Friday, July 6, 2012

Brave in 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Bishops and Barons and Bears - Oh My!

By Steve Herte

Brave in 3D (2012)

When King Fergus (aka The Bear King, voiced by Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) were given their reign by mutual agreement of the four clans of the Scottish highlands they never expected their daughter, Meridagh (Kelly MacDonald) to be so little like a princess and more like a warrior, expert in archery and horsemanship on her steed Angus, a Clydesdale (what else?). Queen Elinor was most dismayed when the time came for her daughter’s betrothal to one of the first-born sons (one dull and stupid, one skinny and arrogant, and the other fat and incomprehensible in speech) of the other three clans that she’d rather compete for her own hand than marry any one of them without love.

Meridagh slashes a tapestry her mother has been making with a sword (slicing right between the figure of her mother and herself), rides off into the woods and finds herself in a ring of standing stones from which she follows a trail of Will-O-the-Wisps to the cottage of a witch (“wood-carver!” – voiced by Julie Walters) and makes a deal to buy the entire stock of carvings for a spell that will “change her mother.” The witch (wood-carver) agrees and makes her what looks like a blueberry tart and she gets her mother to try it. Ooops! Elinor is transformed into a bear. Not good. King Fergus is downstairs regaling Lords MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane) and the other clansmen with the tale of how he lost a leg to a bear of immense proportions.

With the help of her mischievous triplet brothers, Meridagh smuggles her mother out of the castle and back to the witch’s lair, which is now empty except for a cauldron/answering machine from it which she learn that the she must “mend the bond that has been broken” by sunrise or her mother will stay a bear forever.

Brave is a clever tale and moralistic animated film. The 3D effects are only to enhance the story and not scare the viewer. The only problem is that it is so dark (light-wise). Most scenes are at night and in shadowy places and are difficult to see, especially wearing 3D glasses. The bear Elinor becomes is virtually black and becomes at time indistinguishable from the background. The close-ups however, prove the technology to be fine because you can read every emotion in the bear’s face.

My favorite character is Angus the horse whose expressions are also easy to read and yet all of his movements are pure horse. The detailed graphics make every long hair on his huge hooves flow with the wind created by his mighty gallop. My favorite moment in the movie is when Meridagh leaves her three brothers in the kitchen knowing their intense love of sweets and forgetting that the remainder of the “blueberry tart” is sitting out in full view. You guessed it, three little bear cubs.

Brave is entertaining and a little thought provoking (Scotland has bears? That I have to look up.); the whole premise of marrying for love and the conflict of mother and daughter are good themes worth repeating. It’s the first film in a long time that small children could see and not have scary dreams about (unless they’re already scared of bears).

Bishops and Barons
243 East 14th Street (2nd/3rd Aves), New York

The location of this East Village eatery was almost as attractive as its name. Passing beneath the pub-style sign done in large white shadow-type lettering on a royal red background one gets the pub feeling immediately. Inside, the heavy mahogany wood bar and trim around the arch separating the bar from the dining room give the place an air of great age. The faux tin ceiling in the bar adds an old-world charm reflected in the ornate decanters on the back wall over the bar. The dining room is lit by a crystal chandelier that has seen better days but remains stately and lights black leather banquettes backed by red velvet curtained walls. The only things jarring this scene are the black wood silhouettes of show girls peeping through the curtains on one wall and the zebra striped chairs at all the white marble-topped tables.

I learned from my waiter Travis (who also turned out to be the manager) that the place has been well-established, having been a sports bar before and a Spanish restaurant in previous incarnations. He takes my order for a Yellow Jacket (an interesting mix of Siete Leguas Reposado Tequilla, Saint Germain, Yellow Chartreuse and bitters) and leaves the menu for me to choose.

The menu is a narrow, leather bound, four-page affair which is difficult to hold and harder to read in the low light given by my single votive candle but I managed. The 15 dishes range from $9 to $23 and seemed to be in order of price, but there was neither dividing line nor titles such as “Appetizer” or “EntrĂ©e.” Travis helped with this. They also increased in size of portion.

I chose the Saint Louis Ribs which smelled fantastic when they arrived and tasted even better. As expected the meat was tender enough to remove from the bone with a fork and juicy. The coating was what made the dish, a finely chopped mixture of peanuts, bacon and garlic on a sweet barbecue sauce.

The main course was Garlic Buttered Prawns and Gnudi. The prawns were served in halves – head and tail in a creamy white garlic sauce with the homemade ricotta dumplings (Gnudi, not Gnocchi – frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference) which were wonderful in flavor and soft enough to cut with a fork. Calabria peppers were added to give the dish that “fresh pepper” kick. Be warned, when eaten alone, these peppers are hot.

I had ordered a bottle of 2008 Australian Shiraz to go with all this and that it did. The dessert list had only three entries and two looked pedestrian, so I chose the Chocolate Rum Cake. What came out was an attractive dish with two triangular, quarter-inch thick slices of dark cake separated by and topped with fresh whipped cream, dark chocolate shavings and strawberry bits. I tasted the cake first. Oh well, it tasted neither like chocolate nor rum – in fact it was almost a disgusting artificial taste. I ate the whipped cream combination topping and filler and left the cake, making sure to inform the waiter of the dish’s failures to live up to its name. The Earl Grey tea cleared my senses after that. 

I asked the waiter about the name of the restaurant. I shouldn’t have. Two Brooklyn gangs, The Bishops and The Barons were the inspiration for this moniker. If I had known that, I probably would not have chosen it. Now, I just won’t return because the menu choices are so limited. But it was good for a learning experience and a challenge. Are there any really good restaurants left on 14th Street (the longest street in Manhattan) since Luchow’s left?

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