parable of the mustard seed. A little bit of faith, and one can move mountains. Up until now, London has been defending his little brother in scraps with the neighborhood children but when he hears about this, he points up the street saying, “OK, there’s a mountain! Move it!” Pepper tries using his power and by George, an earthquake occurs. This literally shakes up the town – including Pepper.

Also living in the town of O’Hare is an elderly Japanese man named Hashimoto (Tagawa) who is reviled for being Japanese by everyone, Pepper as well. Oliver tries a new tack on the Little Boy. He gives him a list of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy (although he never calls them that) and makes it Pepper’s mission to accomplish all of them. Pepper finds the first two easy after finally befriending Hashimoto and inviting him to dinner (this covers Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the Thirsty). Hashimoto helps him with the rest.

He learns to knit (Clothe the Naked), makes a trip to the local hospital (Visit the Sick), sees his brother in jail (Ransom the Captive/Visit the Imprisoned) and finds a place for a homeless man to stay (Harbor the Harborless). The last one is the most difficult until a serviceman arrives with news of his fathers’ death (Bury the Dead). Intermittently, the audience sees flashes of war scenes where James lies prone and bleeding and another soldier swipes one of his shoes. Inside the shoe are James’ dogtags. The wrong man was pronounced dead.

Pepper is undaunted. Hashimoto tells him that beyond the sunset is Japan, and if he truly believes he can bring his dad back, he should aim his “powers’ that way. Each evening Pepper goes to the end of the pier and grunts and groans until he’s exhausted. Then one day the headline in the paper reads that the atom bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima and that “Little Boy” was responsible for ending the war. Pepper is ecstatic. “I did it!” he shouts as he triumphantly rides his bicycle through town to acclamations from the townspeople.

Little Boy is a four-handkerchief movie. Be ready for tears because of the many moving scenes. I was surprised that it left the theaters in a little over a week after opening. But, now that I have seen it, I’m not too amazed. The film is about faith and how strong a force it can be. But it’s not about “The Force,” spaceships and special effects. It’s a simple story of a small child who doesn’t seem to grow any bigger, but who’s so full of the love for his father he believes in the power of faith and, whether or he’s responsible for it or not, brings his dad back alive.

Most of the cast are convincing and move the story along believably. The exception to this is Kevin James. He’s trying to play a serious role, but you keep expecting him to do something ridiculous, and, in a way, he does. When it looks like James Busbee will not be returning, he makes overtures to Emma (his wife in this movie is deceased). Totally incredible. He’s also the father of the chief bully. The best acting job goes to Jakob Salvati, who not only had to keep the faith throughout, he had to change his prejudiced point of view and is rewarded in the end for his efforts. It’s a beautiful movie for the whole family. Too bad it didn’t do well at the box office.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Bocuse/Culinary Institute of America
1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, NY

Frances Roth, a Connecticut attorney, founded The Culinary Institute of America back in 1946. Its first location was in New Haven, Connecticut, where the concept (and the enrollment) grew to educate budding chefs in the art of food preparation. In 1970, the campus moved to Hyde Park, where the Jesuit novitiate of St. Andrew-on-Hudson became its new home. 

As of 2013, the campus grew to include recreational and sports areas for the students and four restaurants to practice their skills: Pangea, an eclectic, “world food” experience; American Bounty, a homey, American style restaurant; Caterina de Medici, a beautiful Italian complete with Venetian glass chandeliers; and Bocuse, a modern French place whose mission is to make French food “lighter.”

The whole atmosphere of Bocuse is light. The modern, descending rings defining their chandeliers hover above widely spaced tables in an airy, bright space with white chairs, shiny tables and soaring walls. The unifying accent of the décor is various ceramic rooster statuettes that also supply the only color to an otherwise obsessively sanitary room.

My sister and brother-in-law and I sat at a table just off the middle of the room with a full view of the glassed-in kitchen. On the cocktail list I chose a “Basil Martini” – vodka, muddled basil and a basil-wrapped cherry tomato as a garnish – quite refreshing and not as strange as it sounds. My sister chose the wine, a 2010 Tempranillo Blend, which was delightful and appropriate for all our courses.

My sister’s appetizer, the “Spring Pea Soup” – Jonah crab, lemon cream, mint, and sea salt croustade – was an amazing bright green (the color of fresh peas, possibly lightened by the lemon) and possessing a surprisingly bright flavor one would never expect from a pea soup.

My brother-in-law and I chose not only the same appetizer, but also the same entrée. The “Sweetbread Roulade” – morels, Jambon de Bayonne in a truffle sauce – was cut on a diagonal and the two halves stood in the center of the dish like rabbit ears. All in this dish was subtle flavors. The ham and the earthy sauce mitigated the signature rich taste of the sweetbreads.

Our main course, “Rabbit Loin with Tarragon” – preserved mustard seeds and Riz Soubise purée (rice, sliced onions, butter, seasoning) in a mustard-bacon sauce – was another presentation tour-de-force. The meat was served in two upright cylinders lightly seasoned and beautifully red in color, accompanied by a golden sauce with the white soubise floating nearby. We both enjoyed the tender, juicy rabbit and the tangy sauce.

My sister does not eat “cute” animals and chose the “Noisette of Veal” – fricassée of spring vegetables in morel sauce. Though she initially made her choice because of an amusing allusion that the name of the dish conjured up, she thoroughly enjoyed her meal. I could tell because she didn’t ask me if I wanted a taste.

All of this was accompanied not only by the lovely red wine but two kinds of bread also made on-campus: a sour dough roll and a crusty wheat bread. Both were wonderful. And the servers were the most congenial I’ve ever met.

On our tour, we learned that Bocuse was the place to have ice cream, made tableside and we made sure to include that in our meal. The flavor that evening was Lavender. A hand-cranked mixer was rolled up to our table and the flavoring and cream were poured into the bowl. Then, as he cranked, the server slowly poured liquid nitrogen into the mix to instantly form it into ice cream. He scooped it into three waffle cones and handed it to us. It was smooth, light in flavor, but unmistakably lavender, and soon gone.

I had my own dessert aside from this, the “Chocolate Variation” – semi-sweet chocolate cake, sea salt, bitter chocolate ganache, bittersweet chocolate mousse, pistachio water, and cassis ice cream. From the description, I thought it was going to be huge, but it was dainty and similar to a Kit-Kat bar in shape. I cut it into small pieces and savored every bite as each bit exploded into chocolate heaven. The cassis ice cream had as strong a flavor as it had violet color.

At this point, my dining companions decided to share a pot of Café Presse, which they enjoyed thoroughly. I preferred my “Grand Café” – coffee, Grand Marnier, hand-shaken cream and caramelized orange zest. Excellent! We talked about our dinner all the way back to the hotel and wondered how we could arrange to dine at the other three restaurants.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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