Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hotel Transylvania

Dinner and a Movie

Hotel Transylvania Serves a Spice Symphony

By Steve Herte

Note: It's been a long time since I went to a movie and seen so many children, especially the one who had to tell his friend that he was wasting his money and had to read everything he saw on the screen, loudly. And...when the two adults (I use that term loosely) disappeared, the seat kicking started and I had to turn around and tell him firmly, "Stop!" He did, thank God. I wouldn't want to be accused of traumatizing him by the irresponsible elders. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the movie (as witnessed below) and even though there were rough patches, the restaurant came through with a planned revisit.

Hotel Transylvania (Columbia/Sony, 2012) – Director: Genndy Tartakovsky. Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Selena Gomez, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Chris Parnell, Cee Lo Green, & Jon Lovitz. 

What a concept, a hotel (which looks remarkably like the Castle Frankenstein) for monsters to relax from the relentless oppression of humans (shudder!). That in itself is comical. To keep humans from finding it, it is surrounded by a haunted forest and a zombie graveyard and is accessible only by a forest trap-door/ramp activated by the remote control in the hotel shuttle/hearse.

Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) is celebrating the 118th birthday of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) and has invited all of monster-hood to the party. All the usual suspects arrive, including the Frankenstein monster (Kevin James) and Fran Drescher as his bride Eunice (who arrive by mail in cardboard boxes because he’s too cheap – so said Wolfman), Murray the Mummy (voiced by Cee Lo Green, who slides in on an enormous dune of sand), Wayne Wolfman (Steve Buscemi) and his wife Wanda (Molly Shannon) and 12 pups (the littlest of whom looks remarkably like a hairy Maggie Simpson), the Blob, Bigfoot (who is way too tall), Griffin (David Spade) the Invisible Man (you only see him as a pair of floating glasses), the Fly (Chris Parnell), Jon Lovitz as Quasimodo (who acts as the Chef with his rat perched on his shoulder), and a staff of zombies, witches on broomsticks, and ghouls to clean up and serve.

Unfortunately a human, Jonathan, hiking with friends follows the hearse into the castle/hotel and causes Dracula to panic. Dracula is a super-anal control freak who wants everything to go his way at the party, so he makes up Johnny to look like Frankenstein’s third cousin by the woman who married the right hand of Frankenstein twice removed, calls him Johnnystein and everyone believes it. Even after a close call when his blue make-up washes off in the pool, he’s the life of the party (much to Dracula’s dismay) and he and Mavis “Zing” (fall in love). Johnny’s first big impression on the monster crowd is doing a Marty McFly routine on guitar as a part of the band. Every time Dracula tries to get him out of the hotel fails until Quasimodo’s rat sniffs him out and he is revealed as a human.

By this time, Dracula has befriended Johnny after a wild flying table jousting scene in the dining room where he has fun for the first time in his long life. All the tables can be commanded by number to go wherever you want them (restaurateurs would love these). When “out-ed” by the rat, Johnny leaves, Dracula and Mavis have a talk regarding “Zing” and his departed wife, and Dracula convinces Frankenstein, Wolfman, and Murray to go with him to get Johnny back – even to the point of Dracula flying after the airliner as a bat and nearly frying to death in the daylight.

Hotel Transylvania is the familiar Romeo and Juliet theme in a different and comical guise. Among the best lines are: “Do you know how much fat there is in human blood? And you don’t know where it’s been. I drink a blood-substitute.” And, “Where are they getting this ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ stuff? I don’t talk like that.” (both by Dracula) and after paying the hearse-driver extra money, Wayne says, “You might wanna clean up in the back there. It’s a mess.” The humor is clever and not always just for the children (though the theater was full of them) and the sight gags were excellent. The animation was so well done I forgot that these were not real characters several times.

The musical sound-track was unobtrusive and the original rock songs were pretty good. I only could not handle the ridiculous rap at the end. That alone lost the fifth martini glass. But, on the other hand, it was Sandler’s best performance. I understand he was one of the executive producers and two members of his family provided extra voices. Hotel Transylvania is a wacky, fun movie. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Spice Symphony
182 Lexington Avenue (31st Street), New York City

How new is this “Modern Indian” restaurant? They’re not even finished with the construction (there’s a scaffold outside), the front door doesn’t close all the way, the décor is Halloween orange and black with three Chinese lighting panels on the ceiling (nowhere is there any hint this is an Indian place) and they haven’t even got the beer/wine license yet (the only beverage is water). The manager Prem is so fearful of being closed down before fully opened that the website doesn’t even mention BYOB (bring your own bottle), a fact I would have liked to know, but I stayed and I’m glad I did.

“Modern Indian” is defined by Guru the Chef (yes, his name is Guru) as traditional Indian cuisine with new twists, incorporating traditional Chinese dishes into the menu (I will have to return before I think this is a good idea). A good Indian friend at work recommended this restaurant to me and I was determined to make it work. There are nine tables total in this small space with seating capability of 30 at most. Ravi, my waiter presented me with the menu, a tripartite glossy cardboard brochure listing 4 soups, 10 starters or appetizers, 3 salads, 7 fish dishes, 9 meat and poultry dishes, 4 vegan, 11 vegetarian, 7 tandoori, 8 breads, 7 rice sides, 3 accompaniments (chutney and yoghurt), 8 desserts and 4 “Lunchboxes to Go”. Aside from one gentleman who was there when I arrived and who left shortly thereafter, I was the only diner in Spice Symphony the whole time. (Word of mouth hasn’t gotten around yet, as well.)

After having decided on my dinner courses and carefully reciting them to Ravi (we had a slight language problem that I’ve never had before in 125 Indian restaurants) I was served the amuse-bouche which were described as Wheat Puffs with a Red Pepper Sauce: little half-dollar size crisps with a pearl of red sauce and a tiny green basil leaf perched on top. They were very nice. I was encouraged. My soup was next, Tomato Black Pepper Rassam: ‘clear’ (not) tomato soup, spiked with black peppercorn and tamarind, flavored with curry leaves.” This soup needs explanation. It was a rust-colored tangy puree burning with black pepper and only slightly modulated by the tamarind. The curry leaves, though seen could not be tasted. Being a lover of spicy food, I loved it and it was the only spicy dish I had.

The appetizer was next (I was already applauding Spicy Symphony for not bringing everything out at once because the air-conditioning would have destroyed the dishes), Tandoori Achari Mushrooms: mushroom caps marinated in yoghurt and pickle spice mix, roasted in the tandoor (oven). I ordered this dish knowing that “achar” means Mango in Hindi and that mango pickles are an acquired taste being both sour and spicy and only a little bit sweet. The combination with the earthy flavor of the mushrooms was a novel symphonette (pun intended) of taste sensations. Very good. However, I needed to finish them quicker than I wanted to because the air-conditioning was already working its devilment on them.

After a short wait and several glasses of water, my main dish arrived, Bhunna (sometimes spelled Bhuna) Goat: baby goat, bone in, slow cooked with aromatic spices. It was the most delicious goat I have ever had and I wished it had more meat and less bone. The sauce was a rich dark brown redolent of caramelized sweet onions and mild spices, making the resultant flavor a sweet one. The plain Basmati rice came with the dish and supplied a wonderful aroma of its own. The side dish of Raita: a yoghurt, cucumber and tomato dish served cold, was also one of the best I’ve ever had, whipped to creamy thickness (I know how hard it is to get yoghurt to that consistency – I’ve tried) and well balanced in flavor. The Onion Kulcha: flat bread stuffed with white onions and mild spices and baked in the tandoor, was another A+ best in show. I finished everything (no mean feat in any Indian Restaurant) and only the bread suffered from the air-conditioning.

Where to go from here? My friend at work begs me to try new desserts and stop eating “street food” (but I like it) so I found one dessert I have never seen before, Alle Belle (pronounced Ah-Leh-Beh-Leh) which reminded me of my newest Great Niece, Annabelle. It was described as a Goan Coconut Pancake, naval orange juice reduction, topped with fresh fruits and nuts. It was indeed two pancakes which were a little thicker and softer than crépes stuffed with the red sweet chopped coconut and drizzled with orange flavored honey – no fruits and nuts. It was so delicious I forgot about the toppings it lacked. Here my meal ended as I had no intention of getting into a discussion of why they didn’t even serve Chai (tea), remembering the lecture I received when I asked about the wine. The price tag was the lowest I’ve paid for dinner in several decades so I paid in cash for the first time in several decades. Spice Symphony deserves a repeat visit before it gets its beer/wine license because, when it does, it will be packed. And, I’m really curious why Hot and Sour Soup, American Chop Suey, and General Tso’s Chicken are doing on an Indian menu.

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