Cafe Society (Woody Allen – 2016) B+

It’s a sweet love story on the surface but also a contrast between the NYC of the 1930s and Los Angeles. Bobby goes to Hollywood to make a career in the movie business. He has an uncle, named Phil and played with a sharp Steve Carrell, there who is a successful agent to many stars and can hook him up. Instead he ends up running errands for the cantankerous man but the silver lining is that he falls for the soft spoken Vonnie (maybe Kristen Stewart’s best role?) who is his uncle’s assistant and she starts showing Bobby around town. Some twists and turns in this lovely flick kept me interested. What worked more is the lush look of the film. The color in LA that is bathed in bright sunset orange that matches the characters outfits if not their personalities. It seems kind of idealistic but fake compared to New York. Even the family he leaves in New York seems more real and definitely more rough. By the time we get to the film’s namesake café and club I was very deeply invested in all the characters, their love stories, the locations and the beautiful art that Woody Allen manages to, more often than not, successfully put on the screen.

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Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders – 1984) A-

It was not what I expected at all. I did not really know what to expect. I knew this was a classic of cinema and highly regarded. Written by the late great Sam Shephard, directed by the German auteur Wim Wenders and featuring the late (and also great) Harry Dean Stanton. I thought for some reason it would be at least set in Paris, Texas. Maybe an outlaw story of sorts. Well, it definitely it is not. It’s set mostly in Los Angeles, on the road, and in Houston (cool to recognize some sights from H-town). It’s about a man who was lost for a while until he literally walks out of the desert and gets taken back to his family by his brother. He speaks not at all at first then very little. He has a son who is being raised by his brother and his wife. He barely knows him and the son feels the same way. The emotional pull of this tale is around the background story of our leading man, Travis, and his new purpose to atone for his previous mistakes. He wants his son to reunite with his mother and sets on a road trip to do so. It’s a movie that I felt I am losing interest in at times but it kept pulling me back until I absolutely loved it when Travis has one of the most amazing monologues in movie history with his wife. That heart-breaking scene fills in the blanks of what the hell happened between them two. Paris, Texas is not a movie for everyone. It’s not easy to love I think. For me it stuck and I find myself thinking about it often. It is a fable of a broken life and the small attempts of the man who is trying to piece some of it together regardless if he will remain a part of it or not.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson – 2017) B+

Rian Johnson’s second film in the Rey story of the Star Wars universe is a blast. It’s not just a fun movie with amazing imagery, great editing, awesome battles and new worlds but it is a movie that expands the universe and deals with interesting themes. It upends many of what we thought was important from The Force Awakens and tosses it out of the way. It deals with class struggle, heritage and the importance (or not) of where someone is from or who their family might be. It is not perfect and a B story where Finn and a new character named Rose go in search of a code breaker is a bit distracting and does not pay off in any meaningful way. That is not to say it was a total throw away thread but it is not one that I was as eager to follow as I was about the main story line with Rey and Luke. It’s also worth saying how well it handles Luke Skywalker’s story arc and wraps it up so perfectly.

Split (M. Night Shyamalan – 2016) A-

Holy crap…I think he might be back. Shyamalan might actually be out of director’s jail after a series of crappy movies. His latest is another small Blumhouse Productions horror/thriller (the same company that produced The Visit) that is a hell of a ride to watch and it pulls a rabbit out of the hat in the final scene that puts the entire film in a different perspective and universe! I do not want to spoil it here but seriously I could not believe how he deftly pulled this one off. It’s amazing when he is firing on all fronts, has the discipline and the constraints of a small budget what he can do.

Citrus-Cured Salmon, Parsley-Chive Coulis

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Seafood gently poached in fat is a great way to cook. Lobster poached in butter and tuna in olive oil are both such examples. The fat slowly cooks the meat and is kept at a relatively low temperature, about 44 C to 52 C (110 to 125 F) depending how you like it cooked, leaving the seafood juicy and reducing the risk of overcooking. On top of that the fish usually looks great and has a good flavor from the fat without coming out oily or greasy. What’s not to love!

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In this recipe, adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook I started with a nice piece of fresh salmon and removed the skin. I employed my 14 year old to grate the zest of lemon, orange, lime and grapefruit. The zests get mixed with salt, sugar and pepper and sprinkled all over the fish. This is basically the first step to making gravlax or smoked salmon. In this case though the fish only marinates for about an hour while we prepare the rest of the dinner.

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Making citrus confit is pretty simple. It’s not cooked in fat like what a duck confit would be. In this case it is referring to cooking the orange segments in a sugary syrup. In the good old days fruits would be cooked in a whole lot of sugar to confit them and preserve them. Here, the syrup is relatively on the light side made with sugar, water and white wine vinegar. While the syrup cooks to a simmer I supremed a couple of oranges. This means cutting a citrus fruit into segments with none of the white pith. This has some good instructions on how to do that and of course you can find a bunch of YouTube videos about the process. I poured the hot syrup over the orange segments and let them marinate and infuse.

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Chef Keller uses a pea shoot puree to go with this dish (and a scoop of caviar, but I guess…I was fresh out of that this week). This was a regular weekday dinner for the family and I did not go shopping for pea shoots. I did like the idea of a green sauce with the citrus salmon though. So, I blanched a bunch of parsley and chives in salted boiling water and cooled them quickly in ice water. I blended until smooth with a bit of water . I really should’ve passed the green coulis through a sieve at this point like the recipe recommends but I skipped that and my end result was less smooth than it should be. Right before serving I warmed the sauce in a small pot, whisked in a few knobs of butter and seasoned it.

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I rinsed the fish fillet before cooking it and cut off the thin edges and tail end. These pieces became a nice little treat in the form of salmon tartar. I cut them up and mixed them with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, chives and pepper. I snacked on the tartar on top of toasted sourdough with a spoon of creme fraiche.

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To cook the fish, I cut it into even portions and bagged it with a good dose of olive oil. I dropped it in water set to 51C for 20 minutes. That was it. To plate I arranged a few orange confit segments and topped with a piece of salmon then drizzle (or smeared) green parsley coulis around it. It’s a wonderful way to cook salmon and a good basic preparation to keep in mind. Below is the recipe for salmon.

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Citrus Marinated Salmon Poached in Olive Oil

Adapted from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook

  • Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
  • Zest of 1/4 grapefruit, finely grated
  • 75 gr kosher salt, about 1/4 cup Morton’s Kosher salt
  • 20 gr Sugar, about 1 Tbsp
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper
  • A large Salmon fillet, about 1.5 – 2 lbs
  • 1/3 Cup olive oil, or enough to cover fillet if not using sous vide equipment

Mix the citrus zests, salt, sugar and pepper together. Sprinkle all over the salmon and cover with plastic wrap. Let the fish marinate in the fridge for at least one hour but no more than 3.

When ready to cook, heat a water container to anywhere from 45 to 52 C using an immersion circulator (I use the Anova precision cooker) depending how you like the fish. The higher end will give a fish that is obviously cooked but very juice and tender. On the lower spectrum the fish is semi-cooked and closer to raw. Both are great but different. Divide the fish into portions and seal in freezer Ziploc bags with the olive oil. I used two bags for this amount of fish with 2 or 3 portions in each. Drop the bags in the water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the fish, pat dry gently and serve.

Cooking in olive oil option: This will need a good bit more oil but if you do not want to use sous vide this is the traditional option. Warm olive oil in a pot to the desired temperature (again, no more than 52 C or so). You need enough oil to cover the fish. Gently slide the fish in the oil and cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove the fish, pat dry gently and serve.

Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts – 2016) B

Monster movie with a fun cast, crazy fight scenes, insane huge “monsters”, good sound track, some good cheesy dialogue AND it looks great? check check and check. This was a fun movie that knows exactly what it is and does not take itself seriously at all. It works splendidly.

Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi – 2016) B

I’ve said it before, watching a story about individuals being the best they can be at something and accomplishing great tasks is always awesome. If those individuals are a trio of black ladies working for NASA in the early 60s with all the challenges they had to deal with on top of trying to get a man in space (and back down) all the better. The acting is good and movie is very interesting. Good to see stories about those who made space travel possible, especially those not in the spotlight.