Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Big Hero 6 

Dinner and a Movie

Hero of the Medici, or 6 Plus 21

By Steve Herte

Novelist Thomas Wolfe coined the phrase, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” And though that is certainly true, I found that you could go home and visit a while.

My old grammar school, Saints Joachim and Anne, recently celebrated its 90th Anniversary. Normally, this would not be an attraction for me, but when I realized that it was 50 years ago that I graduated from that school, I felt compelled to attend. Both of my sisters, my brother and I went to SSJA and three of us were available to attend the anniversary event. (My sister in Florida couldn't make it.)

Afterward, a dinner was held at the New Hyde Park Inn, a catering house in the township of the same name. I was pleasantly surprised when six of my old classmates greeted me. I was extremely shy back then, not prone to making friends easily. After 50 years and approximately 150 kids in my graduating class, I admit I was impressed. All in all, it was an experience I will not soon forget.

Both the movie and my 2,640th restaurant (also my 369th Italian) were great. Enjoy!

Feast (Disney, 2014) Director: Patrick Osborne. Writers: Nicole Mitchell, Raymond S. Persi (story); Patrick Osborne (written by). Voices: Ben Bledsoe, Stewart Levine, Katie Lowes, Brandon Scott, Adam Shapiro, & Tommy Snider. Color, 6 minutes.

This adorable animated short tells the story of boy-meets-girl from the point of view of a French bulldog. We begin with a hungry puppy lured from the street by French fries and into a man’s house. All views are from the dog’s level and people are only visible from the knees down. In his wonderful life in a bachelor pad, the dog (now named Winston) learns how great it is to eat fried eggs, bacon, and pizza, and he eagerly scarfs up anything his master tosses at him with his dog food.

Then one day at a restaurant, the man meets a girl and Winston discovers cuisine that involves vegetables and garnishes, which he decides he doesn’t like. At home, if his master places a sprig of parsley on his regular food, he refuses to eat it. But one day he finds a green garnish and associates it with the girl and his master’s happiness and leads the man on a merry chase until laying the sprig down at the girl’s feet. The couple reconnect, marry and have a baby; all of which the little dog exults in and gets to taste all of the resulting new foods.

It’s a clever tale from Nicole Mitchell and Raymond S. Persi for Disney Studios, viewed from a novel angle that minimizes dialogue for visual storytelling. And, as so many other Disney cartoons, this one is light on content and heavy on cute.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Big Hero 6 (Disney, 2014) Directors: Don Hall & Chris Williamson. Writers: Jordan Roberts (s/p and story), Daniel Gerson (s/p), Robert L. Baird (s/p), Don Hall (story), Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle (concept and characters). Voices: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Daniel Henney, Damon Wayans, Jr, Genesis Rodriguez, T.J. Miller, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, Maya Rudolph, & Daniel Gerson. Animated, color, and 3D, 108 minutes.

It’s an unspecified time in the bustling and extremely colorful town of San Fransokyo (an amalgam of Francisco and Tokyo). The way for a street kid to earn big money is to build a battle-bot and win against the reigning underworld champ. Hiro (Potter) does this with a seemingly harmless little black robot and finds himself pursued by the outraged thug. Fortunately, his older brother Tadashi (Henney) rescues him on his motorcycle and he escapes.

Tadashi would prefer that his brilliant little brother would make something of his life and talks him into accompanying him to the “Nerd School” he attends. Once there he meets Go Go (Chung), who is working on a faster bicycle using near frictionless mag-lev wheels; Wasabi (Wayans), whose project involves laser slicers; Honey Lemon (Rodriguez) and her strange candy-like glue; and Fred (Miller), who gave them all their nicknames and dreams of being a fire-breathing dragon. Hiro is amazed at all their projects and their enthusiasm and decides he would like to attend this school. Tadashi shows Hiro his project, a medical robot named Baymax (Adsit), who balloons out of his storage case at the sound of the word “Ouch” or “Ow.” Tadashi advises Hiro to come up with an idea that will impress Dean Robert Callaghan (Cromwell) and he will be accepted easily.

After much brainstorming and encouragement from Tadashi, Hiro invents the micro-bot – tiny robots capable of combining to form anything the mind can conceive by responding directly to the thoughts of the person wearing the command headband. He wows everyone at the science fair, gets an offer to work at a big corporation from Alistair Krei (Tudyk) and acceptance to the school.

While reveling in Hiro’s success, the two brothers witness a huge fire at the school and Tadashi runs to save Professor Callaghan who is still inside. There is an enormous explosion and Hiro is now brother-less.

At home, the boys’ mother Cass (Rudolph) tries her best to console Hiro, but he’s lost interest in the school and wants to be alone. That’s until he drops his battle robot on his foot and says the magic word, “Ow!” Baymax rises up and, whether Hiro likes it or not, he has a new friend. When Baymax discovers one of his micro-bots not destroyed in the explosion and determines that it seems to want to join its mates, they follow it to an abandoned warehouse. Once there, a man in a Kabuki mask attacks them, and they later learn he is manufacturing micro-bots and using them for his own ends.

Thanks to Baymax’s summoning the other nerds, they escape after a hilarious chase scene. After reporting this to the rather bored and unbelieving Desk Sergeant (Gerson) at the police station and getting no satisfaction, Hiro uses his computer and design skills to transform himself, Baymax and the four nerds into a super-hero team (hence the title, Big Hero 6), using their projects as their super powers and together they go after the strange villain. But they are in for some surprises along the way.

When I first saw the trailers for this movie I noted the unusual way the characters were drawn, almost as if the film was created in the anime studios of Japan. Most of the names are Japanese and the eyes are strangely rounded. Baymax is a lovable, funny character who remarkably expresses a range of emotions with only two dots connected by a line for a face. His humor is the innocent humor of the Robot in Lost in Space or Data in Star Trek – Next Generation. There were a great many small children in the audience with me and they all enjoyed it. The biggest laughs were when Baymax’s battery power was getting low and he acted as if drunk – at one point cradling the family cat and saying, “Hairy BABY!”

Despite its anime look, Big Hero 6 is an excellent movie for the whole family with lots of action, laughs and even some philosophy. The 3-D effects were great and didn’t interfere, the cinematography was very convincing (especially the street scenes) and the soundtrack added to the excitement or sentiment of the moment. In short, I loved it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Medici 21
21 Rector Street (corner of Washington St. )New York

The address of this restaurant struck a note of déjà vu right away, but I couldn’t quite place the location or the former name. With all the construction going on at the site of the former Twin Towers and the World Financial Center just across the West Side Highway, I had to take a circuitous route to my dinner. Once there, the glass-enclosed corner property heightened the sensation of having been there before.

Inside, the sea-foam blue light over the rectangular bar and the galaxy-cluster ceiling lights definitely evoked memories of a past visit. The gentleman who greeted me at the Captain’s Station asked me if I preferred upstairs or downstairs and I answered with “whichever has more light.” Downstairs it is. When he sat me at a table by the window in a corner facing the stairway I was sure I had been here, sat here, and faced this way.

My server, Vanessa, appeared, presented the food menu, asked my water preference and took my martini order. While reading the menu I kept looking around to see if my memory would be refreshed by some small detail. I noted that the lighting was as convoluted as that over the restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on 42nd Street and wondered if the same decorator did both, but that didn’t help. Finally, when Vanessa returned with the perfect martini I asked her how long Medici 21 has been in existence. “Our grand opening was last Wednesday.” “What was the name before this one?” “Regis Royal.” That was it! I had been there, though I could not remember what I dined on. “Do you remember who served you?” “No.” “You’ll remember me.”

And so I shall. With Vanessa’s help, I choreographed a three-course, full Italian meal (they don’t make half-orders of pasta), and when I told her I was thinking of combining various red wines by the glass, she suggested a wine pairing. I agreed. Another server brought the breadbasket with fabulous slices of focaccia, as well as Italian bread and a small dish of virgin olive oil. Between delicious bites of olive oil-coated focaccia and sips of martini from the elegant stemmed glass, I eagerly awaited the first course.

The braised rabbit was served on a long, narrow plate and seemed to be flowing like lava from a Vesuvius of browned polenta. Peas and Parmesean cheese decorated the volcano, with the tomato and olive oil sauce adding to the illusion. The meat was shredded but tender, and, when combined with the other flavors on the plate, it was wonderful! The first wine was 2010 Josh Cellars Cabernet from North Coast, California. It had a full flavor and fruitiness that offset the rabbit dish nicely.

Next was a dish I would not have ordered normally but was glad I did. Pasta dishes usually tend to be large and I was trying to keep within my capability. Ravioli is usually a smaller dish. The house-cut ravioli with Italian fresh truffles stuffed with ricotta cheese and served in a brown butter sauce with sage and pistachio nuts was the perfect size. The four circular pasta patties were beautifully al dente, and though the cheese added a sweet taste, the sage and truffles moderated it into a deep forest-y, earthy flavor, smoothly blended with the butter.

The wine pared with this dish was the 2011 Hobnob Pinot Noir from France, another excellent combination. This red was lighter than the Cabernet and allowed the subtle flavors of the dish to take precedence while it crowned it like a halo. I told Vanessa I might have chosen the Montepulciano, but was perfectly happy with the Pinot Noir.

At my last dining experience, the restaurant was sold out of rack of lamb and Medici 21 had the dish. The bones of the two sections of lamb were linked together like a bridge over the roasted squash, beets, and carrots and overlaid with two sprigs of rosemary. Once again the meat was tender and juicy and enticingly browned, and the vegetables were still crunchy and flavorful. The third wine was the 2012 Trivento Malbec from Argentina (of course), whose rich flavor and great nose enhanced this dish’s strong flavors.

Feeling very pleased with myself on my choices and in finishing every dish I was ready for dessert. Once again I fell to the lure of Crème Brulée, and it did not disappoint. The familiar scalloped dish with the appetizing, glass-like scorched sugar topping was sweet, creamy and hot: just as it should be. I was becoming more Italianissimo as the meal progressed, and the hefty snifter of Galliano with my double espresso was the only thing that could cap this dining experience.

Medici 21 has many other dishes I know I would like to try in the future, such as the veal chop or the pan roasted striped bass, and it’s close to my office. So who knows? I may be back sooner than I think; even if it changes names again.

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