Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All Is Lost

Dinner and a Movie

Walking on a Wave's Chicane

By Steve Herte

Those of you who are Electric Light Orchestra fans might recognize the title of the review as a line from “I Can’t Get It Out of My Head,” and keeping things in one’s head has been a recurrent theme this past week. I had brought in extra Christmas decorations from home so that I could deck the halls of the entire unit. Most people in my group noticed right away. One came in on Monday (I decorated two weeks ago today) and didn’t notice until the end of the day on Thursday that there was something different (Sheesh!). The same person called me on the phone last Wednesday to resolve a problem and we did resolve it (so I thought) until she e-mailed me on Friday about the same thing.

I realize at 63 that I cannot multitask four things at once anymore. (Three, maybe, but certainly not four.) I remembered to move my Dinner and a Movie night to Thursday because my quartet was planning a reunion on Friday in White Plains. (By the way, it was glorious. We might even have a paid gig from it.) I remembered all the things I need to do on Friday before leaving the office, i.e. water the plants, check the weather, look at my street Atlas, and lock up. But otherwise, I have to write things down now. The movie and restaurant on Thursday both have excellent reasons for remaining in my memory. Enjoy!

All Is Lost (Roadside Attractions, 2013) – Director: J.C. Chandor. Writer: J.C. Chandor. Cast: Robert Redford. Color, 106 minutes.

In this era where the number 99 is valued higher than 100 (Did you notice? Nothing is $100 or $20, it’s $99.99 or $19.99.) it’s a pleasure to see an actor give 100% (not 99%) of himself in a solo performance depending heavily upon his visual communication skills rather than a clever script. I might have said that the best of animated films are wordless. At 77, Robert Redford proves that live movies can be excellent with minimum vocalization.

All Is Lost begins with a narrative by Redford, which we learn toward the end of the film is his final farewell to the world while a rusty orange hulk of metal floats by on the screen. The words “8 days earlier” appear and the movie starts. The scene is set 18 miles off the coast of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. Redford is below deck in his sailing ship doing a solo navigation (of what, to where and why are not explained) when we hear a horrendous crunching of wood and a metallic groan. Water begins pouring in through a large hole just above the waterline. On deck, we see the enormous rusty orange shipping container that has punctured his boat. He tries prying it loose to no avail. Then he gets the idea of attaching his sea anchor (a kind of parachute on a thick rope) to the container and that eventually does the trick. He retrieves the sea anchor and sets about repairing the gaping hole and bailing out the accumulated water after discovering that his electricity is gone (no navigation, no computer, no radio).

With the hole satisfactorily patched he sails right into a violent storm. He takes in the main sail and goes below while horrific gales and heaving seas rage outside. A wave upends the boat while he’s down below, sending him ricocheting off the walls. When another wave rights the boat he decides to go on deck and fasten the storm sail. Another wave upends the boat while he’s desperately trying to do this and he’s dumped into the ocean. Once again a wave rights the boat and he scrambles aboard and completes the task. Going below again the random wave motion slams his head into a post and knocks him out.

He awakens with a nasty gash on his forehead and almost hip-deep in water, the hole has broken out again and above deck, his main mast is bent like a twig. Needless to say he eventually has to drag out the life raft, stock it with whatever survived the storm and abandon his sinking ship. Fortunately he has a sextant that was safely packaged and he calculates his position day by day as the raft drifts into the shipping lanes. One huge container ship and one freighter later he’s still marooned (nobody see his flares or hears him shouting). Cue another storm. Two more flips of his vessel.

His survival kit includes a length of fishing line, a hook and a fly. He tries to use it to catch fish (the camera shows a school of fish swimming below the raft). A fish is caught, but when he’s just about to reel it in a shark snatches it first, then he finds himself surrounded by sharks. It is no wonder he lets out a loud and long “F” bomb (the only one in the movie). He then writes his opening narrative, seals it in a jar and tosses it overboard.

Out of the shipping lanes and now out of flares he spots a light on the horizon at night. Using the pages of his journal as tinder and his now carved up water jug as a fireplace he lights a fire in the raft that quickly spreads, causing him to jump overboard.

One might ask why a man would want to go sailing alone. But I have to admire the survival techniques he used. I don’t know if Robert Redford actually has extensive sailing knowledge or that he had to learn it for the movie, but he convinced me that he knew what he was doing. J. C. Chandor’s (Margin Call – 2011, Despacito – 2004) writing and direction – combined with Redford’s superb abilities – made All Is Lost a supreme depiction of the lengths to which the human spirit can be tested in the battle to survive, even against the greatest odds. The film was so engaging I completely forgot that there had to be a cameraman in the picture at all times. As I left the Angelika Theater I heard another audience member say that he liked this film more than Tom Hanks’ Castaway. I agree. Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

430 Broome Street (at Crosby Street) New York

Locating this three-week-old French bistro took my New York navigating skills to new heights. I always check the location of a restaurant relative to the theater on my handy office atlas beforehand. This time, the exact route to take slipped my mind, but I remembered a map of Soho on the wall near the exit of the Prince Street subway station. It was on the way and I checked it. Crosby Street was just west of me, and Broome a few blocks south. However, the street sign for Crosby at the intersection of Prince was missing and I passed it right by. It’s a good thing I knew Mulberry Street was too far. Going south, I missed Broome by one block as well (the sign was there, but it only faced south).

I had left plenty of time for this backtracking because I knew that anywhere south of 14th Street in Manhattan is just a jumble of named streets at strange angles. I did find Chicane on its proper corner, an unassuming establishment three steps up from the pavement under a muted yellow awning with the name in black letters.

At 7:45 pm on a Friday there were only a few diners, and I was seated toward the back of the restaurant near the stairs leading to the restrooms and the lower-level party room. Both areas filled in quickly as I dined. It was difficult to figure out who exactly was my waiter because several people, both male and female, stopped to chat, find out how I was doing, or actually take an order – one was a tall suave black man in leopard-print stretch slacks and a white jacket with the words “Hood-Lums” printed on the back.

Eventually, one person appeared more often and it was Arnaud. His accent was so thick (it wasn’t in any way French) that I abandoned the quest for a Beefeater martini and chose one of their cocktails – the Chicane de Port – instead. It’s a lively golden concoction of gin, pineapple juice and spicy peppers that reset my appetite. (I must admit that after eight days at sea with Robert Redford my stomach was not thinking of food.)

Chicane’s menu is divided into two categories: Cuisine Traditionnelle and Cuisine Nouvelle – both with their appetizers and main courses. I decided to choose my appetizer from the first and the main course from the second. The selection of wines by the glass is nicely varied and the bottle prices mostly reasonable. Being adventurous after the movie. I chose the 2010 Niellucio/Sciacarello, Domaine Maestracci “E Prove” red wine from Corsica. It proved to be a delicate red, light-bodied table wine with a good ruby color and accented, but never interfered with the flavor of the food. Arnaud brought the bread – two slices of baguette and a ramekin of soft butter (that didn’t last long).

While awaiting my appetizer I admired the simple décor of Chicane, sea-foam green and stucco walls, live potted trees (one a Jerusalem orange with fruit) and oblong chandeliers lined with light bulbs reminiscent of a Broadway marquee. Then the Parsley Risotto arrived – a large white bowl with the beautiful pea-green risotto in the center topped by burgundy-marinated escargots, accented with Elephant garlic and in a wreath of Cantal (a French cheese) foam. It was as delicious as it was stunning. When I finished it I wished the portion had been larger.

The restaurant was now full of noisily chatting patrons and I was enjoying several conversations when Arnaud served me the main dish, lamb chops – cooked with black garlic, served over broccoli-rabe, and accompanied by two condiments: charred eggplant and cocoa pimento. The ratatouille arrived at the same time steaming in its own bowl, a lovely mix of squashes and vegetables. The lamb chops were tender enough to cut with my butter knife (a steak knife was not supplied) and I did not complain, that is until I tasted them. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor was spectacular, but they were tepid and cooling rapidly. I got the attention of the gentleman who first asked me how everything was and asked him if this dish was supposed to be served hot. He said yes. “Well, it’s not. It’s tepid. The ratatouille is perfect but not the main dish.” He agreed to have it put in the oven for heating.

I was halfway through the ratatouille when the dish returned, now considerably hotter and with renewed blobs of condiment and (surprise!) a steak knife. Now I could fully enjoy it, even relishing the bones, surprising myself on enjoying and finishing the broccoli rabe (a vegetable I do not normally like). It was now getting close to 10:00 pm and I called home to apprise my Dad that I still had not had dessert and I would be later than usual.

Chicane has three desserts at any one time and the only one that seemed interesting was the Snow Ball – a snowy white, icy “cloud” of pineapple filled with passion fruit curd and rum granite, and served with coconut sorbet. I have to admit it was a nouvelle experience, being sweet and tart at the same time. Having finished I was contemplating an after-dinner drink and coffee when the girl from the captain’s station came over to my table and told me that the restaurant needs my table for the continued influx of patrons. I was mortified, replying that if it weren’t for the exceedingly slow service I would have been gone a half-hour ago. I decided to forego the coffee and cordial, and asked Arnaud for the check.

Chicane is a young restaurant. They have much to learn about keeping patrons. The food is wonderful (when the service doesn’t let it go cold) but their organization is extremely faulty. The cocktail took way too long to serve, as did the main dish. The plates should be heated to prevent food from chilling excessively and the tableware should be served before the dishes. And, just as an aside, it’s a good idea to schmooze with returning customers but not to the point of being distracting to the wait staff (Remember leopard-pants? He was all over chatting to people, and even sat by me while I took his photo. Flattering, but unnecessary.) If this restaurant were in the Caribbean, it would all be acceptable, but certainly not in Soho on a busy night. I’m not inspired to return.

At least, the trees across the street were nicely decorated for the holiday season.

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