I went into the movie, “Julie & Julia”, with some trepidation. This is the new film based on two true stories. One was based on the Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life in France”, and the other was based on Julie Powell’s book, “Julie & Julia”, another memoir documenting how the author discovered her purpose in life and got it on track by attempting to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook in a year’s time. In other words, she decided to make 524 recipes in 365 days.
The movie had a whole lot of things going against it, in my view. It was written and directed by Nora Ephron. Ms. Ephron started her career out strong by writing the screenplays for “Silkwood” and “When Harry Meet Sally”. But since she’s decided to be a director as well as screenwriter, her work has gone down hill rapidly, culminating in the abysmal “Bewitched”, which destroyed many fond childhood memories and was not only the worst movie of 2005, but one of the worst movies of all time.
I also have very mixed feelings about one of the film’s subjects, Julia Child. As a committed foodie, I have to admit my admiration for the woman for all she’s done for the art of cooking and eating. Her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, is a tremendous achievement. It helped change the world’s view of eating and introduced Americans to food that was more than just over-cooked or plopped into casseroles. And her TV show is always amazing and fun to watch, even to this day. At the same time, her irrational homophobia is a well documented fact. She believed that gay men were entering the food business and making it less attractive for straight men. It doesn’t make any sense, but homophobia is ignorance and it never really makes any sense except to the people looking for an excuse to hate.
(While I have a mixed-mind about it, I tend to ignore the faults of many people if I enjoy their art. This may not be a good thing, but it’s a choice I’ve made. I prefer to separate the person from their art. If I didn’t have this attitude, I’m afraid I would be denying myself a lot of great art, from the fine arts to movies to music to literature.)
There were also the early reviews of the movie that I read. Those all seemed to think that the “Julia” part of the movie was very good, but that the “Julie” part dragged the film down and ruined it. If there’s anything I hate, its spending my hard-earned and increasingly limited cash on a movie that turns out to be a dud, especially if its one that I’m excited about seeing.
Well, I saw the movie the day before it opened nation wide at a special preview and I’m here to tell you that I had nothing to worry about, and neither do you. I believe that this is one of the best movies of the year. It’s a film that will stay with me and that I’ll watch many times in the future.
Although I haven’t read Ms. Powell’s book, I was aware of the story, and of course I’m very familiar with the life of Ms. Child. But just in case you don’t know how everything turns out, I don’t want to ruin it for you. There will be no spoilers here. I will say that the acting is beautiful throughout the movie and I fully expect that Meryl Streep will get another Oscar nod for her portrayal of Julia Child. She’s like a force of nature on screen and it would be easy to overlook the acting of Stanley Tucci, as Julia’s husband, Paul, and Amy Adams, as Julie Powell. Don’t overlook them though. They’re both great. A lot has been made by some critics about the Julie Powell character. They claim that she is shallow and irritating. I didn’t find that at all. I found Ms. Adam’s portrayal to be a fully fleshed out character, confused and insecure about life, and unsure what the future was going to bring her. In fact, I found her story to be extremely inspirational, wishing that I could apply myself to a task as massive as she did. She’s every bit of a culinary and literary hero to me as Ms. Child is.
The production design, switching constantly between 50’s Paris and post-9/11 Queens, was beautiful. My head swam with memories every time the camera panned down one of the narrow Parisian streets. It took my breath away. And the soundtrack was close to perfect, using songs from the various times to underscore the action on the screen beautifully. (One of my favorites is the use of the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer” to underscore the frustration and guilt that Julie’s feeling when it comes time to dispatch some crustaceans in order to make lobster thermidor.)
And that brings me to the food. DO NOT go to this movie hungry. Or, if you do, make sure you have dinner planned directly after seeing the film. The food used in this movie isn’t just stunt food, Styrofoam painted to look like the real thing. This IS the real thing and you get long, close-up shots of boeuf bourguignon (beef stew in red wine), pate de canard en croute (boneless stuffed duck in pastry), and reine de saba (chocolate and almond cake), among others. It’s no wonder every character had a “Yum” moment in the film. I was having “Yum” moments constantly. I ate before seeing this movie and still left the theatre ravenous.
Now, the movie isn’t without its flaws. Some of the dialog can be a bit trite and a few dramatic elements are introduced and resolved too easily. Julia Child’s intolerance is ignored except for a very small bit towards the end of the film that flew by most of the audience without notice. But this movie spoke to me and because of that, I’m able to overlook those small flaws. I put it into the same company as films like “Ratatouille” and “Sideways”. These films also had their flaws, but have become important to me due to their relevancy to my life.
So, forget the nay-saying critical voices and go see this movie. (Actually, some of the later reviews have been much more kind.) This is a film for everyone. The audience I saw it with was full of uncomfortable looking husbands who had obviously been dragged to see this movie by their wives. When the movie ended, the audience applauded loudly. The man behind me, one of those husbands, stood up and said, “That movie made me want to learn how to cook.” I can’t think of any better recommendation than that.
With every post, I want to highlight one of the many restaurants I love here in Los Angeles. (Or, if I’m traveling, a restaurant from the area I visited.) This first restaurant is really remarkable and you have less than two weeks to experience it.
Last year, Chef Ludovic Lefebvre (Ludo) (http://www.ludolefebvre.com/about), took over the Breadbar on 3rd Street (http://www.breadbar.net/) for a short stint to try out some recipes before moving into his own restaurant. He then went to Las Vegas and helped open Lavo in the Palazzo Casino. That lasted a very short time before the owners decided his food was confusing the patrons and simplified it into a boring list of typical dishes. Skip and I ate there too late, but the one dish that prevailed on the menu was Ludo’s take on crudo, the Italian version of raw fish. It was beautifully flavored and presented and to this day is still one of the best raw fish dishes I’ve ever eaten; Italian, Japanese or other wise.
Now he’s back at Breadbar, working his very original magic on an ever changing list of dishes. He started in May and will be closing on August 22. After that, he is moving on to other endeavors. We’ve eaten at the new Ludo Bites at Breadbar twice now, and will be doing so again before he leaves.
I don’t have the time to list everything we ate, but some of the more amazing and original dishes we tried are:
1) Green Beans Salad, Peach, Coconut, Apple, Horseradish, Lemongrass
This was a salad. I was a little worried about it as I have some problems using sweet fruits in savory dishes, but I needn’t have worried. The flavors were balanced beautifully and tied together with the horseradish, which was whipped into heavy cream and was almost like a spiced marshmallow.
2) Snails, Spinach, Curry-Yogurt
The absolute best presentation of escargot I’ve ever eaten! The curry snails were just amazing. At the bottom of the dish was a butter-soaked piece of brioche that brought all the richness and taste of the ingredients together.
3) Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Ham, Cherry, Amaretto, Goat Cheese
This was an amazing and extremely original take on the standard French grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The bread, which was brioche, was soaked in squid ink. It was filled with a slice of ham, a slice of duck foie gras and “Lamb Chopper” goat cheese, with a bit of cherry and amaretto for taste. This was all grilled and presented on a plate. I could have eaten this all night.
4) Spaghetti Carbonara, Santa Barbara Prawns, Sage, Black Pepper
The “spaghetti” was made from strands of celery root, making what can be a heavy pasta dish into one that was light despite its richness. The split grilled prawns were wonderfully cooked and liberal use of sage and cracked black pepper took the flavors into the stratosphere.
5) Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar
Yep. This is a dessert. (We also had a foie gras frosted chocolate cupcake with candied bacon.) It’s standard practice these days to add sea salt to chocolate and caramel candies. There’s something incredibly appealing about the sweet and the salty. Just look at the popularity of kettle corn. Instead of using salt, Ludo heaped a spoonful of caviar into the top of the vanilla pana cotta with caramel sauce. That caviar added the salt, but the slight taste of the ocean took the whole thing into another dimension. I have to admit that this was the another dish I was very worried about, but it worked beautifully and made us very happy men. Skip says it was ethereal and I agree.
There were at least a dozen other dishes we tried during our two meals. The only one that didn’t wow me was a bacon tart with cinnamon and brown butter. It was delicious, but it was probably presented at the wrong point of the meal. It was the second course and I think it may have worked better towards the end, maybe even as a dessert.
During both meals we had long conversations with the Chef. He was very interested in our feelings about the food and what we liked and disliked. I could see him mentally taking notes as we talked. Because of that, I’m really looking forward to what he plans next after this second Breadbar run is through.
Note: If you’re here in Los Angeles and planning to visit Ludo Bites before it closes on August 22, and you should, be aware that they don’t serve alcohol. You can bring your own bottle of wine and they’ll open it for you for a corkage of $5. Bring something nice. The food deserves it.
3 years ago