Welcome to issue no. 10 of Foodstuff

April 12, 1998

In this issue:

Best Movie Food Scenes

And the winner for best food in a motion picture is...

Of course, there is no category for best food, or best food scene in a movie, but don't you think there should be? I do. Food styling is an art, not so different than costume design, or make up. Masterfully created food scenes serve up delicious and lasting memories, not unlike an unforgettable meal in an extraordinary restaurant.

Had there been a best food scene at this year's Oscars, the winner would have to be either TITANIC or SOUL FOOD. In TITANIC, it would be the scene after Jack saves Rose from falling overboard, and earns an invitation to dinner with the upper class passengers. Remember all that caviar?

In SOUL FOOD the focus was on the power of food and the importance of family. Mother Joe's weekly feasts help keep the peace among her chaotic offspring. I'm still craving some fried chicken and mashed potatoes!

But let's go one step further and have an Oscar category for Best Food Movie. Here would be my pick for the winners from years past, along with a short review of each film. All these movies are available on video.

Based on the best selling book, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, the movie of the same name is an erotic tale of forbidden love. Tita, a gifted young cook, and Pedro, her handsome boyfriend, are passionately in love. But their love is forbidden by a cruel family tradition binding her to an abusive mother until her death. Desperate to be near Tita forever, Pedro marries her sister. Tita, charged with preparing the wedding banquet, weeps into the wedding cake batter and transforms it into something enchanting that moves the wedding guests to tears of grief. Tita possesses a repertoire of extraordinary dishes with outrageous effects on those who eat them because, as you will see, in Tita's kitchen, her emotions are transferred to her creations. Eating the food that Tita cooks will bring tears of longing, heated desire or chronic pain. LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE was directed by Alfonso Arau. He also directed A WALK IN THE CLOUDS.

BABETTE'S FEAST is about a great French chef, who lives an anonymous life among a pious congregation on the desolate coast of Denmark. One day Babette wins the lottery and spends it all on creating the most memorable meal ever consumed for the simple religious villagers. The result is a visual feast and wonderful exploration of life and relationships. BABETTE'S FEAST earned an Academy Award for best foreign film in 1987.

A CHEF IN LOVE tells the story of a man who discovers a lost manuscript written by his mother, a Georgian princess. (Georgia, the former Soviet republic, not the state of Georgia.) Her story follows a great young chef named Pascal, who falls in love with the beautiful princess Cecilia. The two explore the recipes of haute cuisine. When Pascal sniffs out the gunpowder of a bomb designed to kill the Georgian President, he and Cecilia receive a reward: their own restaurant. It's the New Eldorado, catering to the rich and famous. But the Communist takeover of the 1920s changes everything, and their glorious dream is transformed into The Propaganda Center for Exemplary Communist Cooking. A CHEF IN LOVE was nominated for best foreign film last year.

Imagine sitting down to a multi-course Chinese feast, prepared every Sunday in your home by Taiwan's most renowned master chef. It might sound like heaven to you, but to the three daughters living with their chef father in EAT, DRINK, MAN, WOMAN, it's Chinese ritual torture. Family squabbles and misunderstandings are the backbone of the film; a story about family, love, acceptance, and of course, food. It's a delightful film and I highly recommend it. The movie was directed by Ang Lee, who also directed the 1993 film, THE WEDDING BANQUET.

Don't see BIG NIGHT on an empty stomach. Directed by the star of the movie, Stanley Tucci, BIG NIGHT is a sweet story about two Italian immigrant brothers whose attempt to serve old-world cuisine to spaghetti and meatball eaters in 1950s New Jersey. Brother Primo is the wonderfully talented chef. Like the artist he is, Primo cares only about the timing of the risotto and the delicate blend of flavors in his sauces and very little about finances. All Primo wants is to prepare great food for people who appreciate it. The younger brother, Secondo, wants Primo to cook dishes that are more familiar to Americans, similar to those served by the thriving Italian restaurant across the street. The owner of that restaurant, Secondo's mentor/competitor/tormentor Pascal, offers to invite the famous band leader Louis Prima to eat at the brothers' restaurant. The plan is to invest their last savings in the struggling restaurant by hosting a grand feast for Prima and his band. If the dinner goes well, word-of- mouth and a plug from the celebrity will put their food on the local culinary map. The focal point of this lavish dinner is a dish called Timpano. 

The food in this film is gorgeous. Primo's cooking is believable and authentic. The love between the two brothers and their ideal of the American Dream is the real story behind the wonderful food scenes. It's a small pleasing movie, understated and personal. A must for any true foodie.

Dining in New York City

First of all, a great big thank you to those of you who sent me dining suggestions. I had pages and pages of restaurants to choose from, but only one week in New York. My very first meal was a beautiful cheese and fruit plate compliments of the Marriott Marquis for "inconveniencing" me with room keys that didn't work. My inconvenience only lasted a few minutes, but the fruit and cheese lasted all week in the mini refrigerator. It's also worth mentioning the Marriott has a very nice sushi bar.

Becco, (355 West 46th Street) serves Northern Italian food in a lively, casual, farmhouse style. The portions are huge and a great value. I ordered the two course, fixed price ($21.95) grilled vegetables and seafood, with unlimited servings of the three pastas of the day, (penne, rigatoni, and ravioli). The menu is somewhat confusing at first. You can order a la carte (with a Caesar salad) or choose from "menu two" which is "menu one plus a choice of three entrée courses." What this means (I think) is for about eight dollars more, you are served unlimited portions of three different pastas with your dinner. My friend ordered the ossobuco served with a barley risotto, ($20.95) also a very large portion. Bring a big, enthusiastic appetite for this one.

I'm not sure what was the best part of my weekend brunch at Park Avenue Café (100 E. 63rd Street). The food was delicious, innovative, and artistic. The décor was calming, romantic and stylish. Huge, colorful fresh flowers surrounded us, and the service was top notch. (Thanks again to our waiter, Eric, for adding such a special touch.) We started with pastrami salmon and smoked salmon on a warm corn blini ($12.50). The pastrami salmon is Chef David Burke's own invention and, in fact, is trademarked. We were told it took him 10 years to develop. It was out-of-this-world delicious. The open-faced omelet with yellowfoot chanterelles, leeks, salsify and farmers cheese ($16.50) is the most beautiful egg dish ever invented. We loved everything we ordered.

The Executive Pastry Chef, Richard Leach (winner of the James Beard Foundation's "Pastry Chef or the Year"), personally came over to meet us. Then he surprised us with three of his original and imaginative desserts, including the "Chocolate Cube"--a large bittersweet chocolate box filled with espresso mousse and chocolate sorbet. His desserts are not only delicious, but they're also works of art. He also brought out his version of crème brulee, which I politely took a few bites of before passing it over to my friends to finish for me. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had already baked, sampled, and served 400 crème brulees on my trip.

Lunch at the relaxed, hip Metro Grill (45 W. 35th St. in the Metro Hotel) is a treat for those of you who enjoy innovative soups, appetizers, and pastas. Michael Miele was on hand and very friendly. His wife, Karen Fohrhaltz Miele, is the imaginative chef behind such marvelous dishes as the pizzette; grilled flatbreads filled with Italian sausage, tomato, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese, or with roasted red peppers and garlic with sweet gorgonzola and a sprinkling of truffle oil, (small $6 and large $9). I asked for extra truffle oil on the side, and used it as a dip. It's a nice change from the traditional olive oil. The soup of the day was an incredible tomato soup with parmesan cream, ($5). The entrée that I sampled was Atlantic salmon with potato pancakes, sautéed winter greens and a light horseradish sauce, ($18).

At Meson Sevilla (344 W. 46th Street) a neighborhood style Spanish and Italian restaurant, the emphasis is on paella. My shrimp creole ($13.50) was scrumptious, but the paella really was the star of the menu. I kept sneaking bites from my friend's plate, even after I had cleaned my own. The number one rule of dining out with somebody who writes about food -- you should offer to share. Otherwise, you make the food writer feel like they're being rude. (Okay, so maybe that's not an actual rule, but it's *my* rule.)

If you go to Meson Sevilla, you must order a pitcher of sangria. It is fruity, with just the perfect blend of sweetness. Heaven.

Although I didn't actually eat a meal at the Royalton, (44 West 44th Street) the charm and atmosphere is worth mentioning. This expensive, romantic bar, set up in an unusual style as a series of "living rooms" is really something to see. The chef sent out some wonderful desserts (including crème brulee of course) for us to sample. I had just a bite or two of the orange crème brûlée with candied orange peel, but I'd really recommend the apple tart.

Lunch at the Harley Davidson Café (1370 Avenue of Americas) was an experience. From our table we looked out over the busy shoppers on 5th Ave, a perfect people watching spot. The food is basic Americana at this fun, loud, motorcycle-themed eatery. It includes such basics as meatloaf with mashed potatoes, chile, hamburgers and old-fashioned desserts. Thank goodness there was no crème brulee.

Even though these next three dining experiences weren't in restaurants, they are all worth mentioning. The catered deli dinner at Gloria's and Larry's in Long Island was a warm, fuzzy, comforting meal with very good people and excellent food. It's been years since I ate really good chopped liver. We had this great spread from the new deli section of Key Food in Woodmere. I wonder if they ship?

From all your wonderful suggestions, I know there's no shortage of good kosher delis in New York. I wish I could have tried them all. However the one I did try was Bernsteins, somewhere near the Williams-Sonoma store on 69th & 2nd. Lunch was brought in, so I didn't actually get to see the deli. Anyway, I had a wonderful pastrami on rye.

My return to Los Angeles aboard American Airlines was the consummate ending to this whirlwind, busy trip. My upgrade to Premier Class came by way of having friends in high places, something I highly recommend. Before we even took off, I was served a glass of Moet & Chandon Champagne. There's a huge variety of options when dining on Premier Class, almost too many. To start with, I was brought warm mixed nuts, and fresh vegetables with dip. Next came the caviar cart with Sevruga Malossol cavier with traditional garnishes and blini or toast points. Also, there was a small serving of smoked salmon with capers and a shot of Absolut Vodka. The salad cart came next; seasonal mixed greens with creamy peppercorn and herb dressing, with a few small, succulent lobster tails. When my flight attendant saw that I had eaten the lobster tails first, she brought me more. My entrée was chateaubriand with an incredible dish of goat cheese caramelized onion mashed potatoes. (I'll never make plain mashed potatoes again.) Next came the desserts and cordials. A hot fudge sundae, a bowl of Haagen-Dazs macadamia nut ice cream, another (small) bowl of Haagen-Dazs vanilla-raspberry swirl, and then the warm walnut chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven.

This flight offered a huge choice of videos to view on your own individual pop-up screen. I choose to finish watching a movie that I had tried to watch in my hotel room, but fell asleep about halfway through. It was "BEAN" staring that walking disaster Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson). Gosh this silly movie hit my funny bone.

By the way, the supermodel, Kathy Ireland, was also on this flight, and just in case you were wondering, while I ate and drank everything that was offered to me, she ate a salad and one chocolate chip cookie.

© 1998, 2003 Debbie Puente
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