Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Dinner And a Movie

Ant-Man and Avaton

By Steve Herte

Before I left for this vacation week I mentioned to my supervisor that I did have “fun” planned. I meant karaoke and a visit to the Bronx Zoo (which was fabulous – try going on a rainy day, very few people, animals are all awake and moving). But he focused on my home project of straightening out, organizing, and cleaning out my Dad’s workroom in our basement. I got the comment: “Depends on what you call fun.” Well, guess what? A 50-plus-year-old workroom can be like an archeological dig. You actually find artifacts you never suspected and it can be fun.

I now know exactly what a blackjack looks and feels like, how heavy the tool is for lifting a manhole cover, how big a 32-caliber World War II shell is and how many nails, screws, nuts, bolts, and washers one family can accrue over time. I even found a Kennedy for President campaign pin. Like I said, it’s a dig, and it’s only half finished.

Luckily I didn’t have to dig for a movie and dinner. Time was not an impediment and fortunately one of the movies I’ve missed was still playing. Also a stroke of luck was finding a great Greek restaurant in the area of Manhattan I affectionately call “Restaurant Black Hole” because of the dearth of decent eateries. Enjoy!

Ant-Man (Marvel/Disney, 2015) – Director: Peyton Reed. Writers: Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish (story & s/p); Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (s/p); Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby (comic book). Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, T.I., Hayley Atwell, Wood Harris, John Slattery, Hayley Lovitt, & Martin Donovan. Color, PG-13, 117 minutes.

Having never read or even heard of this character (I had a cloistered life as a child), I was fascinated at the concept of a superhero the size of an ant. As the movie progressed it explained it and answered most of my questions, such as why? The suit, worn by the right human with the assistance of the “Pym Particle,” could make the wearer (or an army of wearers) into the perfect soldiering force. They could penetrate strongholds unseen and unheard. They would have the equivalent proportion of strength to that of an ant but multiplied by the size of a man. They could change size at will, thus baffling the enemy as to where the attack would be coming from and, with a special device that looks like a hearing aid, they could command and lead ants into battle.

Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) developed this amazing suit in 1989 as well as discovered the particle that makes it work. But seeing the dangerous limits of the suit and the horrific application for it in warfare, he hid his research and retired early from the company. His protégé, Darren Cross (Stoll), took over the Pym Corporation, intent on discovering the final formula to reducing humans to insect size, and has developed his own suit, dubbed “yellowjacket.”

Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (Lilly) works with Darren Cross and blames her father not only for not completing his work, but also for the death of her mother, Janet van Dyne (Lovitt). She wants to don the suit her father created, and show the world its capabilities, but he won’t let her and refuses to explain why.

Scott Lang – Ant-Man (Rudd) – has just been released from imprisonment for his burgling crimes. He owes his divorced wife Maggie (Greer) several payments of child support for his daughter Cassie (Fortson), and he can’t seem to keep a job to get the money to do so. Once the company hears of his record they fire him, or they don’t hire him because of his record. He has one good friend, Luis (Peña), who not only talks too much but who is always trying to get him involved in “sure thing” robbery schemes, claiming that they’re “jobs.” Maggie’s currently dating Paxton (Cannavale), a policeman who would like nothing better than to see Scott locked up for life.

Eventually, desperate for work and money, Scott agrees to one of Luis’ plans. Unknown to him, the house he’s burgling belongs to Dr. Hank Pym, who is watching his every move, and who also arranged the heist to evaluate Scott’s burgling skills. The only thing to steal in his elaborately secure safe is the Ant-Man suit.

Curiosity gets the better of Scott and he tries the suit on – it fits, of course – and he hits the button to shrink while in the bathtub. Bad idea. One of his roomies turns on the water for a bath. All the while Dr. Pym is speaking to him through his helmet. Terrified, he decides to return the suit but is arrested by Paxton before he can do so. Dr. Pym gets him released from jail and takes custody of him. At the doctor’s palatial home, he explains the history of the suit, the misguided plans of Darren Cross and his own plan to stop Cross and remove the “yellowjacket” suit from his laboratory.

It’s not easy, but Scott is soon convinced that he must “be the hero his daughter always knew he was” (the mantra of the movie) and he trains with Dr. Pym and Hope to shrink and expand at the right moments, fight like a ninja, and mentally communicate with the various kinds of ants. You thought there was only one kind? Nope. He needs them all; Bullet Ants, Fire Ants, Crazy Ants, and a special winged Carpenter Ant he names “Antony” to ride like Pegasus.

On his first training mission, Ant-Man has to infiltrate Avengers’ headquarters for a small power device and he has an encounter with Sam Wilson – Falcon (Mackie). It’s a short, but amusing battle, which he wins by going inside Falcon’s flying suit and pulling a few plugs.

The main event is much more complicated and needs more than the combined brains of Scott, Hank, Hope and the ants. Scott involves Luis and his two cronies Kurt (Dastmalchian) and Dave (T.I.) – much to Dr. Pym’s chagrin (he considers them idiots). It’s the day of the unveiling of the “yellowjacket” suit (finally, Cross’ shrink ray doesn’t just leave a mass of red protoplasm when turned on a living subject) and security at Pym Industries is doubled for the event. Scott has to enter through the water supply, which has to be decreased in pressure (Luis) and the building monitored (Kurt) and any interference deterred (Dave).

I enjoyed this film much more than Fantastic Four because it never slowed down, never became boring, and never caused me to shift in my seat. The hour and 57 minutes passed before I knew it. Even though the concept is pure science fiction fantasy, the movie provoked thought. Hope learns the truth about her mother, aka The Wasp as she died helping Hank to divert an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from its American destination. But to do so, she had to shrink to sub-atomic size and (per the good doctor) was lost on an endless shrink where time and space do not apply.

Scott pulls the same stunt to stop Yellowjacket (now Cross wearing the suit) and the special effects outclass the final scenes of 2001, A Space Odyssey. Parents, this movie is great for kids. There’s only one “S” word and it’s the only vulgarity. Michael Douglas is so like his father in this movie it’s not funny, but he doesn’t go over the top. It’s the best acting I’ve seen him do. Ms. Lilly looks and acts like a villain from the old Batman television show, but it works. Paul Rudd varies from corny to sincere to comedic and lovable, a true Marvel hero. The animation department is one I have the highest regard for because the ants were spectacular! Their interaction with real characters was totally believable except for one scene. Ant-Man holds up a drop of water for Antony and, as he drinks, his jaws never move.

But that’s the only negative. I also loved how each ant species was introduced using its correct scientific name as well as its common name. This proves that a fun, exciting movie can also be educational.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Avaton Estiatorio
1 East 35th St. (5th Avenue), New York

Experience the forbidden.” This is what is written on the face of the business card for my 52nd Greek restaurant. Outside, the understated light brown flag and awnings subtly announce “Avaton” in steel blue. Inside is a small bar to the right of the Captain’s Station lit by three beautiful crystal chandeliers and paneled in walnut-colored wood.

As the young lady led me down the hall to the main dining area she addressed me by name and I told her that, in a Greek restaurant, she could call me Stefanos. “Oh, are you Greek?” she asked. “Only my first name,” I replied. She seated me at a table against a wall decorated with a fanciful grape vine and facing one of the largest and most beautiful crystal chandeliers I have seen in my life. I could barely take my eyes off of it. The walls to my left and right had wonderfully decorative wine racks color-coded for easy selection as well décor.

My chair was comfortable, but when the young lady moved the table to allow me to sit, we could never find the right position for it where it would not rock. She called over Vasilios, who would be one of my two servers to help stabilize the table. He managed to partially stabilize it, provided I did not stretch out my left leg. I told him that if it rocks again I’ll just pretend I’m sailing on the Aegean. “Oh! A sense of humor. I like that,” he said as he left. The young lady provided me with the menu and the wine list.

When Vasilios returned he took my water preference and asked if I desired a drink. I mentioned that I like the most unusual and interesting, and we both pointed out the same drink at the same time, the Autumn Leaves Cocktail – bourbon, apple juice, Greek honey, orange bitters, and garnished with a cinnamon stick. It was an amusing blend of flavors, sweet, tart and fruity yet with a small kick. It was a very nice start.

Another server brought a dish of crusty bread drizzled with olive oil and a small plate of Kalamata olives. I can’t resist those. The menu lists: Soups (only one), Warm Appetizers, Cold Appetizers, Salads, Main Courses, Steak, Sides, and From the Sea by the pound. The last category could take you on a tour of the ice shelf in the hall just before the main dining area where you could meet your dinner face to fish.

I told Vasilios that I was composing a three-course meal and had the cold appetizer and warm appetizer in place but was interested in two different main courses, one of which was the rabbit – stewed rabbit braised in styfado, a stew of cherry tomatoes, pearl onions, and potato cake; and the other was the main impetus for coming to an estiatorio, the fish. Vasilios highly recommended the rabbit, but left me to my decision.

It was then that Harris appeared, tall and younger than Vasilios and more formal, sporting a neatly trimmed beard. I related all that I spoke to Vasilios and mentioned the main course choice. His eyes brightened noticeably when I asked if they had barbounia among their choices of fish. He said proudly that they did. “It’s my favorite fish,” I said. “Mine too. How do you even know about it?” he asked. “Most Americans don’t.” “I’ve been to several estiatorios. I was hooked the first time I tried them,” I replied. “How many do you want?” “How many do you usually have?” “Six.” “I’ll take four. I’m ordering a side dish as well.”

Harris noted all the courses of my meal and in what order, and then helped me with my choice of wine. There was a whole page of Greek red wines and I was torn between the syrah and the cabernet. Harris recommended the 2008 Kapnias Domaine Hatzimichalis Cabernet Sauvignon from Attica, Greece – a full bodied, deep fruity red, with a woodsy after taste. It was perfect and…a little sexy.

My first course was the cold appetizer, the avaton dips (sounds like the name of a bad Greek rock group) – toasted pita bread wedges on one plate and five dips lined up like Greek soldiers in all their finery: taramosalata (red fish roe, bread and onions with a surprise ingredient – jalapeños); htipiti (red pepper and feta cheese); melitzanosalata (eggplant); skordalia (potatoes, garlic and more garlic); and tzatziki (cucumbers and yoghurt). One was better than the other as I worked down the line spreading each on a slice of bread. Harris noted my slow progress and mentioned that he’ll hold further courses until I was ready.

When I was more than half finished with the first course and down to the last two bites the second course arrived. The octopus square pasta is not named for a location in Athens but is sushi quality, sliced braised Portuguese octopus, tomato, shallots and spices with Greek mini-square pasta (xilopita) and grated Cretan Graviera cheese. It was amazing! 

The pasta and the octopus were both so tender and delicate I had trouble telling them apart (except for a few larger pieces) and the sauce with the cheese made it tangy and sweet at the same time. I could have put this dish in front of any of my great nieces or nephews and they would have loved it without knowing about the octopus.

And then a surprise as Vasilios brought out two skewers of grilled shrimp (two to a skewer) crossed like swords on a plate and resting on a half lemon. “These are on the house. Try them. I see you have a good appetite.” They were indeed delicious, and I don’t normally order shrimp.

Unfortunately, I was getting a little full (too much bread in the last course, a failure of mine) and I had Harris wrap the remainder to go saying that I wanted my Dad to try this. Harris again used his perfect timing before sending out the main course and side dish. I told him that if I had the choice of mashed potatoes and skordaliaskordalia would win every time. He told me that at Avaton they make skordalia with bread instead of potatoes. That’s why they were extra good.

Then there they were, lined up side by side, flanked by lemon wedges, my four barbounia. I decided to named them Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo after the velociraptors in Jurassic World. They’re a fish a little larger than a smelt and rounder in body (yes, the whole fishes were on my plate – get over it), orangey-red in color, and crispy skinned. With a little practice it’s easy to remove the white flesh from the one side with knife and fork and pry out the central ribs using the tail as leverage. Then the delight comes. The flavor is not like any fish you have ever known. It’s tender, kind of nutty, you know it’s a fish but there’s no fishy-ness (if you know what I mean – that unpleasant, oily taste some fish have). Harris brought out Chef Dimitris Nakos to meet me at this point and I shook his hand and told him that his hands were truly blessed with the ability to create such wonderful and innovative dishes. He seemed pleased and proud.

The side dish was Brussels sprouts halved in a Greek cheese sauce. It was the only glitch in the meal. The Brussels sprouts appeared to be too mature (I said “old”). They were woody, white and very crunchy with none of that great earthy flavor I’m used to and the poor cheese didn’t help the dish. I didn’t like it and told Harris my opinion and he took it back.

I didn’t have to choose my dessert. Harris assured me I’d get a nice piece of Walnut Cake, (Karidopita) a moist fluffy, nutty, honey flavored sweet sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. I had to admit, it was a lovely dessert. If I had seen the dessert menu I probably would have gone with my favorite, Galaktoboureko, a creamy custard and honey dessert in layers of phyllo dough, which in this restaurant is made into rolls. (Maybe next time.)

I ordered a double Greek coffee (sweet) and a glass of ouzo to finish. The coffee was great as usual and I love ouzo. Vasilios kept a watch on my progress and placed a paper napkin near my cup saying something about “flipping over.” It was not until I was finished drinking the liquid part of the coffee (Greek coffee is unique in the muddy residue at the bottom of the cup) that Vasilios came to my table, lifted the cup, placed the paper napkin in the saucer and inverted the cup onto the napkin. Nothing splattered, miraculously. “Ah, you have no worries. No outside splatter,” he said before performing an old Greek ritual of reading the coffee grounds left in the cup.

After an appropriate waiting time he lifted the cup and the residue had formed a labyrinth of white and brown trails up the sides of the cup and one ridge at the lip. “You have one small worry” he said, pointing to the ridge. “That must be my 93-year-old father,” I said.

We got to talking later and I learned that Ammos Estiatorio near Grand Central Station is the older sister restaurant to Avaton and that Avaton has been open since May 15. I told them that I had already dined there and loved it. I wished them all the best and predicted that I felt their success would be great, since this neighborhood is mostly Korean restaurants, and Avaton is the only Greek.

Is there a return visit planned for Avaton? As long as there is rabbit and galaktoboureko on the menu, yes, there is. Not to mention that fantastic selection of wines.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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