Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2

Dinner and a Movie

Baby Bat and Baccarat

By Steve Herte

My last week of vacation opened with a blast, both weather-wise and entertainment-wise. Enjoy!

Hotel Transylvania 2 (Columbia, 2015) – Director: Genndy Tartakovsky. Writers: Robert Smigel & Adam Sadler. Voices: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan Michael-Key, Asher Blinkoff, Fran Drescher, Molly Shannon, Jon Lovitz, Megan Mullally, Jonny Solomon, Nick Offerman, Dana Carvey, Sadie Sandler, Rob Riggle, & Mel Brooks. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 89 minutes.

I don’t say, ‘Blah, blah, blah!” scowls Count Dracula (Sandler) when his grandson proudly speaks his first words. It’s a running gag left over from Hotel Transylvania (2012) that continually gets his goat.

As the camera zooms in on the iron gates of foreboding Castle Dracula at the beginning of the film, it takes the audience through them, across a courtyard and up to a modern glass revolving door and into the main hall of the Hotel Transylvania. We’re at the wedding of Jonathan and Mavis and their two families, one of monsters and the other of humans, take their places on either side of the main aisle. The Phantom of the Opera (voiced by Lovitz, of course) is at the organ and the procession starts. The flower girl (human) is prettily dressed and adorable – that is until several werewolf pups hijack her in a whirlwind and muss up her hair and outfit – and the bride appears at the entrance, in a black Morticia Addams-style dress and a glittering veil of spider webs.

Six months later, Mavis asks her father to go for a “fly” with her (as bats) and, after a game of hide and seek in the clouds, reveals her pregnancy to him. Dracula is overjoyed to have a new vampire added to the family even though she cautions that it might be a purely human child.

Dennis (Blinkoff) is born with a thick head of curly red hair (from his father) and Grandpa Drac (he calls himself “Vampa Drac”) can’t wait to see his fangs grow in. “Maybe he’s a late-fanger. I was.” He explains, eagerly awaiting the child’s fifth birthday, when they will know for sure. As the time draws close for that ominous birthday, Mavis wants to go to California and see the place where Johnny grew up, possibly to move there should the child be human.

Fearful that Johnny and Mavis will like living among humans and that they will take his new grandson away, Dracula charges Johnny with not making the trip too enjoyable and to keep Mavis distracted enough to not phone home.

With Mavis and Johnny out of the way, Dracula enlists his friends Frankenstein (James), Wayne the werewolf (Buscemi), Griffin the Invisible Man (Spade), and Murray the mummy Imhotep (Michael-Kaye) and they all pile into a hearse with baby Dennis. Blobby the blob (Solomon) insists on coming along but doesn’t fit comfortably inside, so they hook up a sidecar for him. Their goal is to bring out the vampiric side of Dennis before his parents return.

Not all goes as planned however. The scary forest where Drac honed his terror techniques is now populated by selfie-taking yuppies who think monsters are cool. The “Vamp Camp” where he learned to fly is now anything but scary and more Kumbaya than Creepy under the slightly effeminate camp counselor, Dana (Carvey). The rickety tower he was tossed off as a baby is now off-limits, but he and his crew climb it and toss Dennis off. Of course, Drac has to rescue the kid when he doesn’t fly on his own. But Frankenstein manages to topple the tower and set himself afire and goes running through the campgrounds lighting all the buildings in the process. It’s at this moment that Mavis calls, hears the sirens and tells Drac she’s coming home. It a wacky race back to Castle Dracula, one that Drac loses. Mavis has made up her mind. She can’t even trust her Dad. After the fifth birthday party, she, Johnny and Dennis are leaving for California.

The night before the party it’s revealed that Mavis invited Grandpa Vlad (Brooks). Dracula hastily decides to make it a monster costume party to keep Vlad from learning that the hotel has been open to humans (Vlad is “Old School” on this topic). But Vlad brings his gargoyle pal Bela (Riggle) who can smell a human at 50 paces, and he and his fellow gargoyles turn the last scene into a funny, frantic fight, one that Dennis wins when his vampire side bursts forth as Winnie the werewolf pup (Sandler) is injured by a gargoyle.

As funny as Hotel Transylvania 2 is (I laughed several times) it doesn’t quite come up to being as good as the original, though it tries hard. I wanted to see more of Fran Drescher as the Bride of Frankenstein than just a cameo. Molly Shannon had a bigger part as Wanda the werewolf, wife of Wayne and mother of a huge litter of pups. Still Robert Smigel and Adam Sandler did some great writing for this movie. When Mavis destroys a piñata at the party, Wanda warns her about candy and her pups but, too late. The pups devour all the candy and become supercharged with energy, trash the bounce house and anything else they run into. “There’s a reason they call it a litter,” says Wayne.

The 3D effects were put to good use in the several flying scenes and the concept of Frankenstein, the mummy, and the werewolf all getting out of practice at being scary as they aged was hilarious. The comedy is just sophisticated enough for adults and there are many scenes with visual comedy for kids. It’s the second best performance by Sandler. The first was the original.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

30 West 53rd St. (between 6th and 5th Avenues), New York

After Indian, French cuisine is my second favorite gustatory delight. And I must be crazy about it, because New York was experiencing a “Noreaster,” a rain event with wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour, and I had to fight the elements from 42nd Street to 53rd to get to my dinner. Fortunately, it was not a downpour and I had my London Fog coat.

I arrived relatively unscathed at the Baccarat Hotel (no, I’ve never heard of it either) where Chevalier has its own separate entrance. It’s elegant and simple, just the name in script written vertically up a black wall and lit in white light. Through two glass doors we find the Captain’s Station and a small bar with a few tables. All is shades of off-white, pearl and gray. The young lady noted my reservation and another took my coat, umbrella and baggage, and I followed the first one around the bar and into the main dining area and to my table. The room is high ceilinged and the same color scheme as the bar, except the walls have opalescent panels adding a gentle blush to the décor and the carpet and wall banquettes are a rosy tan. There are twin urns of magnolia branches and orange Amaryllis at either end of the room and a wall of wine bottles lit in red behind the first.

A mature gentleman presented me with the wine list, took my water preference and asked if I would like a cocktail. I made my standard Groucho Marx joke about getting out of these wet things and into a dry martini, and he smiled. But upon learning from him that the only gins they had were Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks (yuck!), I ordered a Stolichnaya vodka martini instead. Usually gin-less restaurants make an abysmal vodka martini, but this one was impressively good, chilled perfectly and without bruised ice floating in it.

My server, Satomi, presented me with the food menu and was very patient with me, as I took longer than usual to decide. Meanwhile, another server brought me a pre-appetizer plate of three Lilliputian delicacies. One was a puff pastry made with salmon roe and topped with the same, the second was a little brown crunchy pyramid made with goat cheese and the third resembled a tiny Linzer tart but was neither cookie nor cherry.

The menu was set up as a prix fixe of two or three courses (including dessert). There were two appetizers that called to me and that meant adding a course, which Satomi said could easily be done. There were Starters, Sides, Mains and Desserts, with a special category of dishes that could be shared at table. I had my first two dishes chosen but was interested in three different main courses. The young man at the next table had the pork loin (I learned this from another server) and it looked very appetizing. The Atlantic black cod with a curry flavor also intrigued me. But given the choice, Satomi chose the duck dish, so did I.

While Satomi went to register my order, the Amuse Bouche arrived. It was a sushi-quality slice of Hamachi (Amberjack) resting on a paper-thin slice of cucumber in a parsley sauce and topped with a sprig of frisé. Light, delicate and delicious. I was considering the wine I would choose and inwardly was hysterical at the outrageous prices. Page after page, the wines were uniformly over $200 each, some over $2,000! I was near the end of the wine list when the same gentleman appeared at my table asking what I was interested in. I told him I love a full-bodied red, but was unwilling to purchase any over $100, for no wine is worth more than that. Surprisingly, he was unflappable at that revelation and directed me to a 2013 Gigondas, Domaine Du Grapillon D’Or (French, of course) that was perfect for both my tastes and my pocketbook.

The bread arrived next, still warm from the oven with a ramekin of fresh butter. I learned that all of the bread was made in their kitchen, from the mini baguettes I now had to the olive bread and sour dough I had later. All were excellent.

It was time for the first dish. The pan-seared foie gras with black figs, sauternes gastrique and pain d’epices (literally spice bread, actually gingerbread) was heavenly but the little dish of paté under a sweet fruit topping was erotic. I tried it alone and in combination with the other ingredients and it was always amazing. My lovely red wine was a delicious companion to this and all my other dishes.

Next on my choices was the homemade tortellini stuffed with wild mushrooms and snowed under by three cheesy foams that had my senses reeling. Satomi saw me roll my eyes while eating this dish and smiled appreciatively.

My main course was duck breast beautifully grilled with turnip, lavender and a Medjool date purée. The duck was tender and juicy, sweet and savory and, sided with a fabulous mushrooms fricassée, a celebration of autumn. I had the olive bread and sour dough with this dish and they helped to get every drop of sauce.

By this time I was praising Chef Shea Gallante to seventh heaven, but Satomi reminded me of the dessert still to come. I chose the Valhrona Chocolate Soufflé with Grand Marnier Crème Anglaise and a pot of Earl Grey tea: one to stimulate the pleasure center and the other to calm it down. Both worked.

It’s been a long time since I’ve dined at a classic French brasserie and it was refreshing to know that some still exist. There are many restaurants in New York calling themselves a “brasserie,” but they neither live up to the title nor are they French (I recall one in particular, downtown, where they gave me blank stares when I pronounced the dishes in correct French). The Baccarat Hotel only opened on Bastille Day, July 14. That would make Chevalier almost three months old. They already have a Michelin star chef, hopefully they will last a good long time. There are two more dishes I want to try.

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