Friday, December 9, 2016


Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Trolls (DreamWorks/ Fox, 2016) – Directors: Walt Dorn, Mike Mitchell. Writers: Jonathan Aibel & Mike Mitchell (s/p). Erica Rivinoja (story). Thomas Dam (creator, Good Luck Trolls). Voices: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Baranski, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, James Corden, Jeffrey Tambor, Ron Funches, Aino Jawo, Caroline Hjelt, Kunal Nayyar, & Quvenzhané Wallis. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 92 minutes.

The trailers prepared me perfectly for this saccharin-sweet sappy story. The movie opens in Bergentown at the time of year called “Trollstice.” King Gristle Sr. (Cleese) has promised his son the future King Gristle (Mintz-Plasse) his first literal taste of happiness by eating a troll. 

The Chef (Baranski) has just picked the right troll from the huge Troll Tree growing in the town square. but it proves to be a fake, as do all the trolls on the tree. For this, the Chef is banished and thrown out of town.

The real live trolls are escaping through a series of tunnels led by their King Peppy (Tambor) and his repeated calls of “No troll left behind!” Not surprisingly, he’s the last troll out of the tunnel with his daughter and heir Poppy.

About 20 years later, Poppy (Kendrick) has grown into the role of princess and leads her life singing, dancing and hourly hugging people in party after party. That is except for Branch (Timberlake). He doesn’t believe they’re safe from the Bergens and lives in an underground bunker. He doesn’t sing, dance or hug and he reproves Poppy for making the parties increasingly loud for fear of attracting the Bergens. And it does attract the attention of one Bergen, the exiled Chef.

In the confusion of scattering trolls, she manages to snatch up Creek (Brand), DJ Suki (Stefani), Biggie (Corden), Cooper (Funches), Satin (Jawo), Chenille (Hjelt), Guy Diamond (Nayyar) and Harper (Wallis), and puts them into her fanny pack for delivery to the king and reinstatement as Chef.

Poppy is shaken but determined to save them. She begs Branch to help her, but when he refuses, she invites all the other trolls into his bunker. Rather than experience “hug time,” Branch accompanies Poppy on her quest just in time to save her from a group of spiders that may just have come from the movie Queen of Outer Space (1958), only the animated version.

When they gain access to the castle, they discover that the lowly scullery maid Bridget (Deschanel) is in love with King Gristle and, in return for their freedom, the trolls give her a Cinderella-style makeover. They transform her into Lady Glitter-Sparkle and it’s love at first sight for the King. What do Bergens do on a date? They go roller skating, of course.

If it weren’t for the exceptional animation and music (sometimes forced into the scenes) this film would have the rubber stamp of “been there, done that” all over it. The use of color versus Branch’s gray, gloom and doom attitude is remarkable, especially when things look worst and the entire cast of trolls go gray one by one. Popular tunes mixed into the movie include “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” “Sounds of Silence,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,, “Celebrate” and Zooey Deschanel gets to sing Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.” The one original song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake will probably be nominated as Best Song, but it has tough competition.

Children, especially little ones will love this movie. Adults may find it levels more juvenile than the Smurfs. It’s colorful, musical, technically fantastic and hackneyed, all at the same time. It’s the kind of film you watch when you don’t want a show that makes you think. I’m glad I saw it, but once is enough. Oh, in case you’ve seen the trailers and heard a yellow peanut-shaped character say, “Oh snap!” that’s Mr. Dinkles (voiced by Walt Dorn – along with five other characters) and his only line.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

89 E. 42nd St.New York

While singing with the Westchester Chordsmen barbershop chorus, I spent a lot of time in Grand Central Station and I thought I knew every nook and cranny of it. I was wrong.

The name is Scandinavian and means “acorn” in Danish. Compared to the other major restaurants at Grand Central, it’s much more intimate. There is a square open kitchen in the center of the single room and tables to the left and right. The décor is definitely Nordic, all blonde wood, bubble-like swag lights and zig-zag tiled square columns.

I made an instant friend of the perky young woman slicing and dicing in the open kitchen and she answered my every question as she placed a crusty loaf of bread on the shelf in front of me in its own wooden bowl and a large dollop of “sour butter” plopped on a stack of flat rocks with a wooden knife propped up in it. Then, without warning, my server, Jen, appeared behind me with a “Hi!” She presented me with the food and beverage menus, both curiously bound like a secretary’s notebook. I was thoroughly enjoying the bread and butter as I flipped through them.

After a quick glance at the cocktail list, I ordered the Cornelius Vanderbilt. After all, he was one of the team of architects for Grand Central. Somehow this drink combined “smoke from oak” with Taconic Founder’s rye and Amaro. It looked like a dark red Manhattan, smelled like a smoke house and tasted like whisky with a cherry accent. Intriguing.

After consulting Jen on the more unusual dishes, I soon had a three-course meal representative of the Chef’s style. I ordered the 2010 Coturri Carignane, Testa Vineyards, Mendocino California, a medium-bodied red with light tannins to accompany the varied flavors I was about to enjoy.

The last time I had mackerel was in a Greek restaurant and they served them by how many fish you wanted. They arrived lined up on the plate like soldiers on parade. Not here. The sushi-grade filets were nestled in a polished black wooden bowl with sprigs of fennel and kohlrabi and thinly-sliced horseradish. The dish was more Japanese in presentation than what I knew to be Nordic. The fish was ultra-fresh, delicate and only slightly chewy. The more powerful ingredients were understated enough just to add excitement to the dish. And the wine worked beautifully with it.

My next dish was one I had to ask about beforehand. I’ve never seen it in any place I’ve been and wanted to be sure I would like it. Jen was very helpful, and when she described it with the word “carpaccio” I was hooked. The beef heart with crisp salsify, dill and elderberry was indeed like a carpaccio both in texture and flavor. At first, I couldn’t even see it for the other ingredients. But there it was, glowing redly under the forest green dill and French-fry colored salsify. The elegant pebbled glass plate it was served on almost upstaged the dish. It was excellent. Jen assured me it was the most popular item on the menu.

My next dish was one of my favorites, rabbit, served with carrots, lobster mushrooms, and carrot cress. The seasonal autumnal colors of this dish competed with the exceptional taste. The rabbit was tender and juicy – not the least bit gamy, while the carrots were fresh and sweet and the mushrooms added a forest-like flavor when combined with the caramelized sauce. Another dish I did not expect to be what it was.

The dessert menu had only four entries. I went with the first and was served another work of art. The dark berries consisted of lingonberries and cloud berries soaked in Dorothy Parker gin and surrounding red and pink mounds of homemade berry ice cream and beet root. The artful use of oak smoke was a fascinating part of the flavor of this dish as well. Again, served in a polished black wood bowl, the color contrasts were striking. It was tart and sweet (but not too sweet), crunchy and soft, all in turn.

Afterward I had a cup of lovely Earl Grey tea. And to finish off a Nordic meal like that, a thistle glass of Brennivin Aquavit from Iceland. The whole affair was elegant. I was charmed, despite the fact that most of the wines on their extensive list had ridiculous price tags. I could dine there reasonably (for New York) and would again.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

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