Thursday, April 17, 2014

Particle Fever

Dinner and a Movie

Particles of Lantern Light

By Steve Herte

What a whirlwind week! On Monday night I had to tell my Dad that it was the only night he would see me. Tuesday night is karaoke night at Gabby O’Hara’s Pub and I was celebrating my friend (and dancing partner) Betty’s birthday by (she wanted to do this) letting her pick all my songs without telling me what they were. Helene and I started this tradition long ago but it was more interesting when Helene was around because she knew me and could (and did) pick songs I could sing but would never pick for myself. Betty was much more conservative.

Wednesday night I attended a Members-Only preview of Pterosaurs - First in Flight, the new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It was awesome! Up until this exhibit I only knew three names of flying dinosaurs. Now I know there were 150 species of them ranging in size from a hummingbird to the Quetzalcoatlus, which was the size of a two-seater plane! I know, they had a full-sized model of one suspended from the ceiling. The children there had great fun at an interactive video where they could control the pterodactyls on the screens before them. I spent an hour and a half there and then had dinner at Swagat, my 134th Indian restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue.

Thursday, my sister (the nurse) was able to free up her busy schedule to slot me in for her 60th birthday dinner (which I promised her on December 9th). We went to Nancy’s Fireside on Jericho Turnpike and had a great evening of conversation and good food and drink. At family gatherings we never get to talk that much, so it was a fun evening.

And Friday? Well, you know what I do Fridays. Read on and enjoy!

Particle Fever (Anthos Media, 2013) – Director: Mark Levinson. Cast: Martin Aleksa, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos, Monica Dunford, Fabiola Gianotti, David Kaplan, & Mike Lamont. Documentary, Color, 99 minutes.

Why is the universe so big? Why is it expanding at an accelerated pace? Is there such a thing as a “Multiverse?” Why is gravity the weakest of all forces? What holds the nucleus of an atom together? Are there particles outside the electron orbits to be discovered? These are among the questions to (hopefully) be answered when the Large Hadron Collider powered up for the first time on September 10, 2008. This 17-mile-long loop of technology under Switzerland and France near Geneva is the focus of this new documentary.

Produced by David Kaplan and directed by Mark Levinson, this beautifully photographed, majestically scored film attempts to compress the 18-year building, the first testing, the crucial power-up and the resulting data involved in the creation of this complex marvel of modern science.

The movie starts in rural bucolic Switzerland and the camera pans a peaceful scene until it focuses on the alien dome that is CERN (“Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” – in English, the European Council for Nuclear Research). CERN was founded in 1954 and has been accelerating proton beams in the first Synchrocyclotron, the Proton Synchrotron and the Large Electron-Positron Collider until the late 1980s when ground was broken for the Large Hadron Collider. We see the gargantuan machine being assembled and hear from various international scientists of their first impressions regarding the enterprise.

Kaplan is a Theoretical Particle Physicist and professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University. Martin Aleksa received his PhD in Physics at the Vienna University of Technology and works on the ATLAS project at CERN. Nima Arkani-Hamed is an American/Canadian theoretical physicist on the faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Savas Dimopoulos is a particle physicist at Stanford University, California. Monica Dunford is a young post-doc from the University of Pennsylvania working on the ATLAS experiment. Fabiola Gianotti is an Italian particle physicist from the University of Milan who also works on the ATLAS project. Mike Lamont is the LHC Machine Coordinator at CERN and head of machine operations. We hear impressions and insights from all these participants throughout the film, share their excitement and awe and even chuckle at their humor. At one point at a lecture an audience member asks David what possible economic benefits could come from the LHC. His response: “I absolutely don’t know.”

On the American side, the audience is treated to the reasons why the proposed collider in Waxahachie, Texas, (which would have been bigger than the LHC and finished first) was scrapped. Congress canned it with comments such as, “Understanding the universe is not important…” and “Let the Europeans build it first! We’ll steal their technology…”

We see the great anticipation when the first particle beam is set in motion (a year or two before the grand start up) and the tension in the room waiting for that first “blip” of light on the view screen. We watch as digital graphics depict the two particle beams as they draw closer and closer to collision and exult when the ATLAS, CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), LHCb (Large Hadron Collider Beauty), and ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment – to detect quark/gluon plasma) particle detectors start lighting up their respective screens with collision data. We wonder at the initial measurements when the Higgs Boson is detected and it weighs in at 140 GeV (Giga-electron-volts), meaning there are no new particles to be discovered and the “Multiverse” has been proven. The scientists explained that they were hoping for it to be 114 GeV at which weight the Standard Model of physics would be complete with the Higgs Boson at the center and “Supersymetry” proven. Then, the final measurement comes in at 125 GeV, right in the middle and we know that neither extreme has been proven. We wonder with the physicists where to go next.

Lastly we applaud Peter Higgs, who appears in the movie teary-eyed that his particle has been discovered in his lifetime (he’s 79 at the time), and as he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics with François Englert in 2013 "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."

Particle Fever, though it tries with animated graphics to make the topic “user friendly,” is not for the uninitiated. No matter how the director attempts to entertain, the topic becomes dry and sleep inducing. Fortunately, the musical score is quite explosive at crucial times to bring the audience back to life. In the hour and 39 minutes we see David and Nima furiously scribbling Greek lettered equations on blackboards which are cryptic at best, a pictorial graphic of the Standard Model with the “H” for Higgs at the center but without any further definition of terms, and we can’t help but notice that physicists all seem to have dreadful hair. I guess they have a lot of other things on their minds besides grooming. Also, the four collision points and data detectors were not decrypted as to how they received their names. I would have liked to see that. I’m glad that I saw the movie, since my minor in college was physics, but I needed a little more information.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Lantern Thai Kitchen
311 2nd Avenue (at 18th Street), New York

The glass-fronted property on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and 18th Street with the tastefully small neon sign merely saying “Lantern” over the door is almost unnoticeable. Had I not been searching for it I might have missed it. Inside, the two chandeliers with faux candles and the skinny foot-long incandescent bulbs suspended from the recessed white ceiling compete (unsuccessfully) with the street light coming in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Three artfully constructed “trees” form the centerpiece of the restaurant and divide the rows of tables into two. 

The young lady at the Captain’s Station met me and asked if I would like to eat at the bar. I told her I prefer a table for dining and she led me to the last table in the front window where the bar began. I thought it was perfect, cozy but isolated, warm but drafty (though far from the entrance) and unfortunately (as Arthur Schwartz would describe it) “Mongolia.” “Mongolia” is where you are seated and no one sees you right away (or in the worst case ignores you) and service is what you make it. I had no problem with that. I know how to get attention.

It turns out that the one who seated me, Tong, was my prime server. Four different servers attended me during my stay, but hers was the name on the check. Tong presented me with the menu, the drinks and wine list and a glass of water. Shortly before I started reading she asked if I wanted a cocktail. I explained that I hadn’t had time to read the menu yet and she left. The time it took to decide on my Strawberry Long Island Iced Tea (Grey Goose Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Patron Silver Tequila, Bombay Sapphire Gin, cola and strawberry garnish) and the time it took for her to reappear gave me an idea of how long my entire dinner would take.

There were 16 Appetizers, 7 Salads, 3 Soups (with a choice of chicken, vegetable, tofu, or shrimp), 7 Noodle dishes, 6 Wok-Fried dishes, 4 “Curry” dishes, 4 Rice dishes, 9 Poultry and Meat dishes, 12 Fish and Shellfish dishes, and 9 Sides. Lots of choices. I chose Lantern Thai because of the several vegetable and seafood dishes listed on the menu. 

Little did I know I would find two of my favorite Thai appetizers. From previous experience, I have loved Curry Puffs (onions, potatoes and curry powder) and Cheese (actually, Crab) Rangoon (yes, I know Rangoon is in Burma – or Myanmar if you’re a revolutionary) and there they both were. I decided to order both. A different girl delivered my towering drink (which was delicious) and took my dinner order. I noticed right away we had not only a language problem, but a hearing problem as well. The noise level in the restaurant was not that bad, but I think her hearing was. Between my shouting and her repeating my order we established communication.

The Curry Puffs and Cheese Rangoon arrived first on matching long rectangular platters. The finely mashed potatoes and onions in the Curry Puffs were only lightly flavored with aromatic curry and sealed in a crisp rice dough and came with a white coconut dipping sauce. The Cheese Rangoon had a crab stick wrapped in home-made cream cheese wrapped again in crispy rice batter and came with a sweet duck sauce. My Vegetable Tom Kah Soup made its appearance at the same time. I prayed that my main course was not right on their heels but suspected it would be at my table way before I finished what I had (and had room for it). I tasted everything first to see what was hottest in temperature and to determine which would cool down first. The soup was indeed hottest. The coconut-based broth was delightful and a treasure trove of broccoli, zucchini, celery, onions, tomatoes, string beans and some vegetables I’ve never seen before. It was excellent: alternating between appetizers and spoonsful of soup worked out fine.

Oh no, here comes a third server with my main course! It’s too big to fit on the table with the three less than half-finished prior courses. I sent it back wondering how long it would take to recover it. But, as I said, I know how to get attention. I enjoyed the food that I had and carefully sipped my drink until they were all finished. Then when Tong came to ask if I wanted another drink I ordered a glass of Malbec and let her know that I was ready for my fish. It didn’t take that long.

The Three-Flavor Red Snapper was a golden-fried whole fish and the three flavors were chili, basil, and spicy “tamarind lava.” It was topped with slices of red and green pepper and the tamarind lava made a bloody-looking sauce on the plate. Granted, this dish looked appetizing only to me. When I tried photographing it the closest I could come was “ghastly,” but it tasted great. The spice overwhelmed the basil and tamarind (usually sweet) and the frying made a super crispy coating on the outside that required a steak knife to cut the flesh from the bones. It was work, it was delicious and I had no problem with “surprise” bones (ones that suddenly appear in your mouth and have to be removed). Although it looked daunting at over a foot long, I finished it proudly and the Malbec served to compliment it perfectly, adding its spicy flavor to the chili.

Server number four cleared my table and asked if I wanted dessert. I said yes and he brought me the menu. I thought the Home Made Volcanic Ice Cream topped with pineapple sauce sounded the most interesting and ordered it with a pot of Hot Green Tea. The tea arrived almost immediately in a remarkably heavy black iron pot accompanied by a handle-less white ceramic cup. It was wonderful. I waited for the dessert, and waited, and waited, but as nine o’clock arrived I asked for the check. When Tong brought it, sure enough the dessert was not there. Server number four did not record the order.

Slightly disappointed, but sated, I paid the check and asked number four where the restroom was. Though not surprised at the cardboard “Out of Order” sign on the men’s room urinal, I used the other available facility in the room, returned to my now less accessible (two people were sitting on stools at the end of the bar) table, got my coat and bag, snagged a business card and left Lantern Thai.

I believe that if I ever decide to return to Lantern Thai Kitchen, it will be with a small group. I still love Thai cuisine and there are enough interesting dishes to try, but I’m not sitting in that corner again.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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