Saturday, September 19, 2015

Meet The Patels

Dinner and a Movie

Romance, the “I’s” Have It (India and Italy)

By Steve Herte

So ends another week of vacation. Betty and Maggie both loved the Museum of Natural History, the 3D movie “Secret Ocean,” the Butterfly Conservatory, the “Life at the Limits” exhibit, even “Spiders Alive!” (Betty wondered about seeing that one, but I assured her that none of the spiders could get at her.) Karaoke that evening was a great time. Some of the crowd from the Coney Island boardwalk came and sat at the table near us. Everyone had fun. Dan hosted and it was two-for-Tuesday night, so for me it was back-to-back David Bowie. I sang “Young Americans” and “Heroes.”

Big announcement: The workbench down the basement is now clear! One can actually work on it again. But there’s much more to do.

No blockbusters were opening so I got the chance to see a romantic comedy – and such a different one! The restaurant? Wow! Enjoy!

Meet the Patels (Alchemy, 2014) – Directors: Geeta Patel & Ravi Patel. Writers: Matthew Hamachek, Billy McMillin, Geeta Patel, & Ravi Patel. Stars: Champa V. Patel, Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel, & Vasant K. Patel. Color, PG, 88 minutes.

I’m almost 30 and I’m still not married!” says Ravi Patel at the beginning of this home-movie style romantic comedy. He seems to forget through most of the picture that older sister Geeta, who is filming his every move, is also still not married. It’s not too big a deal to their father, Vasant, but mother Champa V. Patel is well known in the Gujarat state of India as the most successful matchmaker ever.

Vasant and Champa are “the happiest couple I know,” and the result of an arranged marriage which has lasted 35 years. Both see their son’s plight and want to help as much as possible. On an annual family trip to India, they meet the extended family (all Patels), and though all are interested in finding a bride for Ravi, it is to no avail.

Ravi tells his parents that he would prefer a girl from America and they arrange a series of 15 dates with Indian girls (again, all Patels) in 15 different United States cities including Denver, Boston, New York, Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles, and this fails to make wedding bells ring. However, Champa is undaunted. She searches Internet dating sites, sends Ravi to a Matrimonial Convention, a speed dating session, and a grand Indian wedding. Over the period of a year, none of the beautiful girls he meets either interests him, or seems to want a second date.

It’s not that Ravi is lacking in the looks or intelligence departments. The audience knows his secret. In the beginning we meet Audrey, a redhead from Connecticut, who has been dating Ravi for two years before his wife-hunting odyssey. They broke up because of Ravi’s commitment issues (and his parents). He’s afraid to tell his parents because Audrey is as far from being Indian as she is from being “wheatish-brown” in complexion. But this secret does come to light until towards the end of the film when Ravi feels he must tell Vasant and Champa. Their astonishment is palpable. Vasant is easily swayed because he wants his son to be happy. Not so, Champa. “I will not give up my culture so easily!”

But after much cajoling and explaining, and promising not to lie to her again, she asks, “Do you still love her?” “I guess so.” “Then you must get her back!” And the whole process of wooing Audrey begins anew.

After The Blair Witch Project (1999), Cloverfield (2008), and Quarantine (2008), I swore I would avoid hand-held camera films ever after. But this one is different. It combines simple animation with remarkably steady home-movies (granted, some scenes are out of focus, but Ravi warns us of this) to tell a delightfully funny story of finding a bride for little brother. I didn’t mind the amateur photography. We don’t get to see Geeta too much because she’s usually behind the camera, only the animated character. The animation helps to explain what’s going on in the film and Ravi’s experiences, kind of like a narrator. It gave the whole movie a Seinfeld-ish twist.

The big surprise is that this really is a home-movie! No actors play other people. I’ve never enjoyed a film before where nobody is trying to be someone else. They all are exactly who they are and it works. No scriptwriter could come up with the hilarious lines a devoted family can spout extemporaneously. At one point, Champa says, “None of my children are interested in getting married!” Vasant claims, “After 35 years, I still don’t understand her … and she’s still trying to change me.”

It’s a charming, almost documentary, film about one man’s resolution of the inner battle between his personal needs and his love and respect for his parents. Although I believe I was the only man in the audience, guys, let your girls take you to see this one. You’ll gain brownie points and you might discover that you actually like it too. Parents, some kids will get it, most won’t. It depends on their sophistication.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

304 W. 56th St. (8th/9th Avenues), New York

On their website you will see “one of the most romantic restaurants” and “incomparable cuisine!” Both boasts are good enough to draw me to dine at Bricco, which is a full 14 blocks away from my movie theater. But when I saw one particular dish on the menu you couldn’t keep me away.

The entrance, under a bright red awning, is a graceful brick front with a single-arched door painted a rusty-red. It bespeaks an air of intimacy as well as permanence. Inside, there is a large bar with golden-orange walls and a ceiling covered with kisses (literally, there are lipstick kiss marks made by women customers). The lighting is sensual, but not dark. I announced my reservation at the Captain’s Station and a young girl led me to a table next to the wall defining the end of the bar and the beginning of the main dining area.

The wine list was already on the table and my server, Milton, presented me with the food menu when he took my water preference. I was happy that I could read both the bold and fine print on the menu by the available light. When Milton poured my water he asked if I desired a cocktail and soon my favorite martini was there as well. To save time, Milton recited the specials of the day and left me to decide. It helped that another server brought the breadbasket containing two large slices of crusty Italian bread, a piece of focaccia, and a ramekin of fresh butter.

As near as I can find, “Bricco” translates as “Jug” (as in wine jug), but it also has a translation as being the highest point in a vineyard, hence the sun-like logo of the restaurant. The menu categories are pretty standard Italian – Antipasti (appetizers), Insalate Salads, Zuppe (soups), Pesce (fish dishes), Primi Piatti (pastas), Carni (meat dishes), Pizza, and Dolci (desserts). I was surprised to see that there were no Contorni (side dishes). But I was just as glad because the meal was shaping up to be a four-course feast. I had chosen my appetizer online, the main course was easy and there was a soup I’ve never tried before. All that was left was the pasta, one of my favorite courses. Milton had mentioned two special pastas that intrigued me, and he helped with that decision.

Once the meal was decided, Milton checked it with me as to when each course should arrive and left me to choose a wine. No sooner did I page to the red wine section (it’s a very impressive book!) than I found an affordable 2008 Amarone della Valpolicella “La Formica.” Amarones and Barolos have been increasingly expensive since I first fell in love with them and it was heartening to know I would taste the full-bodied red once more. It was fabulous.

My first course, and the one that hooked me, was Trippa – tripe simmered in a fresh spicy tomato sauce. Tripe is an acquired taste and most people can’t get over what it actually is. Once you’re past the “lining of a cow’s stomach,” it still can be cooked wrong. This dish was perfect, however. The delicate strips were tender, but not mushy, spicily flavored by the sauce without the stringent after-taste some tripe dishes have. I loved it.

I checked with Milton on the pronunciation of the next course, we agreed on “Ah-lez.” The Ale’s Soup – diced breast of chicken, carrots, spaghettini, in a chicken broth was a wonderful departure from your standard minestrone or stracciatelle. The bright orange carrots elbowed for space with the pieces of chicken so much that the pasta only surfaced occasionally. A couple of teaspoons of grated Parmesan cheese and it was perfect.

Milton kept a close eye on my progress: Two dishes done and the plates wiped clean with the bread. Only when I was ready did he bring out the next course, the fettuccini with a rich veal ragout. Another server grated fresh pepper for me. The words “incomparable cuisine” echoed in my head as I twirled this al dente pasta mixed with crumbles of perfectly cooked veal, and went straight to Heaven. I looked up at the ceiling and thought of the Jimi Hendrix line from “Purple Haze,” “s’cuse me, while I kiss the sky!”

Again, keeping things in moderation I had a settling period before the main course. The Scaloppine Tutta Terra (all lands) was a plate of glistening, tender veal medallions with peppers, artichokes, mushrooms and white wine. Three excellent dishes had become four. The Mets wish they could have this batting average. (Come to think of it, so does Tony’s Di Napoli.) I didn’t need a side dish. Everything I could have asked for was already served. And, under the attentive service of Milton, my wine lasted until the last bite: Another clean plate. “Save room for dessert!” warned Milton as he cleared.

Among the familiar desserts on the list I saw the unusual one. The Fresh Grape Pie – with Italian pastry cream – is a signature dish for Bricco. It looked more like Nesselrode pie but there was no denying the grapy flavor. With the dark raspberry sauce drizzled over it, it was simply amazing. Milton brought over a double espresso to go with it. The owner, Nino Catuogno offered an after dinner drink. I chose Strega but they were out of it. He suggested cognac. “V.S.O.P.?” “Si!” Soon I had a snifter next to my wonderful dessert.

I commented to him that the tripe was the dish that got me to come to his restaurant. He told me a story. “When I opened this restaurant 19 years ago, my wife asked, 'Why I put tripe on the menu?' She said, ‘Who’s going to eat that?’ 'I eat that!'” So do I. I asked if the chef ever makes scungilli (conch). “Sure he does. You just let us know ahead of time and we’ll make it for you.”

I don’t know about being romantic at Bricco, but you can’t get more love from one restaurant. Now I have a really good reason to return.

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