Friday, January 29, 2010

Meatstravaganza at Stamna, a Greek taverna

Gigantic platters of meat and seafood speak for themselves. They say, "eat me." At Stamna in Bloomfield, your protein fix is not only delicious, but a bargain as well. Where else can you get a plate filled to the edge with grilled calamari tubes, head-on prawns and octopus tentacles seasoned with a little lemon and spices for $21?
The giant meat platter, which fed us for days, contains a Greek-style burger patty that was at least 10 ounces; a mound of succulent gyro meat; two grilled chicken breasts, and a tasty sausage link, for $18. Now, fear not. There are meatless options as well; the fried cheese balls are fantastic, but I liked the juicy Greek meatballs the most. I'd get a dinner of those. You get a plate of bread and delicious marinated olives of different kinds with your meal, but obviously, don't fill up on it. The portions are enormous, and quality doesn't suffer for it.

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To make the obligatory pun, you'll need stamina to finish your plate at Stamna. They are very generous, and the food delicious. The service was exemplary, especially for how lively the place was- even in the bitter, sub-freezing wind chill on the day we went. When we return, I'm going to try the spanakopita spinach pie (my favorite) and the stuffed eggplant. I was just in the mood to eat a plateful of mollusks, and that satisfied my gullet for two days.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

playing catch-up

I missed a lot of movies in 2009 and I'm playing catch-up. Here are some worth seeing:

Milky brought this one over; I'd wanted to see it, but he got it first. This is perhaps one of the best science fiction films of the last decade. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, it tells the story of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, Choke) an astronaut who works for Lunar Corp, managing their mining operations on the lunar surface. It of course recalls 2001 but also the '70s cult classic Silent Running, because he is alone with his robot Gerty on the barren moon. The movie has a fantastic tone of solitude and agoraphobia; Sam has a 3 year contract, but seems to be going a little stir crazy. He starts seeing things; or does he? Is the man on the moon not alone? It's a great story, and I won't spoil it for you. This one's a winner, and Rockwell deserves a nomination for his role. Milky and I both give it:

5 bare-assed moons out of 5.

Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron is hit or miss with me; I loved When Harry Met Sally... but much of her recent work has felt formulaic, so I skipped Julie & Julia in theaters last year when reviews felt that one half of the film was lackluster. And it is, but only compared to the other half. As a whole, the film is quite enjoyable and doesn't feel 2 hours long. As a food blogger, I should have given this movie more respect. Amy Adams plays the food blogger, who decides to cook every recipe in Julia's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking to bring some meaning to her life. She works for the 9/11 recovery office, and feels helpless as she tries to assist people whose lives were thrown asunder by the attacks. Thankfully, the story is intertwined with Julia Child's life in France, where after working as a file clerk for the O.S.S. in WW2, she feels empty returning to home life. But she loves French cooking, so she learns how to cook- a decidedly male profession at the time- and then decides she has to introduce America to it. We know her story is a success, but the script manages to convey just how unlikely that was.

Much has been said of Streep's excellent portrayal, which goes beyond impersonation and makes a lively character of the younger Julia Child based on her memoirs. She says things we would never expect, comparing a hot cannelloni to a stiff cock. (Remind me to read her memoirs --ed.) Stanley Tucci is also perfect as her loving and supportive husband, showing the man's true range- he's getting a lot of respect for playing a twisted murderer in The Lovely Bones, but this role shouldn't be overlooked. Contrast him with Julie's husband, who seems to be suffering her obsession with cooking. What the film lacks is a love of food, and a bit too much time spent on the mundane and self-absorbed act of blogging. It might be fun to read, but if you watched me type this stuff or fiddle with layouts, you'd rather watch paint dry; and we're subjected to too much of it, even if it's only a little. Amy Adams does what she can with the Julie character, but there's not enough there; it was brave, positioning herself across from Meryl Streep, but unfortunately, she's not ready yet. If this had been all about Julia Child, it could have been fantastic.

3.5 slabs of butter out of 5

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Andersen does it again. I'm not his biggest fan, but I admire his work, and he makes a wonderful story for both children and adults here. As much as I liked Where the Wild Things Are (full review) I think this is even better. It's not as wacky as a Wallace & Gromit cartoon, but the stop-motion fuzzy figures are easily as emotive and endearing. And the story works for kids and adults, generating chuckles and grins from all directions, without trying too hard. I had a blast, and Firecracker did too. Like Andersen's live action films, every moment has little details, the characters all have their little motivations and issues, but it's all kept lively and fun.

5 Fox Force 5's out of 5.

Sherlock Holmes
I had reservations about Guy Ritchie turning the world's most famous detective into an action hero, but if you put expectations aside, this is a blast. Sure, it's more like Young Sherlock Holmes- complete with cultists operating in the middle of London- but it grabs you early on, introducing Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes the bare-knuckle pugilist. He's excellent as usual, toning down his twitchy mannerisms and slipping into Sherlock's pipe and muttonchops with ease. Jude Law is Watson, Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) has a delightful role as the harried police chief who needs the duo's deductive powers, and the plot- revolving around an Aleister Crowley-esque magician with plans for Parliament- has twists and turns, but in the end, unravels to rational deduction, as it should. The weak spot is Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler, who just doesn't seem wily enough to be the only person to outwit Holmes. There's plenty of good fun with set pieces in a shipyard, and a hulking giant that the duo bests with cattle prods and ju jitsu. Looking forward to the inevitable sequel, hoping someone says "no shit, Sherlock."

4 deductions out of 5

A Single Man
Saw this with Firecracker because it is a rare starring role for Colin Firth in a film of substance, when he's languished a bit lately. Set in the early '60s, he plays a British college professor in California, suffering the loss of his lover of 16 years. During a time of red-baiting and nuclear paranoia, he contemplates suicide after losing the love of his life, because nothing else seems to matter. He sees minute details, like his students' eyes glazing over; he feels like he is drowning, in a repetitive art-house sequence where he flails underwater naked in a back-lit swimming pool. Directed by fashion designer Tom Ford, the film looks beautiful, with stunning sets and some spectacular shots, making 1963 feel even more real and alive than a "Mad Men" episode. However, the story lacks focus and the film rests on the shoulders of Firth's excellent performance. When a recognizable actor disappears into a role without extensive make-up, it is worthy of note. Also memorable is Julianne Moore as his friend Charlie, looking a bit haggard but also building a fully fleshed character with motives of her own. I felt the ending was a bit of a cop-out, perhaps cautionary, but it's an enjoyable if morose character study of an invisible man suffering the loss of a love that at the time, still dared not speak its name. Expect an Oscar nom for Firth.

3.5 Calvin Klein commercials out of 5

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

keep on truckin'

Foodies know that truck food is where it's at. El Imperio is a cart that parks by the Grove Street PATH station in Jersey City at times. They serve tacos and Mexican sandwiches. They do us a great service, offering great drunk food by the train into the late hours.
They even have seating, and an awning if it's raining. Their sandwiches have a filling trifecta of slow-cooked meat, fresh vegetables, and chewy, fresh rolls. Mine's loaded with barbacoa beef, and the other is pork.
They also offer fish tacos (snerk) but I didn't try. I like a good fish taco, so next time I will. They make very satisfying sandwiches and if they're parked there, you'd better not go to the McDonald's or Dunkin Donuts. Your stomach will never forgive you.

How do you say "sangweech" in Spanish?

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Running Man

"SubZero... now plain zero!!"

I love bad Arnold movies. This is miles ahead of Raw Deal but behind Commando. In a prescient future, the government depends on reality shows to distract us from the horrible economy, and when chopper pilot Ben Richards refuses to fire upon a food riot, he is framed as the engineer of the massacre, and of course gets pulled in to the biggest game show on TV: The Running Man, where criminals run from maniacal stalkers with flamethrowers, chainsaws and operatic voices, to gain a chance at a jury trial. Arnie's one-liners are at their worst, some of them barely make any sort of sense, but the TV satire with Richard Dawson from Family Feud is just too good to miss. It's not a bad movie, but like most futuristic satires it has to wink at the camera instead of playing it straight like the original Rollerball (the James Caan one) or just going with it like Commando. It's definitely worth seeing once, and bares little resemblance to the Stephen King story it's based on, but this ain't Arnie's best. It's also a lot far from his worst. This is probably the best example of an Arnie movie, come to think of it- it's the median.
The movie has a lot to like. Arnie may be running around in yellow tights like Bruce Lee in Game of Death, but he gets to cut a guy's nuts off with a chainsaw! Dweezil Zappa plays a leader of the revolution! Old grannies say they want to see him kick some ass! And best of all, Richard Dawson plays it completely straight, playing a real sonofabitch of a TV host and loving every minute of it. If you ever wanted him to say Survey Said... FUCK YOU! This is your chance.
It goes crazy to the camp side, with an opera-singing Hunter named Dynamo driving around in a dune buggy covered in Christmas lights. Even Arnold's jokes on him make fun of how awful this concept is. "Aghgghg!! you big light bulb!" Jesse Ventura has a small role as a former gladiator, but we don't get to see them really fight; that's too bad, it would have been awesome. The Running Man remains a guilty pleasure in the Arnold compendium, but it shows that he can make a hit even out of a ridiculous, campy '80s flick.

All the entries in The Arnold Project

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: This movie came from Milky's Netflix, and he watched it with me, and farted on my couch a lot, and did slap my belly with glee. There, now quit whining.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ibby's Falafel

Delicious, creamy hummus; crunchy, light falafel; smooth, rich baba ghanoush. These are the treasures that await you at Ibby's Falafel in Jersey City, near Grove Street. It's a small joint, but worth the wait. If you're used to grease-soaked gut bombs of falafel sitting in your stomach like lead sinkers, these are the real deal. Fresh made and not overcooked, they have a crunchy shell on the outside and the inside is the fresh nutty flavor of ground chickpeas. Their portions aren't enormous and the prices are a little higher than I expected for platters, but it's the best I've had in a long time, so I say it's worth it. On the cheap, you can get it in a pita instead; they're only $3! Their spinach pies are quite good as well. Everything is full of flavor and it's a pleasure to eat here.

I went vegetarian for this meal, but they have shwarma and kebab as well. They have a location in Freehold for you central Jerseyans, too.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

They voted for the wrong retard

What's Wrong with the '90s?

For one, Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction for best picture of 1994. In that year, as Norm MacDonald put it, Jodie Foster and Tom Hanks were competing for a controversial new Oscar category: Best Retard. And the Academy voted for the wrong one.

I just watched Nell, where Jodie Foster plays a "wild woman," an almost feral child who was raised in Squalor, West Virginia. She gives an amazing performance, in and out of the nude. At times it is as smarmy as Gump, and one scene where she is teased by young goons in a store made me wonder if it was going to be The Accused part 2, but I truly enjoyed this movie. Liam Neeson Plays a local doctor who discovers her when he goes to check on one of his elderly lady patients who lives out in the sticks, but she's passed away and he finds Nell, her secret daughter.
Nell has never learned to speak properly because the old woman had palsy; I won't tell more, because the story that unfolds is what will keep you gripped to the screen. Admittedly, I've always been fond of stories in Appalachia, and while this does have the '90s taint of the feel-good movie, and an insipid soundtrack, it's a rewarding film to view. Maybe a bit long, maybe a tad predictable, but Neeson and Foster give enjoyable performances that make it time well spent. And from a pervy point of view, if you think Jodie Foster is hot, you get to see her au naturel and in her prime here. If John Hinckley saw this film, he'd explode.

Friday, January 22, 2010

one hell of a decade

When I looked over my IMDb ratings to find my favorite movies of the decade, my first list had 86 entries. I don't like "top tens" but 86 is a bit much. So these are the movies I found most important or most cherished by me, trimmed from that to a more digestible number. Another blogger had 58 so I decided on 69, dude! In no particular order except a little alphabetical.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
2. There Will Be Blood
3. No Country for Old Men
4. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
5. Superbad
6. The Incredibles
7. Spirited Away
8. The Royal Tenenbaums
9. Children of Men
10. Kill Bill, Vol.1 and 2
11. Closer
12. Amelie
13. Pan's Labyrinth
14. In Bruges
15. The Bourne Trilogy
16. Oldboy
17. Cache
18. Juno
19. Irreversible
20. Knocked Up
21. The Wrestler
22. Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War
23. The Descent
24. Tropic Thunder
25. Punch-Drunk Love
26. Borat
27. City of God
28. The Orphanage
29. The Dark Knight
30. The Lives of Others
31. Downfall
32. Eastern Promises
33. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
34. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
35. Far From Heaven
36. Hot Fuzz
37. Happy-Go-Lucky
38. Kung Fu Hustle
39. The Triplets of Belleville
40. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
41. Michael Clayton
42. Mulholland Dr.
43. WALL-E
44. Shotgun Stories
45. Snatch.
46. Sexy Beast
47. Spider-Man
48. Standard Operating Procedure
49. Role Models
50. The Departed
51. The Wind That Shakes the Barley
52. Sicko
53. Traffic
54. Miami Vice
55. United 93
56. Watchmen
57. The Black Book
58. The 25th Hour
59. 28 Days Later...
60. Apocalypto
61. Dirty Pretty Things
62. George Washington
63. Layer Cake
64. Lost in Translation
65. Man on Wire
66. The Fall
67. The Prestige
68. Let the Right One In
69. Zodiac

I'm sure I missed many great films last decade (or this decade if you follow proper mathematics) and I had to leave many excellent films out. I think it was better than the '90s due to that decade having a weak start, but 1999 remains one of the best years for film.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

short but sweet

Here are some short reviews of movies I liked this year, but missed reviewing.
District 9
This one lived up to expectations as a surprisingly good science fiction story that incorporated some real-world issues. But let's face it, we're watching to see the "prawns" tear people's arms off, mecha power suits fire explosive rounds into Nigerian warlord's skulls, and fire energy weapons that make people burst into goo. I wish it had lingered a bit longer on how we first stereotype races as cute 'n cuddly and needing our help, and then hate them when we feel burdened by them requiring our help longer than we like; it was a little too black and white, because the meat of the story begins long after we hate them. I enjoyed the movie immensely, and liked the "Christopher Johnson" alien character quite a bit- he has some depth. It's not a groundbreaking film, but it came out of nowhere and is satisfying as both an action picture and a science fiction tale. The quasi-documentary style and sequel setup, along with its bleak and cynical view of corporate and government power, make it both compelling and just plain fun.
Star Trek
Now I liked this one, and felt they successfully rebooted the franchise, but to be honest it's really just space opera fare now. The original series tried to tackle some issues and that's what made it groundbreaking, but all we remember is Kirk without his shirt fighting some guy with a bug mask on his head and getting it on with sexy green ladies. And wouldn't you know it, we get the sexy green lady. This one's a crowd-pleaser and doesn't take any chances, ret-conning like crazy with dubious explanations so they can reboot and still satisfy the nerdy purists. I had a good time, but there's very little depth here except for the excellent Zachary Quinto as Spock. It looks and feels like every other J.J. Abrams project, with his forced, fast character introductions that make Michael Bay's look well thought out. But there's enough cool and explody stuff to distract you, just as in Cloverfield. This isn't something I'd watch again, but he got me interested in seeing the inevitable next movie.
The Brothers Bloom
This one was a great surprise; it feels like David Mamet meets Wes Andersen. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who'd previously done the refreshing high-school noir Brick, this one's about the two best con men in the world, brothers played by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. They want one last con against a rich heiress (Rachel Weisz) who spends her time in an aging estate, learning how to juggle, fence, unicycle and so on, at her whim. The brothers and their silent explosives expert, Bang-Bang (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Survive Style 5+) begin setting up the long con and the convolutions of who's conning who unravel layer after layer, but you're never distracted by the plot. The characters are amusing and fun, and the comic timing is impeccable. This one's a lesser known gem of 2008, and worth hunting down.
An Education
This swingin' London of the '60s sleeper hit has some excellent performances- Carey Mulligan as the precocious teen who has an unlikely romance with slick Peter Sarsgaard, and Albert Molina as her worried father. Emma Thompson gets a nice change of pace as the stern school principal. This movie was good fun with emotional punch, a fine period piece and coming of age story that brings '60s London to life without camp or exaggeration, and never strays too far from reality. Mulligan's first starring role is a smash, and we'll be seeing a lot more of her soon, I imagine. The third act is a bit rushed, but it ends as it should. The screenplay by Nick Hornby, based on Lynn Barber's memoir, is sharp and witty, but full of humanity. It's a refreshing tale where lessons are learned, but it's far from cautionary. A real surprise.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Now there's some golden globes.

Paranormal Activity

I had high hopes for Paranormal Activity, partly because of all the hype, and partly because when I was a kid, I happened upon a book of demonology and witchcraft that spoke of these manifestations, and it scared the hell out of me. But it also had lots of nude photos of witches performing Wiccan rituals, so I couldn't just throw it away! I was 12. That stuff was gold, before the internet. In the end, the movie was disappointing, squandering some great build-up and a compelling premise with a muddled ending where it finally gets derivative and unoriginal. The alternate ending- what I imagine was the original- is much better, and I suggest you watch it first. I sure wish I had!
This is another "found footage" film like The Blair Witch Project, but this time the plot centers around a young couple- Katie and Micah- living in their new house. Creepy things happen at night, so Micah buys a video camera to see what's really going on. Katie tells him she has felt this presence since she was 8 years old, when their house burned down, and it comes and goes. Micah wants to confront it- suggesting the good ol' Ouija board- though a psychic Katie calls suggests against it. He says she's not haunted by a ghost, a human spirit- but a demon.

We had another demon movie this year, Drag Me to Hell (full review)- and that's the better one. Sure, it's campy and more of a gross-out Tales of the Crypt type story than a scare-fest, but the writing is much better. On the other hand, this was made for $15,000 in 10 days by first time writer-director Oren Peli, and it's quite impressive for that. And it's certainly better than bigger budget horror like the pathetic The Haunting in Connecticut (full review) that I endured last year. It works best when it is creepy, and makes us wonder just what this spirit tormenting Katie is up to, and if it exists at all. Ending stories is often the most difficult part, and that's where it falters. It builds up great tension- with the demon smashing a photo of Micah, making its intentions quite clear- but the changed ending, according to IMDb trivia it came at the suggestion of Steven Spielberg no less- is a cop-out.
After 90 minutes of clever creepy scares, and clues leading us toward what we can only hope is a revelation as to the nature of the invisible beast, we get a jump-scare and a hackneyed crawling "creepy walk" that reminded me of The Ring. I felt cheated. The story hints at a demonologist who can help with the problem, but he never shows up; I didn't want to spoon-fed, but something more than "it's completely random!" would have been appreciated. It's worth seeing if you like horror, but don't expect a lot. Trick 'r Treat (full review) was much more rewarding.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Worst hot dog I've ever had

Sonic has been teasing New Jersey for years with commercials, when the nearest one was in Ocean County or Pennsylvania. Now they're popping up in north Jersey like flies, and sadly most of their food is as appetizing as same. Face it- they're all about the ice cream, sugar-laden gut bombs, some of which are 2,000 calories. After a hike I decided a hot dog wouldn't be so bad, but Sonic's foot long Coney with chili & cheese was like eating a condom full of bologna. Their chili cheese sauce is decent but was better on their tater tots. I've had burgers here before, and they are nothing to write home about. I do remember the food being better at the Louisiana locations, but in Jersey there are plenty of better options. Chili dog? Go to Hiram's Roadstand. You won't have the gimmick of being served on rollerblades, but you'll enjoy the food. Even the aging Stewart's in North Arlington, which still serves trays curbside, has better food than this and it's sort of forgettable.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Smash Burger Brothers

Five Guys, you better watch your back. Smash Brothers are coming to jump on you like a goomba. Smash Burger is a chain that harkens back to the smashed sliders of classic joints like the White Man(n)a, serving up burgers smashed flat on the grill using a special clover-shaped press. I got a taste of it Wednesday night with Firecracker, after winning a free dinner by replying to @SmashBurgerNNJ on twitter.
They offer 1/3 and 1/2 pound 100% Angus beef burgers, chicken, and hot dogs on their menu. We opted for the Classic Smash Burger and the New Jersey Burger, which has bacon, blue cheese, and onion strings. I got a side of their rosemary & olive oil smash fries, and Firecracker being the Southern belle she is, jumped on the fried pickles. They serve floats and shakes, but I grabbed a Stewart's Black Cherry soda. They offer an egg bun, a whole grain, or an onion, and several toppings and dressings and cheeses. They didn't ask how we wanted them cooked, but they came out juicy.
We got our burgers mighty quickly for it being so packed; we weren't the only ones who won a free dinner. Families with toddlers eating torn up bun-less burgers, couples sharing shakes. Their Montclair location is roomy and has good parking, in the strip mall that replaced the Ford dealership on Bloomfield Ave. The atmosphere is bright and lively with roomy booths, giving a diner feel without going retro. But enough about that crap. On to the burgers!
Boy were they juicy. Mine had American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion & pickle with ketchup & smash sauce on an egg bun. That's the classic Smash Burger, and it's a winner. Soft bun, juicy burger with lots of flavor, and not too many toppings to smother it. I wish I'd gotten some smash sauce on the side to discern what it actually was, but these are nearly as good as higher end franchises like HB Burger, and definitely on par with the best Five Guys burgers I've had. They lack a seared crust, but get steamed under that press and swap in lots of juicy flavor. It's a different kind of burger, but equally delicious.
Sarah got the New Jersey, which has thin slices of tasty, crispy Applewood smoked bacon; blue cheese crumbles (she swapped in cheddar); haystack onion strings AND grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and mayo on an onion bun. What's so Jersey about that? It ought to have Taylor Ham on it, no? It was very rich and greasy, requiring lots of napkins, but was still very tasty. I tasted the onion strings and they were lightly battered, and still crispy without being overcooked. I'd make my own New Jersey burger next time to try to make it less messy, though I guess this is a pretty messy state. My grandfather Lou "Abby" Pucci always craved a "sloppy cheeseburger," and this would have satisfied him.
The fried pickles were lightly battered and seasoned, with a light ranch sauce. They were juicy inside and crisp outside, as they should be. And for $1.99, I'd say they are the best side I've encountered for the money at any burger joint. The smash fries- cooked in olive oil with rosemary, garlic and herbs- were better than Elevation Burger's, keeping crisp mostly. Olive oil fries tend to get soggy, but we only had a few in this batch. Everything comes in a stainless wire basket tray with wax paper, but this isn't enough to keep grease off the tables. They might want to use solid trays like Elevation does up the block. Will they compete? I think Elevation's organic grass-fed beef angle and similar prices will attract its own crowd. Their burgers are similar in juiciness, but Elevation wins on flavor. 100% Angus can't compete with the strong beefy flavor of grass-fed. But Smash wins on size- their 1/3 pounder was as filling as a double at the El.
So Smash Burger is a welcome addition to the fresh-made burger franchise battle. They won't win against high-quality beef, but Five Guys and Elevation have a new contender to deal with. And they're hungry. They make great use of social media and have a strong push and a great fast burger. When I return I'll be trying out their fresh jalapenos on a garlic mushroom & Swiss burger. Yep, the place is really good when I'm thinking of my next order already. So if you like juicy burgers, give Smash Burger Brothers a try- the goomba's gonna get you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sumo Soup

MMA fighters agree: chankonabe, otherwise known as "sumo wrestler's soup," is good eats. We had some after viewing the Art of the Samurai exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC a few weekends back. It's now moved on. They were exhibiting many swords and sets of armor that had never left Japan before. I got to see a Masamune, a Muramasa, some rare older tachi swords that were not shortened after katana came into style, and some other huge and rare blades including double-edged swords based on Chinese styles. Afterward, Suzanne (shown here with her daughter Nina) suggested we go to Menchanko-Tei in midtown.
It's a great noodle house that I hadn't been to in years. They serve ramen and udon, but they also serve the infamous sumo soup- loaded with protein and made without the ubiquitous dashi broth of Japanese soups, because fish ain't got arms and legs, and a wrestler needs them to win! It is most often made with chicken because they are always on two legs as a sumo wrestler should be. You can order them with slices of beef, chicken or pork. The spicy chige miso menchanko was my choice, with pork slices. It comes with fish balls, tofu and head-on shrimp by default, and the miso broth with bonito flakes is delicious on its own.
Firecracker opted for the Sara-Udon, which came with crispy noodles and lots of veggies. Everything was delicious, and there are vegetarian options depending on the broth you like. We didn't order their ramen this time, but I've had it and it is on par with what I had in Japan. The sumo soup, or as close as you can get in NYC, was excellent. Very filling, intensely flavorful and generally healthy unless you add slabs of their delectable roast pork like I did! Their gyoza (dumplings) made with Berkshire pork are the best I've had- not counting soup dumplings. It was the perfect filling meal for a bitter windy winter day.
There are two locations, one on 45th just east of Grand Central Station, and another on 55th. At Grand Central, we stopped at the great little coffee shop Joe's Art of Coffee, which makes a great cup. They had donuts by the Donut Plant- which were good but didn't live up to expectations. I don't eat a lot of sweets, and they all taste similar to me unless they are very rich. The chocolate donut had the flavor of good cocoa, and the apple fritter was better. Maybe they weren't fresh. I only go out of my way for burgers, hot dogs and the occasional BBQ, so until I'm checking out burgers in the Lower East Side, donuts will have to wait.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

and the lovely blogs did gyre and gimble in the wabe

Ivan over at The United Provinces of Ivanlandia has gifted me with another Major Award! He's got quite a lovely blog himself, funny and insightful film reviews over there. Go read some. This Ponzi scheme award requires that I nominate 10 others, and these are the blogs I've enjoyed most of late:

Strength Basics
Thoughtful Eating
Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur
Radiator Heaven
Designer B.S.
Cinema du Meep
A Shroud of Thoughts
1416 and Counting
Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies
The Sexy Armpit: Whiff of Pop Culture from New Jersey

Monday, January 11, 2010

All for One, and One for All

"I need a bath. I reek of England and Calvinism."

Two of my favorite films of the '70s are Richard Lester's films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers starring ... well, pretty much everybody. That's part of the fun, but he imbues the films with the same lighthearted fun that the famous Beatles flicks had, despite not having the Fab Four starring as originally intended. That could have been fun too, but this is better.
Michael York plays the young hothead D'Artagnan, who wants nothing more than to join the ranks of the musketeers; Everyone's favorite drunkard and man's man Oliver Reed is Athos, Faye Dunaway plays the sexily sinister MiLady de Winter, Charlton Heston is the conniving Cardinal Richelieu, Christopher Lee is his eye-patched and wily henchman Rochefort, Porthos is played by Richard Chamberlain, and Frank Finlay digs into the role of Aramis with relish. Whew! And that's not even including the secondary cast, such as the gorgeous Raquel Welch as D'Artagnan's lover Constance, Roy Kinnear as the musketeer's servant Planchet, and so many more. Even Spike Milligan as Constance's father, who'd reprise his role in Mel Brooks' spoof, History of the World, Part 1!
The battles are a perfect mix of serious and slapstick, and don't shy away from the violence inherent in a swordfight. Hands are cut, arms are stabbed, necks slashed... and we take it all in stride, for this is the life of a musketeer. When they're not mock-fighting in a pub to steal bread and wine because they've gambled their money away, or making bets that they can make breakfast on a battlement held by the enemy, they are battling with the treacherous swordsmen of Cardinal Richelieu, who wishes to further the religious war with the Protestants and gain power over the King. While there is plenty of time for character-based, bawdy humor, the plot isn't given short shrift, and especially in the sequel we see the reasons for the intrigue as the unlikely heroes do their best to serve the king and queen without them ever knowing it.
I mentioned bawdy humor, but it is all solidly PG and certainly fine for children of proper mental age. Okay, my favorite gag is when Constance (remember, Raquel Welch in all her busty glory) hides from assassins by hopping on the side of a man's coach and finds her bosom framed in his window. With classic Lester panache, we merely see the aristocrat arch an eyebrow and blow on his fingertips to warm them, and then we cut away to hear Constance squeak and run from her hiding place. Naughty for sure, but deftly crafted as a joke on parents watching as well.
There's a lot to love in these movies. Christopher Lee as the towering villain and one of the greatest swordsmen; Charlton Heston enjoying his cameo as the power-hungry Cardinal; and of course, Faye Dunaway as the seductress spy and assassin MiLady, with her acid-filled glass daggers and feminine wiles- but the camaraderie between D'Artagnan and his musketeer friends is infectious. They quarrel and fight, but as the most infamous tagline of all time states, they are all for one and one for all. Brooding Athos is one of Reed's best roles, and when we learn the source of his pain it's a lovely twist. Porthos and Aramis tend to be more foppish but Chamberlain and Finlay have a lot of fun with the roles, and Michael York has never been better as the young firebrand who learns how to be a gentleman- of a sort- from these lovable rogues in the king's service.
Sadly, the third entry- The Return of the Musketeers- also directed by Richard Lester and starring most of the gang, is not available on DVD. It came out shortly after Lester's career fizzled, due to being terribly miscast as the director of the Superman franchise. The Saran-wrap "S" on Supe's chest smothered any hopes of Lester continuing to make great films. But he made his bones by changing film history with A Hard Day's Night and these films are just as much fun.

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