Monday, August 5, 2013


Dinner and a Movie
RIP Fourth!

By Steve Herte

This might be a good opportunity to give a little of my history. Back in 1973 I joined a singing organization then known as The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America Inc., the longest named society in the phone book. I met many lovely and wonderful people (including Helene in 1976) but one that stands apart is Mark Lubart who, with the encouragement of Milton Teitel, got me over my last bits of shyness and started me on my quartet experiences. That quartet, named Malamute Café, featured me on tenor, Mitchell Shapiro on lead, Sandy Schuman on bass and Mark as baritone. We had a lot of fun times and competed in the Maude’s restaurant contest, winning our first round with “Dangerous Dan McGrew” (from which we obtained the name of our quartet). So when I mention Mark in my review, yes, that’s him. We still have fun times though not in an established quartet anymore.

Enjoy! And ... congratulations to my friend Karen on her blog move! You can still reach her at the same address:

R.I.P.D. (Universal, 2013) – Director: Robert Schwentke. Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong, & Marissa Miller. Color, 96 minutes.

Pop quiz: What do GhostbustersMen in BlackCowboys vs AliensTransformers 2The Avengers, and any recent werewolf movie have in common? Answer: They all had special effects and/or costumes and make-up borrowed by R.I.P.D.

Is it really true that there are no new avenues of wonder to be created in Hollywood? It would have been fun if the make-up department kept pace with the special effects crew. I saw several “Dead-Os” with the same looks in one scene.

What are “Dead-Os” you ask? They’re deceased persons who refuse to go to their final judgment and remain on earth “illegally.” It is the job of the Rest In Peace Department (a subdivision of the great beyond) to round them up and send them on their way. Boston Policeman Nick (Reynolds) and his partner Hayes (Bacon) split up a load of cryptic gold pieces illegally taken from a heist they broke up with the intents of living a better life off of it. Nick feels guilty and wants to turn it in but Hayes will have nothing of it and kills him while searching a building for criminals on their next case. In one of the best scenes in the movie, Nick awakens from his murder and walks through a chaotic display of stop-action where everything is frozen in time but him. He even ducks under an exploding police car suspended in mid-air. He is assumed up into the stratosphere where he winds up seated at a table facing the Proctor (Parker). She presents him with a choice: He can go to his final judgment (where it probably won’t go well for him) or he can become a part of the R.I.P.D. and return to the streets of Boston. He agrees to the latter.

The Proctor shows him around the extremely busy (and large) home base, explaining that the Boston division gets the best cops and is the largest (A point of plot logic: Doesn’t that also mean that Boston cops get killed in the line of duty more often than other cops?). He meets his new partner Roy (Bridges), a lawman from the old Wild West who is a bit of a rogue (and obviously has a history with the Proctor). Roy doesn’t want a partner, but that’s a moot point, as they’re now stuck with each other. Roy reluctantly shows Nick the job and explicitly warns him not to try interacting with anyone who knew him. When Nick asks why, Roy supplies the answer: Because neither of them appear as themselves to the living. Roy’s avatar (Miller) is a sexy long-legged blonde woman with a killer voice and Nick’s is an old Chinese guy (Hong). Most of the comedy in this movie depends on the audience remembering these differences. Oh, and if you want a “Dead-O” to reveal him or herself just talk about Indian cuisine or spray them with Indian spices.

Hayes, meanwhile, turns out to be a “Dead-O” and is trying to assemble an ancient gold device that will reverse the effect of the cyclone sucking up the dead to the great beyond and send them raining back to earth in a final cataclysm. He’s also working on turning Julia (Szostak) against husband Nick.

That’s basically the story. The rest of the movie is rounding up “Dead-Os” and foiling Hayes’ scheme using the huge effects of the films cited above. If you forget the lack of imagination and stick to the concept, R.I.P.D. is an entertaining hour and 36 minutes. It’s neither as funny as Ghostbusters, nor are the “Dead-Os” as frightening as the ghosts therein. It is, however, a great new look for Bridges. I could see him doing a remake of Custer’s Last Stand using the same make-up. The only problem would be that he’d have to learn how to speak from Henry Higgins, as Jeff marble-mouths his way through this film. Reynolds needs better material than this. He’s so over-shadowed by Jeff’s character that he might as well not be there. Bacon makes a great villain. I’d like to see him in more evil roles.

I realize that with a story such as this one must suspend belief, but I have just one question. If a “Dead-O” can run up the vertical façade of a building, why can’t the R.I.P.D. cops chasing him? Hopefully we won’t find out in any sequels. Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

The Fourth
132 Fourth Avenue (between 12th and 13th Streets) New York

A simple black marquee with red lettering jutting from a gleaming white building (and a red awning with white lettering) on the shortest avenue in New York City (only four blocks long) combine to announce the presence of this six-month old “American Brasserie.”

Upon entering, if the bright red wall covered in black-framed photos doesn’t get your attention, the huge sculpture appearing to be either bed frames or benches arranged like a Ferris wheel and suspended over the stairway to the restrooms will.

The charming young lady at the captain’s station led me to my table by the window just beyond the sculpture where a row of black stools faced it at a counter of the same color. The rest of the circular tables in the room were served by red round-backed chairs - except for mine (and the one opposite me), which was under a large mirror. I sat on a comfortable red and white striped banquette with two pillows on my right to recline on if I wished.

Damon, my waiter, brought me water, the wine list, and the menu. After an appropriate time I selected the cocktail known as “La Furia Roja.” When it arrived I was moderately surprised that it was pink (not red as its name implies). It looked like a Shirley Temple with a wedge of watermelon as a garnish, but when I tasted it, the spicy kick it delivered told me this was no girly drink. Frankly I would love to tell you what was in it but it’s the only drink on the cocktail list that doesn’t appear on-line - I know the main ingredient was cachaça (Portuguese rum). Damon was eager to serve and I suggested that I would like to order a three-course dinner. As he was composing a possibility we both noticed something strange about the menu: it was the Lunch Menu. He quickly produced the Dinner Menu and we started over.

Even though he raved about the chicken dish, I was already eyeing another entrée. I decided to start with the Wedding Soup, with the second course their homemade Squid-Ink pasta with Calamari. For the main course I chose a Leg of Lamb sided with cheddar Grits. Before I started all this I had to choose a wine and the wine list had a large selection – most of it horrendously over-priced. However, after much consideration I chose the 2009 Chateau La Grave from Fronsac vineyards, a delightful medium bodied blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. The pretty Asian sommelier was pleased with my selection and she and I had a lively wine conversation.

The Wedding Soup was an interesting departure on the Italian original. The braised greens, pasta, soft-boiled egg and chicken polpettini (little meatballs) were placed in front of me in a cast iron bowl and the soup was poured over it (sort of a deconstructed version). It was wonderful, though strange. The bread server arrived just in time to provide me with a fresh small baguette and a crock of soft butter.

The pasta dish was a tri-color (white, brown and sepia – squid ink, black) cavatappi (a ribbed, tubular pasta that really looks like snail shells) with tender pieces of calamari and tuna filet. The flavor had me saying “Wow!” It was an al dente, slightly briny seafood adventure. The bread was used to get every drop.

The Leg of Lamb was cooked perfectly to my specifications and sliced neatly by a grilled slice of eggplant and garnished with kale in a light cheese sauce. It was the kind of dish you wish there was more of it. Again, the bread helped to thoroughly clean the plate. However someone who has been to Atlanta must have made the cheddar grits. It was genuine Georgia Ice Cream – and gone before you knew it.

At this point I realized that the location of this restaurant was two blocks from a good friend of mine, Mark, who sang baritone in my first quartet and bass in our mixed quartet, The Mixed Nuts. I called him and he arrived for dessert with a surprise guest, Neil from the Manhattan Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society.

Now with company and conversation I ordered the Quatrième Coffee Pot De Crème – a mascarpone cheese mousse with coffee crumble, amaretto gelato and Quatrième coffee foam – a coffee-lover’s dream.

And I didn’t stop there. Instead of my usual double espresso I had their Venice Special – a luxurious mixture of Sambucacrème de cacao, Makers Mark Bourbon and of course Quatrième coffee. I was almost willing to forgive the ridiculously priced wines (I couldn’t find a Zinfandel in my price range).

The Fourth is a unique experience, comfortable and with unbeatable service attention and excellent food. Considering that there are two major wine outlets in the neighborhood I may return if they allow me to bring my own bottle.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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