Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Deer Run Farms in Brookhaven comforts the Hamlet with good, reliable produce year after year...

Deer Run Farm in Brookhaven is a nice, solid farmers market with friendly service, reliably fresh produce and a strong tie to the community. The place has a lot of produce, flowers, preserves and cheese, but the place is especially good for getting interesting varieties of lettuce like Red Crisp and Butter Crunch. There is not much change from year to year, but that is part of the place's appeal.

282 S Country Rd, Brookhaven, NY 11719-9764
Phone: (631) 286-7299

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Alan Rickman keeps rickety Bottle Shock afloat...

It is hard to imagine a film with wine, wine history, boxing and Hemingway not appealing to Mark but that is the weird scenario with the film Bottle Shock. This work is based on an offhand event that was picked up by the world media in 1976 and recently came back into focus as a significant historical event not only for the US wine industry but for the international wine industry. This event was the now famous wine tasting arranged by a small wine seller where California wines were pitted against French wines. Only one journalist (from Time) bothered to attend. The stunning result was that the California wines trounced the worldly, venerable wines from France and the ripple effect from this can still be felt today in the wine market.

Bottle Shock
focuses on one of the vineyards that had wines in this competition. Chateau Montelena which won the competition for the white wines in this tasting. The proprietor of this operation is Jim Barret (Bill Pullman), a perfectionist and a bit of a blowhard who settles even the most minor disagreement with his son Bo (Chris Pine) in a makeshift boxing ring on their vineyard. Bo is a 70's era stoner and well on his way to being a "loser" (his words). He does exhibit some real appreciation of wine and is intuitive in his handling of the harvest in ways his father is not.

Into this steps Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) an owner of a small, bespoke but underachieving wine shop in France. As an Englishmen, Spurrier is inevitably on the outside looking into the serious politics of French wine. He along with his close friend Maurice (Dennis Farina) decide that there must be other wines in the world with world class qualities other than French. Thinking he might be able to tap into something new and make a name for himself, Spurrier travels to Napa Valley where the winemakers have an excellent product, but lack the PR to raise the public awareness of this and also lack the awareness of the excellence of their own product as well.

Naturally Spurrier finds not just one great wine, but several all of which will eventually shock the world into recognizing the interesting and noteworthy wines of this region of California. In between the story of Jim, Bo and Chateau Montelena play out their own personal dramas with fights, a love triangle with Samantha ("Sam") an intern played by Rachel Taylor, and there own egos and self-doubt.

The filmmakers focus on the soap opera aspects of the film's protagonists at the CM vineyard and this is why the film is ultimately a failure. The younger actors are especially ineffective and poorly directed. In particular, the character of Bo is scripted and portrayed in such a way as to be very unattractive and annoying. It is hard to get much sympathy for him and the horrible wig Chris Pine wears throughout the film is unbelievably amateurish and distracting. Samantha is scripted as an ideal, romantic love interest but Rachel Taylor's generic looks and acting aren't up to this notion. Only old pro Bill Pullman manages to make Jim's conflicts authentic and meaningful. Unfortunately this only acts to highlight the younger performers ineptness.

It is up to Rickman, a truly great actor to keep this enterprise afloat, and against all odds he manages to pull this off. His part, as the others, is not particularly well-written but he somehow manages to be nuanced and wry while the other performers are stuck delivering ham-fisted speeches and over-acting scene after scene. Rickman even manages to make eating out of a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken funny. If not for him, the film would be a disaster, with him, the film manages a degree of watch ability.

What else? Well, the Bicentennial aspects of the film are underplayed; there is no sense of why the Montelena vineyard is having difficulty (it was almost 100 years old at the time); there is no sense of the triumph of the moment when the US defeated the French (it is note exactly Rocky another Bicentennial underdog) there are other problems.

Interestingly enough, there is a two minute epilogue about the aftermath of the events and the characters in the film that is very elegant and witty (how that happened it is hard to say).

American films about wine are not very common. Of course there is Sideways (very overrated and not really about wine) and a film from about 1990 called Year of the Comet with Tim Daly (which is not a classic, but hardly a disaster). The story of the Paris Tasting from 1976 is a great drama (see the book Judgement of Paris by George Taber), and there are reports that a second film is in pre-production dramatizing the events of 1976. Hopefully it will get it right because there is a great movie to be made about this historic event.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mark and Lynn's Shameful secret...They like the chain restaraunt Carabas in Central Islip...

Make no mistake; Mark and Lynn are food snobs, but absolutely not knee jerk food snobs. Indeed, one of the best recent dining experiences we had was at the Italian chain restaurant Carabas. As a rule, Mark and Lynn are no big fans of Italian food on Long Island . Most of it is heavy handed, and towering with coma inducing proportions (I know there are some exceptions). This particular Carabas is in Central Islip (across from the Culinary Institute) and we ate their after visiting a nearby cellular phone dealership ( Lynn ’s phone was new and not “working”). We were surprised at the brisk, attractive servers and staff and the quality of the food. The Calamari was a real revelation (it is an easy thing to spoil) as was the Grilled Salmon (another tough dish that is often bungled). The wine list is one of the best and easiest to read (with thorough but not condescending explanations of the various wine’s properties). We had a bicyclette (simple table wine with a shot of Campari). The bartender fielded the request for this obscure drink with impressive aplomb…Maybe the proximity to the CIA is a good thing…

Mama Lombardi's is in Holbrook if you are in the right mood...

Mama Lombardi’s in Holbrook , NY ( Long Island ) is perfect if you are in a very specific kind of mood (don't mind being jostled, don't mind competing for seating and the jar of parmagesean cheese). Mainly, the place is appealing to us if we want good quality food that is cheap, fresh and satisfying. The take out section which is where we usually eat has little ambiance, but it is appealing and good people watching. Lombardi’s staff are efficient in dealing with a lot of people(usually badly behaved and impatient customers) and a lot of orders. Favorites are the Arugala, Endive and Radicchio salad and the whole wheat pizza. The house wine is a surprising bust for an Italian restaurant, but hardly undrinkable. There are a couple of other sections including a bar section and a more traaitional fine dining area that we have tried but not enjoyed as much as the take out section. There are other parts of the Lombardi’s empire in Holbrook including an impressive catering facility next door and a wonderful Italian grocery store a few blocks away as well. (Look for a post on the grocery in the near future).

400 Furrows Road •

Holbrook • NY • 11741 •

Phone: (631) 737 - 0774

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is anyone looking at me?: World Class Athletes, Polo Horses and Posers at Bridgehampton Polo (not in that order)...

(This dashing gentleman was nice enough to pose for us)

Mark and Lynn like to relax on occassion and we had never been to Bridgehampton Polo in all of our time on the East End of Long Island and we have always been eager to do so. At 20.00 a car it was not much more expensive than a movie and there was the always appealing lure of good people watching to maintain this as something to check out.

We finally went during the weekend of August 15 and were surprised at what a grim affair this was. There was no sense of elegance in the crowd young women seemed to adopt a standard issue uniform of short skirts and high heels, jeans and a starched shirt self-conciously untucked seemed to be the standard issue dress for men. The other category was couple with poorly behaved children three-four years old with names like "Coltrane" or "Tatianna." (As in 'Coltrane, don't fingerpaint on that that vintage Mercedes').

There are several matches within the season and it is always a possibility that we simply hit the event on an off day, but we were genuinely surprised how grim and desperate the crowd was. NOBODY seemed to be having a good time and people were looking around to see if A)someone was looking at them or if B)the person they were looking at was famous. Also, there was little in the way of event management: There was no sense of where to go or not go within the confines of the field and surrounding areas (if an event doesn't have at least on VIP section it is of little consequence in the Hamptons).

On the other hand the Polo was magnificent and the athletes involved truly world class. Too bad nobody seemed to notice....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mark and Lynn visit the Hamptons Cottage and Garden Idea House in Sagaponack Long Island...

Mark and Lynn (plus EI and JP) visited the Hampton Cottage and Garden 2008 Idea House in Sagaponack. The house, originally the home of the novelist James Jones (From Here to Eternity), had a theme of “Green Designs for a Luxurious Lifestyle.” The house is meant to be a showcase for how energy and resources can be conserved without short-cutting stylish living. Many new methods have been put into play taking the approach of using, for example, recycled sheet rock, energy efficient Loewen glass windows, the use of the Mythic paint brand which specializes in low-odor, toxic and VOC-free paints, etc.

The house itself was visually stunning, but at the same time some of the design ideas were more underwhelming than expected. The basement gym seemed under equipped, the wine cellar was well-appointed and attractive, but in the end too traditional looking for a next generation type house. Children’s rooms were attractive, but too stagy looking to imagine real flesh and blood children inhabiting the spaces. The media room was a stunner (with the film From Here to Eternity playing on a 92 inch projection screen). The Art Studio toward the back of the property was a fully realized space and the Veranda and Pool House were eye-catching and worth the price of admission.

The Kitchen is in many ways the showpiece of the house, there is a 36 inch five burner gas cook top with a total rating of 60,000 BTU’s. The island counter top is made, along with the other work spaces in the kitchen, from IceStone, a COC-free surface material fashioned from recycled glass and concrete. Equally impressive was the series of seven foot tall, wood paneled Boffi cabinets.

Admission to the house is a hefty 30.00 (although some of it goes to a different charity every weekend). So, ultimately the house is a letdown and there is not necessarily a sense of getting one’s monies worth. Also, there seemed to be only one designer around the day we visited the house to explain some of her design choices (the very nice designer Adrienne Neff who talked to us for a bit about her challenges setting up a chic laundry room in the basement).


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Grey Horse Tavern corrects a couple of rough spots...and buys Campari for the most influential food critics on Long Island (guess who?)

Just a quick update on the Grey Horse Tavern: It seems to be improved! (See the July 20 '08 post) Went the other day with Lynn and had a nice, smooth experience. The chopped salad was great (again), the drinks were improved and the service agile. The bar even went out to buy Campari after I requested a drink with this liqueur. (Such is the power of Mark and Lynn!)

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I (Mark) have written for The Christian Science Monitor, Clear Magazine, Picture Magazine, Film Score Monthly, Dan's Papers, Rue Morgue, In Flight USA and a lot more publications that I can't remember.... My wife Lynn was a model with the Ford Agency and her photography has been featured in most of the publications I have written for...


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