Friday, February 10, 2017


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Lion (The Weinstein Company, 2016) – Director: Garth Davis. Writers: Luke Davies (s/p), Saroo Brierley (Book, A Long Way Home). Stars: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman & Rooney Mara. Color, Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.

As a statement of the plight of many poor children in India who get separated from their families and lost in the bilingual system, this film is almost a docudrama. Based on the book A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, it tells the story of how he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and how it took 25 years before he saw his mother and sister again.

Five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) enjoys helping his big brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) swipe coal from a hopper car on a freight train to sell for two small packets of milk for his family. Neither of the boys tell their mother Kamla (Priyanka Bose) or their sister Shekila (Khushi Solanki) how they got the milk. At bedtime, later that day, Guddu gets ready to leave for “night work” and he cannot talk his brother out of joining him. At a train station in Khandwa province, Saroo falls asleep on a bench and Guddu tells him to stay there, promising to be back when he’s finished. Saroo wakes up, boards a train, finds a cozy corner and falls asleep again, only to awaken trapped on a fast moving train to Calcutta, 1600 kilometers away.

Saroo only speaks Hindi, while everyone else speaks Bengali, and no one can understand him to help. Finally, he meets a woman named Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee) who gives him shelter and food and introduces him to Rama (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a “very good man.” When Rama sizes Saroo up like a piece of meat, Saroo concludes that the two only have sleazy purposes for him and runs away. He retreats to the corridors of a railway station but is caught by the authorities who are clearing out the many displaced children sleeping there. He winds up in this large ruined building posing as an orphanage with hundreds of other children and makes friends with a little girl named Amita (Rita Boy).

One day, Mrs. Sood (Deepti Naval), an adoption counselor, arrives and tells Saroo that they have not been able to locate his real family or his town of Ganestalay, but they have found a mother and father for him in Australia. John Brierly (David Wenham) and his wife Sue (Nicole Kidman) take Saroo to Tasmania and raise him as their own, along with another boy, Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav) for a brother. Mantosh has a syndrome that causes him to act up in stressful conditions and needs special care.

Twenty years later, Saroo Brierly (Dev Patel) is a young man on love with Lucy (Rooney Mara) but haunted by memories of his childhood home in India. Conversations with Lucy and his friends lead him on a quest using Google Maps to find his way back. Mantosh Brierly (Divian Ladwa) is also a young man but he lives apart from his parents because of his condition.

It’s amazing how Sunny Pawar stays so calm through all his adventures while other children would become hysterical. It’s almost as if the wisdom of the ages resides in him. Nicole Kidman’s performance is heart-wrenching as the philanthropic mother who chooses to adopt rather than have her own children and endure the cultural difficulties involved with it. Dev Patel takes on this tough role of a man who loves his adopted parents but has an aching longing for his birth mother and family in India. You feel every frustration he experiences trying to locate his home using a 1600-kilometer circle centered on Calcutta, with the hundreds of train stations within it. I missed him in Slumdog Millionaire (2008), but I saw him in both Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies (2012 and 2015) and Chappie (2015) and heard him in The Last Airbender (2010) and I’ve been very impressed. This role is his greatest I've seen.

I especially enjoyed the scenic photography in this movie. The aerial shots, videos on a moving train and the excellent use of ground-up camerawork which helped this story achieve an almost epic quality. The soundtrack is also excellent. Nothing to interfere with the story, only to accent the scenes and underscore the dilemma.

Lion is a little long but I was never bored. In fact I learned a few things. Saroo mispronounced two things until adulthood, his town, Ganesh Talai (which means the pond of Ganesha, the protective elephant-headed god) and his name, Sheru (meaning “Lion”), hence the title of the film.

I enjoyed Lion much more than I expected and recommend it to all parents and couples considering children. And remember to bring a box of tissues.

Rating 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Mykonos Blue
127 W. 28th St., New York

Friends have expressed concern over my choice to dine alone on my first time at a restaurant, but it has its advantages. If I don’t like the food, you have only myself to blame. I get a pretty good idea of what the service would be like should I bring friends and, if I get the address wrong or can’t find the place, the adventure’s mine alone and not my companion’s frustration.

Mykonos Blue is a case in point. At 127 W. 28th St. it’s part of the Hayden Hotel, an establishment I’ve never heard of. Nowhere did I see the number 127, either. I saw 131 to its left and 125 to its right and deduced the correct address. Only a chalkboard stand on the sidewalk announces Mykonos Blue’s presence, with a white chalk arrow pointing into the hotel.

Inside I was greeted by the lobby staff. When I asked about the restaurant a young man pointed to a marble corridor to the right of the hotel elevators and poof! There it was. No name above the door or on a sign anywhere. 

The restaurant was empty at 7:45 pm on a Friday, which I put down to it being a hotel restaurant in a hotel nobody knew about. Spyros, the young man and my server, gave me a choice of tables and I chose one where I could sit on the white leather banquette and have a full view of the entire 18-table dining area as well as the bar. 

Spyros explained that the restaurant has only been open for two days after “renovations,” by far the youngest restaurant I’ve ever visited. As I was the only diner, he took me on a short tour, starting with the selection of fresh fish available for dinner, all neatly arranged on ice.

On our way past the bar he asked if I wanted a cocktail and I told him I was a martini man. “Vodka?” “Sure, how about flavored vodkas?” “We have orange, raspberry and fig.” “Fig? Really? Let’s make a martini out of that with a twist of lemon.”

Figenza vodka uses figs from Greece and Turkey and is produced by the Behn Family of Eckernförde, Germany, on the Baltic coast. It was delicious, a little too sweet but an interesting spin on the martini.

Spyros and I conferred on my dinner choices. After 54 Greek restaurants I told him I was interested in the unusual dishes, even though the menu featured some of my all-time favorites, like youvetsi (lamb shank) and moussaka. I settled on two appetizers and a grilled fish entrée.

First was seftalia, grilled Cypriot-style meatballs on a bed of tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumbers, garlic and oil), garnished with chopped tomatoes, onions and cucumber surrounded by more olive oil. They were tender enough to cut with a fork, well-cooked at the medium-rare level and delicious.

The second appetizer arrived at the same time as the first, but in Greek restaurants, that’s not surprising. It’s always fun to switch between dishes and compare flavors. Halloumi is a dish I’ve had several times before and I’ll order it whenever I go Greek. It’s that addictive – grilled Cypriot cheese topped with capers in a citrus-mustard vinaigrette. It was a little salty, a bit chewy (a good thing) and crisp where the grill marks were. 

Spyros and I had decided that before the main course was ready I would select a wine. He suggested the 2015 Nykteri wine (made from Assyrtico grapes) from Spyros Hatziyiannis vineyards on the island of Santorini. It was perfect, with an iodine-like nose and a crisp, dry, resin-like edge.

Normally, when I order fish in a Greek restaurant I get the whole fish intact and I’ve become adept at de-boning my own dinner. The chef here does that for you. My lavraki, a whole branzino (Mediterranean sea bass), was virtually boneless and butterflied on the plate. Just the head and tail and a plateful of flaky, sweet fish with the tang of capers and olive oil. Spyros even used my dish to demonstrate the filet techniques to the diet debaters. I chose the leek rice as a side and it was wonderful. The rice was a large, fluffy grain and the tender, flavorful leeks were visible throughout. The Nyteri accented each dish in classic Greek style.

Dessert was a selection prepared ahead of time, only a yes or no decision. Baklava, chocolate mousse and galaktoboureko (a custard cake made with filo dough) all shared a single plate. All delicious. Spyros asked me if I’d ever been to Greece because of my pronunciation. Sorry, no. Just restaurants. I ordered sweet Greek coffee and a glass of Ouzo to finish my meal, again, very good.

When word gets around, Mykonos Blue will be quite popular. I heard someone in the lobby say, “They’re open?” when I entered. I also found out that they also have a rooftop dining area for warmer weather (it’s open to the sky). A good enough reason to return, but then there are all those other favorite dishes to try.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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