Saturday, April 18, 2015

While We're Young

Dinner and a Movie
Staying Young with Charlie

By Steve Herte

What looks like a chubby, eyeless bear with an anteater’s tube-like mouth and six fearsomely clawed feet, and can be boiled or frozen solid and still survive?

According to the American Museum of Natural History, this “tough guy” is the Tardigrade. (Don’t worry, this monstrosity is also microscopic.) But it’s the headliner for a new exhibit at the museum entitled “Life at the Limits,” a multimedia hall demonstrating the lengths that nature will go to adapt to conditions on this planet.

There are videos of birds doing the “Moonwalk” as a courtship display or building a “Bower” out of sticks and blue ornaments, along with live nautilus, mantis shrimp, axolotls (a salamander with external gills), and a huge fiberglass elephant seal. At the entrance, the viewer is greeted by three enormous Tardigrades and progresses through the other exhibits until arriving at an interactive video for the kids. In this video the idea is to pick up and toss clams to the mantis shrimp for it to break open and eat. There’s a section on the tubeworms that live around volcanic vents under the ocean and the reproductive cycle of corals as well as the African Lungfish and how it can survive a drought.

It’s a fascinating display that I experienced on April 4 in a members’ preview. It opened to the public on the 6. I loved it.

Extremophiles remind me that there was a phenomenon called a “blood moon” recently. I missed it, but I think I experienced the results. People are usually a little crazier during and after a full moon but last week, if it was idiotic, it happened. I think it even affected my quartet (which planned a reunion last week, but broke up instead – the end of an era). Has anything like this happened to any of you? The culmination of all this strangeness was the movie I saw after having re-scheduling my evening. See what you think. Enjoy!

While We’re Young (A24, 2015) – Director: Noah Baumbach. Writer: Noah Baumbach. Stars: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver, Matthew Maher, Charles Grodin, Adam Horovitz, Maria Dizzia, Amanda Seyfried, Dree Hemingway, Dean Wareham, & Brady Corbet. Color, 97 minutes.

Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts), a couple in their early forties, tried to have children and suffered more than one miscarriage. They say they’re happy with their lifestyle and freedom to go anywhere they want whenever they want. They just don’t. Josh is working on a lengthy documentary with Tim (Maher), his cameraman and technology expert. Tim is wondering when he’s going to get paid and Josh keeps delaying him with “when we receive the grant money…” Needless to say, the money never comes.

Cornelia’s father, Leslie Breitbart (Grodin), is an established documentary producer up for an award, and Cornelia doesn’t understand why Josh doesn’t ask her father’s advice. Josh believes that Leslie doesn’t like him personally and only tolerates him because he married his daughter. Actually, Josh is secretly jealous of Leslie’s success while he’s still struggling.

Josh and Cornelia’s best friends are Fletcher (Horovitz) and Marina (Dizzia). They have a little baby to care for and constantly encourage Cornelia to keep trying. But the more they market their opinions the further away they drive Josh and Cornelia.

Then one day at a lecture he’s giving, Josh meets Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried), a couple of 25 year olds who claim to be “auditing” his class. They have seen his first documentary; were awestruck by it, and they wish to learn from him. Cornelia isn’t sure how to take this “hero worship” from such a young couple but is drawn in – as is Josh – by their free-spirited lifestyle. They ride bicycles everywhere and have a sexy roommate, Tipper (Hemingway), who unabashedly walks around scantily clad. They also keep a chicken in their apartment and attend strange “events” around town.

Eventually, the influence of Jamie and Darby re-sparks the flame in Josh and Cornelia’s love life and they start doing things together. Darby takes Cornelia to a hip-hop Zumba class, and Jamie and Josh go bicycling (until trying to ride with no hands aggravates Josh’s arthritis – a condition he doesn’t understand how he could have). After attending an Ayahuasca ceremony (a hallucinogen made from the bark of the Shiwawaku tree, served in tea – supposedly to bring on spiritual revelations, but which usually results in vomiting) complete with a Shaman (Wareham), Josh agrees to help Jamie with his documentary. They even go up to Poughkeepsie to interview Kent (Corbet), a former soldier who served in Afghanistan who tried to commit suicide after returning home.

Josh and Cornelia’s former friends (all who have babies) worry about them hanging out with such a younger couple, but they don’t listen. Jamie’s documentary is a huge success while Josh’s six-hour clunker languishes. Leslie even called it boring.

Finally, it dawns on Josh that his meeting Jamie and Darby was more than a coincidence and that he was manipulated because of Cornelia’s relation to Leslie. None of the “facts” in Jamie’s documentary are true. All of the “facts” were from other peoples’ lives, none from Jamie’s, and Josh is outraged. He believes that true documentaries should be factual. And when he makes a scene at Leslie’s award dinner, he’s horrified that Leslie agrees with Jamie.

I must admit that the trailers did not prepare me for the drug-less drug trip this movie was. I exited the theater not remembering the name of the restaurant I was going to next. It’s designated as a comedy, but like so many “comedies” being produced currently, there’s only a chuckle here and there and no hilarity at all. It might be considered a comedy in the Shakespearean sense. I didn’t recognize him at first, but Peter Yarrow appears as Ira Mandelstam with Bonnie Kaufman, as one of the married many couples. I love Ben Stiller and am sad that the Night at the Museum series is over. They were funny and worth watching more than once. This film tries too hard, gets too metaphysical and falls flat. The flippant vulgarity at the beginning becomes more vicious toward the end and only works part of the time.

The funniest part of this comedy is watching Naomi Watts trying to do hip-hop dance moves.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Charlie Palmer’s at The Knick
6 Times Square – 4th Floor (42nd Street and Broadway)New York

After braving the teeming mobs on 42nd Street and following a walking signpost for a “Gentleman’s Club,” I gradually arrived at the Hotel Knickerbocker. Opened in 1906 by John Jacob Astor IV, its historic New York status radiates from its steel-supported brown awning. My mind was still reeling from the movie and I was taken by surprise by the young doorman zipping from outer to inner door to hold them for me. Frankly, I’m not used to this service.

Inside, all is sleek, shiny, and modern in rich browns and golds. I walked up to the front desk and announced I was going to the restaurant (whose name escaped me) “Patrick, or someone’s name.” “Charlie Palmer’s?” they said and pointed me toward the elevator. The distinguished-looking elevator operator (I haven’t seen one of those in New York in decades) asked me for the floor. “Four, I believe, the restaurant.” “Yes, sir.” And up we went, me still trying to clear my head and speak like a cultured resident, and failing.

Exiting the elevator it was obvious that a left turn was needed and I saw the Captain’s Station, presided over by two lovely young girls. I announced my reservation and one of them led me to a table by a chain mail curtain separating the dining area from the private function room beyond. My table was at the end of a soft gray velour banquette running along the wall. The room was lit beautifully in shades of beige to light brown, and the chairs were smoke gray with metallic silver threads running vertically down the fabric. The lamp on my table was unique: an aluminum colored, cylindrical base from which a pencil-thin support projected to support the disc-shaped light. There was a touch-sensitive spot on the base, which regulated its light in four gradations. (Helene would have loved it.) That (and the yellow calla lily looped in a clear glass vase) was charming.

My server, Lucy, introduced herself and took my water preference. When she brought the water, she presented me with the food menu. I was a little surprised that there was no cocktail and wine menu, but Lucy was a busy girl. I had almost made my choices by the time she returned and asked what I would like. I told her I would like a cocktail. Acting like an absent-minded professor, she apologized and procured the needed list.

I chose the Knickerbocker Martini – Tanqueray 10 gin, Dolin dry vermouth, Cocchi Torino vermouth, orange bitters and a lemon twist garnish – a delightful change from my usual and served in a stunning Waterford crystal glass. The golden color of the drink from the Torino vermouth matched the restaurant décor nicely.

When Lucy returned, I had a question whether a special dish at the bottom of the menu was an appetizer or a main course. She thought main course, but said she’d check. I had judged by the price of the dish that it was an appetizer, but I awaited her confirmation. Shortly she brought back the answer I expected – appetizer. “It’s brand-new! Do you want to start with that?” She asked, almost excitedly. “Yes.” And then I gave her my dinner selections.

The appetizer in question was boudin moir over frisé and toasted bread topped with a poached egg. I’ve had boudin noir (a black sausage, usually a blood sausage) before and it’s familiarly left whole for the diner to slice up and luxuriate in. This dish was pre-sliced and crisped on a grill and surrounded the snow-capped mountain formed by the remaining ingredients. It was very tasty and unusual, just not what I expected.

Lucy had mentioned in her listing of the specials that my next course, the oyster soup was excellent and she was right. Served in a bowl with two lion heads for handles (yes, the same one I have at home), the soup was more like bisque: creamy, aromatic and musky with croutons floating in it. The oysters were small and delicate and already in the bowl before Lucy poured the “soup” over them. I commented that the Oyster Bar at Grand Central now had competition.

The wine selection by the glass was impressive and I ordered a glass of 2010 Blanquet Merlot Dry Bordeau from France. No one makes Merlot like the French. It complimented the soup beautifully and welcomed the main course.

Being thankful that Lent was over and I could once again eat meat on Fridays, I asked Lucy about the difference between the two steaks offered on the menu. She responded that the ribeye had more marbling and that was all I needed to know. I ordered the Snake River Farms (Boise, Idaho) ribeye steak with butter potato, roasted winter roots (carrot, parsnip, winter squash, red onions) in red wine jus. It looked amazing! The tender beef was a glistening, appetizing seared color. The butter potato formed a graceful lagoon to its left. And the vegetables were lined up like soldiers on the right. Everything was heavenly and when Lucy asked me about it, I just rested my head on the arm of the banquette as if dying and going to Heaven. I saved those beautiful onions for last.

While I was enjoying my steak I noticed that the Merlot was being overpowered by the flavor of the meat. I changed to the 2011 Carpe Diem Cabernet, Napa Valley. The full-bodied wine was a perfect match for the dish.

The desserts were all things I’ve had before, but the cheese platter intrigued me. I love cheese and am willing try any kind. Here were four selections I’ve never of. I didn’t even recognize the names, looking them all up when I got home. The Four Murray’s Cheeses – Cooperstown (in Milford, NY) Creamery Alice (a soft, yet firm, ripe cow cheese), Bellweather Farms San Andreas (a sheep cheese made in California near the fault line), Coach Farms Rawstruck (a soft ripened raw milk goat cheese), and Hudson Valley, New York, Jasper Hill Hazen Bleu (named for a Revolutionary War road in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom – Stilton-esque) were all spectacular from first to last. They were served with raisins (still on the vine), honey on the comb and a red fruit sauce with slices of toasted baguette.

Getting the OK from Lucy on Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee (25 Jay Street), I ordered a cup and followed it with a glass (the Empire State of cordial glasses) of Cloudy Bay New Zealand Late Harvest Riesling. The coffee was rich, dark and flavorful and the Riesling generally sweet, but with tart, dry overtones.  

I learned later on that Chef Charlie Palmer was originally from the restaurant Aureole. It’s been so long since I dined there I forgot. This new place is a little over one month old. The décor (including the chain-mail curtains) was designed by Gabellini Sheppard. The restaurant not only has the elegant Waterford stemware but a Carrara marble bar top. The wine racks form a backdrop to the bar – very impressive. I know I have to return to this hotel sometime in the future, because there is another restaurant called “Jakes” somewhere in it (named after the founder) and they plan to open a rooftop bar this spring called St. Cloud.

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