Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Born in China

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Born in China (The Walt Disney Co., 2017) – Director: Chuan Lu. Writers: David Fowler, Brian Leith, Phil Chapman & Chuan Lu. Narrators: John Krasinski & Xun Zhou. Color, Rated G, 76 minutes.

It’s not often I see a documentary with as many contrasts as this one. 

The scenery is as breath-taking as it is austere and dangerous; the photography equally stunning and in-your-face jarring, with the wildlife coming across as much loving and nurturing as predatory and cruel. The narration, excellent most of the time, lapses at times into the silly occasionally, but not inappropriately.

A satellite image shows the entirety of China at night with all the glare from the major cities ringing a large, dark area in north central China. That’s where the camera takes us at the beginning of Born in China. With narrator John Krasinski, we begin with a flock of cranes and the Chinese belief that, when a crane takes flight, it carries the soul of a deceased creature to the next realm.

Next we follow Dawa, a snow leopard on the Quinghai/Tibetan Plateau, the highest in the world, bordering Xinjiang Province, as she raises her two cubs. Her ordeal against rivals and the fight for survival itself is remarkable. The yaks are too big and dangerous for her, the Chiru antelope are too fast, but the blue sheep, or bharal, are her natural prey.

The Chiru antelope lead us to their calving grounds and John takes us to the bamboo forest where we meet YaYa the giant panda and her adorable cub MeiMei. YaYa is described as a “helicopter mom,” constantly hovering over her baby and cuddling with it every chance she gets – even when MeiMei wants to explore and eventually, climb her first tree.

From there we soar to a forest in west-central China to visit a troop of golden sub-nosed monkeys and meet TaoTao, a young male, who has been ousted from his family group by the birth of his little sister. After trying several times to be the center of attention once again, he leaves to join a group of other young males, some his own age, whom the narrator calls “The Lost Boys” (a la Peter Pan) supervised by an adult male named Rooster.

Born in China starts in spring and goes season by season, switching from family to family and how they are coping with the situations they face. There are stand-offs and posturing (leopards), comic rolls downhill (pandas) and violent fights over territory (monkeys). Disney has definitely learned that not all stories have happy endings and we see that graphically, but with minimal bloodshed. With all the relentless pressure nature inflicts on these creatures, they survive, even flourish, or die. The camera angle of a goshawk flying head-on in its swoop to capture a baby monkey is impressively daunting.

When one thinks that wild animals do not pose for the camera we marvel at how many hours it took to just make a 76-minute documentary. Be sure to stay through the credits and meet some of the photographers who briefly describe their experiences, such as the unpredictable weather. “Right now, it’s hailing. But wait a few minutes and it could be sunny, or foggy, or snowing,” says one bundled-up cameraman. Born in China is a true family film and is just “Disney” enough for small children. As an additional incentive, Disney Corporation promised to donate some of the proceeds from each ticket sold to environmental causes. I enjoyed it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Bob’s Steak and Chop House
19 East 52nd Street (5th Avenue), New York

Bob’s is the first restaurant in New York of a popular Texas chain of steakhouses. As the dining spot of the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel, it effectively debunks the myth that a hotel restaurant must be second rate.

Outside, the polished brass-framed glass doors set into a solid granite wall under a heavy-looking metal marquee, setting a serious tone. Inside, though, all is friendly and family, from the hostess Jolie to my server Thomas. The dining room is typical steakhouse décor: dark wood, touches of brass, white tablecloths and huge globe lights overhead. Bits of Americana adorn the walls and there’s even a painting of the old Polo Grounds.

In the center of my table sat a large apothecary jar filled with dill pickles and pickled red peppers. Thomas immediately uncapped it, offered me a pair of claspers, and encouraged me to partake. I chose a large green garlic dill and was transported back to Delancey Street and the kosher pickle barrels that used to line the sidewalks. After learning from Thomas that they had Beefeaters gin, I ordered my favorite martini and Thomas brought a Texas-sized cocktail to my table, perfectly made. A large pickle jar and an immense martini. What would the food portions be like?

As Thomas cited the daily specials I stopped him at the lobster bisque. I know a good lobster bisque when it’s hot and yet forms a thin skin on the surface if undisturbed and has bits of lobster in it. Thomas brought over the pepper mill to make it even more inviting. It’s been a while since I had a soup as rich as this one. I could taste the cream in it. And, strangely enough, it was of a normal size.

I always enjoy a salad in a steakhouse setting and the bleu cheese salad with romaine, crumbled bleu cheese dressing, chopped egg and pecans was begging me to try it. The four-inch high mound on a dinner-sized plate almost stopped me in my tracks, but then I thought, “Pace yourself, it’s all good.” It was indeed, with tangy bleu cheese in every bite. The Romaine was fresh and crisp and the pecans were always a surprise delight.

It was time to order wine. I chose the 2013 Six Sigma Diamond Mine Cuvee red blend of cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo and syrah from Lake County, California. It’s a satisfying dark red, medium-bodied wine with deep fruits and a lightly spicy aftertaste. An excellent wine without being pretentious or overpriced.

The filet mignon was listed on the menu in three weights and I chose the 16-ounce with glazed carrot and skillet-fried potatoes topped with sautéed onions and peppercorn gravy. The steak was exactly as I like it, crispy black on the outside, red and juicy in the center. The glazed carrot was quite large and imposing in the center of the platter, and yet tender enough to cut and crunchy enough to not be over-cooked. It also served the purpose of keeping the spicy peppercorn gravy on the potato side of the dish. The potatoes were thin-sliced and crisp fried, but the gravy soon took that feature away with the onions appearing now and then to break up the rich gravy. I finished the steak and most of the potatoes, and it was now time for dessert.

For ultimate decadence, the banana nut bread pudding served with dark rum custard has no competition – crisp and nicely browned on the outside, soft, hot, fruity and wicked on the inside. With a double espresso, it finished a proud moment in my dining career. Bob’s not only gave Jack’s a good run as far as quality, service and value goes, it took its place proudly as my 100th steakhouse.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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