Monday, November 9, 2015

The Peanuts Movie

Dinner And A Movie

Schulz and Schmaltz

By Steve Herte

After a busy week where my abilities were stretched three ways to Wednesday, I needed to unravel my brain and was in the mood for light entertainment and heavy food. I searched for a movie that was uncomplicated and under two hours long. (Sorry, James Bond.) I also needed to find a restaurant where I didn't have to play a role. I found both. Enjoy!

The Peanuts Movie (20th Century Fox, 2015) – Director: Steve Martino. Writers: Brian Schulz, Craig Schulz, & Cornelius Uliano (s/p). Charles M. Schulz (comic strip). Voices: Rebecca Bloom, Anastasia  Bredikhina, Francesca Capaldi, Kristin Chenoweth, Alexander Garfin, Noah Johnston, Bill Melendez, Hadley Belle Miller, Micah Revelli, Noah Schapp, Venus Schultheis, Mariel Sheets, Madisyn Shipman, A.J. Tecce, Trombone Shorty, Marleik Mar Mar Walker, & William Wunsch. Animated, Color and 3D, Rated G, 93 minutes.

At night, when Charlie Brown’s alone, he looks out the window at the stars. He’s heard that everyone has a star that is exclusively their own and he’s happy that his star will always be there for him. And then a star drops out of view. “Good Grief!”

The advantage that 3D animation has in this new movie is that the familiar Charles Schulz characters are not flat anymore. They have depth beyond their rather shallow, but lovable natures. The plot is simple. The Little Red-Haired Girl has moved into the neighborhood and Charlie Brown (Schnapp) sees it as an opportunity to start fresh with someone who doesn’t consider him to be a blockhead and a loser. The sub-plot is a twist on the familiar Snoopy (Melendez) versus the Red Baron. Snoopy meets Fifi (Chenoweth), the poodle of his dreams (who also happens to be a biplane flyer) and has to rescue her from the Baron’s zeppelin.

To conquer his painful shyness, Charlie Brown enters the school talent show with a magician’s act. But he never gets to perform it because his better nature tells him to save his little sister Sally’s (Sheets) dying rodeo act by posing as a steer. He has Snoopy teach him dance steps so that he will get to dance with the Little Red-Haired Girl (Capaldi) at the school dance. But he gets his shirt caught in the door while he’s holding the punch bowl and the punch spills right where he’s dancing and that idea fails. Lastly, he draws her name out of a bowl in school to collaborate on a book report. She has to travel to New York and he decides to do the book report alone and surprise her. Peppermint Patty (Schultheis) advises him to look up “Leo’s Toy Store” in the library as the greatest book of all time. Fortunately, he meets Marcie (Bloom) in the adult section and she points him to War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Just getting the huge tome home is hilarious enough, but Charlie Brown manages it and works all weekend to read it and write the book report, only to see it shredded by the propeller on the Red Baron’s triplane. This plane makes its appearance at the beginning of the movie as Linus (Garfin) intended to use it as a “show-and-tell” item. But Charlie Brown wonders if it works and flicks the propeller. It flies out the window, making salient appearances in Snoopy’s fantasy.

Charlie Brown has an unexpected moment of fame when time is running out on a test in class and he and Peppermint Patty race to the teacher’s desk to submit their answers. But when they are told they forgot to sign the tests, the two get switched in the shuffle and Charlie Brown is posted the next day with the first “perfect score, a 100%” in the school history. This ends on stage in front of the entire student body when he sees the test answers are not his own and must admit it. During this happy period he teaches a Little Kid (Revelli) to fly a kite and the kite actually becomes airborne – until the kid hands the string to Charlie Brown.

Most of the movie, however, is the same-old, same-old. While everyone else is playing hockey on a snow day, Charlie Brown is trying to fly his kite, and failing. Lucy (Miller) is forever after Schroeder (Johnston) who could care less. Pig-Pen (Tecce) is making clouds of dust, even in winter. Linus is always the philosopher. Violet (Shipman) and Patty (Bredikhina) are the rest of Lucy’s clique. All adult voices are provided by Trombone Shorty, and Franklin (Walker) and Shermy (Wunsch) are there only for the crowd scenes.

The scenes where Charlie Brown is trying desperately to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and where Snoopy is soaring over Paris and the German countryside are wonderful in 3D. But the stock footage that is “Peanuts” is always there to bring us out of the fantasyland and into dull reality. I would have liked to see more new and less familiar. The kids in the audience seemed to like the movie even though they didn’t get many of the jokes.

The Peanuts Movie is definitely a “kids” movie trying to appeal to adults. It succeeds in places but like Charlie Brown, fails in others.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Bubby’s Tribeca
120 Hudson St. (White St.)New York

Bubby means “Grandma” in Yiddish. “Defending the American Table” and “Mark Twain is our Hero” are two mottos on the website with a long quote from Samuel Clemmons about what foods are great to eat and how they should be served. When you finish it, you’re ready to dine at Bubby’s.

Informal doesn’t begin to describe Bubby’s. About a block below Canal Street in downtown Manhattan, I almost missed it. The large sheaf of tall cornstalks, pumpkins, a park bench and greenery outside the restaurant almost obscured the entrance. Once inside, the hostess led me past the bar into the main dining area in the next room and sat me at a table in the front window. The corner property is decorated with bits of Americana (weather vanes, carved geese, straw dolls, farm implements) and the simple wood floors and bare wood tables continue the rustic “farmhouse” motif.

Kerin, my server, surprised me when she informed me the place has been around for 25 years. It began as a pie company in 1990, and three months later was a restaurant with two tables. Traditional American food, cooked from scratch, organically grown New York ingredients as well as beef, and house-cured bacon are the standards of pride served here.

Kerin brought a bottle of tap water and poured me a glass as she presented the food and drinks menus. After a short time she asked if I wished a cocktail and I chose the Village Green – gin in fresh cucumber juice, lemon and mint with a slice of cucumber as garnish. More and more, I’m loving cucumber in my drinks; very refreshing.

I told Kerin that I have a good appetite and am a slow diner with lots of time. The food menu lists categories of Starters and Shared Plates, Bubby’s Burgers, Burger Toppings, Mains, Pit Barbecue, and Sides for the Table. Kerin didn’t bat an eye when I ordered three courses and a side dish. She noted them all down and checked with me on what order they should come out. Then she left me to choose a wine. The wine list is short in comparison to other restaurants but the prices are very reasonable (five or six whites and five or six reds).

I chose the 2011 Pier 41 Cabernet Franc blend from Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn because I had no idea that there was a winery in Brooklyn and was eager to try it. It turns out there is more than one, but the bartender sadly said that this wine was sold out, so Kerin suggested the 2012 Cru Monplaisir blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux. Perfect! And it was a lovely red, informal and medium bodied, exactly what was needed for rustic American food.

The adventure started with the first course. The mac and cheese – bacon, cheddar, fontina, and gruyere cheeses with béchamel mezze, and penne pasta topped with crispy onions – was obviously a shared dish (a large ceramic crock), but I took my time and finished the last few decadent, cheesy, bacon-y, salty (don’t try this dish if you have high blood pressure) bites while the second course arrived.

At a place called “Bubby’s” what else would you have next but matzo ball soup – chicken pieces in chicken broth with vegetables and “fluffy-style” homemade matzo balls? Compared to the mac and cheese, this dish was almost bland. One expects to need fresh ground pepper on macaroni and salt in soup, but this was very light on salt. The matzo balls were so fluffy they almost floated away. The taste was so light it was like biting into a cloud. (I think I should have reversed the order of these two dishes.) I noted that no salt or pepper sellers were on the table, but there was a bottle of hot sauce, and Kerin brought over a bottle of catsup. It reminded me of a one-frame cartoon were the waitress is glaring at a patron, saying, “For Vat you want catsup?” But Helene’s words came back to me as well, “The sign of a confident chef is the absence of condiments.”

The size of the first dish and a glance over at the next table where enormous hamburgers were being served should have prepared me for the dry aged 16-ounce New York strip steak. It almost did. A little over an inch thick and about a foot long and two inches wide, this mega-meat nearly covered the platter it was served on. Two circles of herbal butter topped the blackened surface, seeming to look back at me and daring me to finish it. The meat was indeed flavorful but was riddled with gristle and difficult to cut in parts. The side dish of Brussels sprouts had me believing that one of my favorite vegetables was unfortunately out of season. The bright green sprouts were much crunchier than I would have liked, and I actually preferred the cubes of cooked apple mixed into the dish.

It’s been a long time since I was on the Olympic Eating Team at Grossinger’s Lodge and Bubby’s bested me. I got a little more than halfway through the steak and two-thirds through the side when I requested that Kerin bag the steak to go. 

Otherwise, I would not have been able to eat dessert, something Bubby’s is eminently famous for. Though they had rhubarb pie on the menu, the peanut butter chocolate pie called to me louder and won. It was a respectable wedge of graham cracker crust, dark chocolate and peanut butter fluff (as light as the matzo balls were) sided by a large ball of real whipped cream (Whoopee!). I washed it all down with a mug of Earl Grey Tea (the name “Bubby’s” written across the side, of course).

Bubby’s is a homey, relaxing place to dine. There’s nothing you won’t recognize and, when you know the portion sizes, you can finish everything and be satisfied. Next time I’ll bring a friend and actually share one of the “shared dishes.”

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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