Thursday, April 2, 2015


Dinner and a Movie
Home with a Stroke of a Brush

By Steve Herte

As quirky as my favorite karaoke host is, when he tells me he’ll have a song for me on a certain night, he means it. The song “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones had been running through my head for a few days and I asked if he had it. He answered my email with “I will by Tuesday.” And he did. It was fun to sing and was well received.

Tuesdays are my release night to “break up the week” especially when work becomes intense, and I look forward them as much as to my Friday dinner and movie night. After two Fridays of stools, I was eagerly anticipating a real chair at a sushi bar and I got it. Combine that with a movie that had me laughing each and every time I saw the trailers and you have the recipe for a perfect evening. Enjoy!

Home (DreamWorks, 20th Century Fox, 2015) – Director: Tim Johnson. Writers: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember (s/p); Adam Rex (book The True Meaning of Smekday). Voices: Jim Parsons, Rihanna, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Matt Jones, & Brian Stepanek. Animated and Color, 94 minutes.

Aboard their mother ship (which resembles the planet Earth with an after-burner), the purple creatures who call themselves The Boov assemble to hear their leader, Captain Smek (Martin), announce that he’s found the perfect planet for them to live on: Earth. He and the “brainier” Boov have determined that the inhabitants of Earth are slow, helpless and baby-like, and will not resist being displaced. All of the Boov are excited to finally have a planet of their own after their home world was destroyed by their enemy, the Gorg – fearsome spiky creatures with flames for eyes. But no one is more excited than Oh (Parsons). He, like everyone else, totes his belongings in a bubble attached balloon-like to his hand, except his is three times the size of any other Boov possessions, and it gets in the way constantly – much like Oh himself.

Upon arrival on Earth, Captain Smek makes a grand pronouncement that the Boov are here and they’re canceling the usual gravitational force to make the people easier to suck up and transport – to Australia. With all the people gone, the Boov populate the other continents, except Antarctica, adapting them to their needs and modes of transportation. What the Boov do not know is that one human is still left. Gratuity ‘Tip’ Tucci (Rihanna) was missed because her calico cat “Pig” was resting on her head at the time of extraction and the scanners dismissed her as “non-human.” Her mother, Lucy Tucci (Lopez), however was taken to Australia.

Oh is so thrilled to have his own apartment and neighbors near enough to invite to a party that he decides to throw a housewarming of his own. But no one shows up because they do not associate with Boov who are “different,” as Oh definitely is. He looks out onto the Boov-covered streets below and sees Kyle (Jones) – his ‘best-friend’ (only in his mind) – directing traffic. He goes down to invite Kyle to his party but Kyle wants nothing to do with him. Oh decides to send out invitations on his circular hand-held device to all the Boov, but when he goes to ‘send’ the invitation, he hits ‘Send All’ by mistake and the invitation goes to the entire galaxy, including the Gorg. Oh is now vilified by his people and hunted for “erasure.” He escapes the angry crowd in a Bubble Car, but not for long. Captain Smek has sent out an all-points bulletin on him, which automatically disables any vehicle he touches. He crashes in a desolate part of town and hides by entering the back door of a mini-mart called “Mopo.”

Meanwhile, trying to escape the encroaching Boov, Tip and her cat have driven off in her mom’s car and inadvertently crashed it in front of the same mini-mart that Oh has entered and they come in through the front door. They eventually bump into each other and both are terrified, but Tip locks Oh in the freezer cabinet. After much mistrust, begging (“Can I come into the out now?”), and cajoling, Oh promises to fix Tip’s car and take her to her mother. Using three flavors of “slushees” and various edibles from the mini-mart Oh converts the car into a hovercraft and they elude the Boov. Oh really wants to go to Antarctica to escape his people but must take Tip to Paris to use “the antenna” (The Eiffel Tower) to find where her mother was displaced. Paris is the last place Oh wants to go because that’s where Captain Smek has set up his capital of “Smekland.”

Oh explains to Tip that the Boov are known for “running away from” and not confronting danger, and that he’s wanted for his mistake. “With Boov, it’s nine mistakes and you’re out.” “How many have you made?” “Sixty-two.” He also explains how Captain Smek became the leader of the Boov when he confronted the Gorg Commander (Stepanek) and took the “Shusher” from him. The Shusher is like an egg-shaped rock and now is the head of Captain Smek’s scepter. He bops Boov on the head with it while shouting, “Shush!” On the journey, Tip learns that the Boov cannot resist dancing to modern music when Oh uncontrollably starts gyrating (and changing colors) and is horrified. “Boov do not dance.” He even twerks on his four stubby legs.

A strange friendship blossoms between Oh and Tip. Together they use the Eiffel Tower to cancel Oh’s invitation – just as it’s about to be received by the Gorg mothership – and locate Lucy in Australia. But they’re not out of trouble yet. The Boov still want him for making the mistake and the Gorg are still coming to destroy Earth.

Home is an excellent movie for both children and adults. There is enough visual humor to keep kids entertained and sophisticated jokes to keep adults laughing. I know as there were several children in the audience with me and I heard them giggling. Just the thought of Oh waiting expectantly in his apartment door holding a tray with a bowl of shiny nuts and bolts and three rolls of toilet paper makes me laugh still. The voices are beautifully done and the characters – though alien and disproportionate – are believable.

The animation is smooth and the 3-D effects non-intrusive. There is one instance where Tip’s car is firing popcorn at the audience, but it didn’t even make me blink. The writing is superb and the life lessons taught in this film, though not new, are valid: you can’t keep running away from your problems, family is paramount, and, just because someone took something valuable from your enemy, it doesn’t necessarily qualify him as your leader. There is even pathos in this animated marvel. Wait until you see what the Shusher really is. Trekkies will love it. I did.

Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

30 Hudson Street (Duane Street)New York

I seem to be following the career of David Bouley. Shortly after I was able to afford it, I dined at the original Bouley on Duane Street. Bouley moved out and later opened Bouley on West Broadway, and I dined there again. That location closed, and a new Bouley restaurant named Danube came to occupy the truncated triangle of property formed by Hudson Street, Duane Street, Reade Street and West Broadway. A lovely interpretation of Austrian cuisine, I dined there one Christmas with Helene. David later reopened Bouley at 40 Hudson (where it is today) but he didn’t stop there. He and some of his staff reopened the by-then closed Danube as the French/Italian Secession and I dined there again, wonderful! But Secession did not last. Not very much in New York City does. The space is now a joint venture between Japan’s top culinary school and Chef Bouley and is the marvelous “brushstroke” (yes, spelled in lower case) and has been for the past three years.

Knowing all this and remembering it when it’s critical are two different things however. On my way to the theater, I walked down Duane Street so that I could see where exactly the restaurant was, but I didn’t see it.

After the movie, I returned and looked for the restaurant, but where was it? Passing 40 Hudson Street I noticed no outward indication that Bouley was there; but on closer inspection I saw that it was indeed there. brushstroke had to be on the block before and it was; except for the address, I wouldn’t know it was a restaurant.

Until I entered, that is. After checking in at the formal Captain’s Station, I was led by a young man into an immaculate blonde-wood paneled room and seated at the end of the sushi bar. A sushi bar is light years away from any standard drinking bar: It’s a lot cozier, the clientele are much more genteel, and the service is of the highest quality. My server took my water preference and presented me with the cocktail and wine list.

I ordered the Japanese cucumber with almond cocktail – gin, lime, and coarse ground roasted almond. It was a beautiful shade of lime green, had a slice of cucumber as a garnish and the almond was around the lip of the ball-shaped glass. I found it refreshing, yet subtly powerful. While I sipped, my server brought the food menu indicating the prix-fixe Kaiseki dishes on the first two pages and the a la carte menu following it.

I took my time with the food order noting the relatively high prices but not surprised because of the location, the chef and the cuisine. A young Asian girl next to me was trying the octopus and I asked her how it was. She told me it was well cooked. I joked that I’m usually happy if I can chew it. She laughed.

My server reappeared and I put in my three-course order. Soon another server brought the Amuse-Bouche – a delicate slice each of salmon and yellowtail sashimi on wafer thin crackers resting on a wooden board and graced with a cherry-blossomed branch. Delightful.

Soon my appetizer arrived, Pacific jumbo oyster, with uni (sea urchin), scallop and meyer lemon foam dressing, garnished with salmon roe. I asked my server if it was a belon oyster, but he didn’t know. It was larger than normal oysters and sliced into three pieces. Despite its size, it was delicate in flavor and tender in consistency. As I love sea urchin and its musky flavor, I found that, combined with the lemon foam and the salty salmon roe, the dish was truly a multiple taste sensation.

At this point, my cocktail was finished and I ordered a glass of the Pichler Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Urgestein Terrassen, Austria (I know it’s a mouthful. I just ordered “the Austrian white wine”), a crisp, lightly sweet, dry, white wine that went perfect with the meal. The manager came by and we discussed our mutual love of belon oysters. I told him of a restaurant, “Fresh,” on Reade Street that actually served them. He didn’t remember “Fresh” but when I told him it’s now “Sazon” he knew of where I spoke.

After a little while, my second course, gelee, arrived. Served on a gorgeous multi-color striped dish – tuna sashimi and hearts of palm with yuzu-miso dressing and dashi (a Japanese soup stock made from kelp and bonito flakes), it was easily eaten with chopsticks. The crunchy palm hearts contrasted with the melt-in-the-mouth red tuna flesh and the dressing added a lightly salty, vinegary touch that was tantalizing.

My wine server reappeared and I decided, since I was having my wine by the glass, I would switch to the Domaine Fichet Bourgogne Blanc, France. One taste and I knew it was right. There is nothing better than a good French white burgundy when the main course is dungeness crab and lobster with spring bamboo shoots over donabe (a clay pot for cooking) rice. My server displayed the dish to me still in the donabe and it looked spectacular. When served, the dish was one-sixth the size and in a blue and white ceramic cup, accompanied by pickled carrot, squash and radish, and miso soup for drinking. I had a moment of “where did all that food go?” until my server assured me that there was much more. Five ceramic cupsful later, I was finally approaching fullness.

I noticed that the young woman next to me was also enjoying her main course and asked if that was the wagyu beef dish. She said it was and that it was great. I told her I’ll have to return after Lent and she laughed again. My main course was so good I forgot that don’t really care that much for lobster. The crabmeat flavored the rice nicely and there was salmon roe sprinkled in the dish as well. If seafood could be considered hearty, this would be the signature dish.

Time for dessert and I noticed then that nothing so far had arrived before its time in this restaurant. Nothing arrived simultaneously or late. In fact, I received two apologies for the time it took to cook the main course, both of which I waved off and thanked them for. The selection was intriguing and I chose the macha-green tea ice cream, with red beans and white chocolate and nigori-sake affogato (a creamy sweet sauce). Again, it was another unique combination of flavors. Eschewing tea because of the long trip home I accompanied the ice cream with a glass of Poire Williams eau de vie.

My server asked how everything was and I told him that if knew the Shinto term for Nirvana, I was there. He said in that case he wouldn’t want to disturb my higher state of being with administrative matters. Then, a surprise! My server brought an aprés-dessert, delicate, crispy white rice pastries embedded with red beans that were both sweet and salty! I had a wonderful time at brushstroke. It was a bit on the expensive side, but worth it. I didn’t even mind it when the coat check couldn’t locate my leather cap right away. But I definitely have to come back for that beef dish.

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