Sunday, December 30, 2007

Noisy With a Capital "N"

Mama Monkey's birthday is New Year's Eve, but the Monkeys and Brother Monkey are going to see The Donnas play tomorrow night at the ridiculousness that is Carnivale 2008. [Thank you, Torry, for putting us on the list! You're the best!] In light of our New Year's Eve plans, we celebrated Mama Monkey's birthday tonight.

Mama Monkey chose Capital Seafood (755 W. Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park).

She picked this restaurant mainly for one reason, which you will see later. I wasn't terribly impressed with the first few dishes, but dinner got better as the night went on, even if the neighboring wedding reception got worse.

Ah, yes -- the great phenomenon of the Chinese wedding banquet. Right next to our table, separated only by small portable dividers, was a horribly loud wedding reception with even more horrible singing. Singing! Loud! Off-key! Awful! There seemed to be a free-for-all karaoke machine. Bad idea. All restaurant patrons not at the wedding reception were laughing hysterically and/or grimacing the whole time. We were a laughing table, if you couldn't guess.

Brother Monkey was actually brazen enough to walk through the divider, sit at an empty table, and peruse the menu. All look same! No one raised an eyebrow. He was wearing a nice blazer. Blazer = access. Brother Monkey reported that the menu wasn't all that, and the decorations were ghetto.

Check out the place and the getaway car. Gawdy City! (Brother Monkey's temporary wedding crashing gave me courage, too.)

It's times like these that Mr. Monkey and I are especially happy that we stood our ground when it came to our wedding. This is exactly the scene that Mr. Monkey's dad wanted for us. No! No! No!

Back to our dinner. The first thing we had to eat was something called Golden Buddha Soup. My mom and grandma explained that it's filled with so many different delicious meats that Buddha, who is supposed to be a vegetarian, leaped over a wall to get to this soup because it was so phenomenal. Sounds awesome, right? Check it out.

Aaahhh! Actually, it's not that shocking to me, but I thought some of you out there would be freaked out by the chicken foot. I had two in my bowl. Brother Monkey says eating this feels like you're eating a tiny baby's hand. There's a reason he gets paid used to get paid to write.

Next up were three rather unmemorable dishes: pork ribs, beef ribs, and bok choy. Meh.

Then dinner got better with the arrival of Peking duck. Always a treat.

And seasoned fried fish fillets. Very good.

And lobster with noodles. Excellent, especially the noodles.

Our free dessert was hot red bean soup.

And then came the reason for Mama Monkey's selection of this restaurant. More Smurf houses! The ones we had on Christmas were better, but these were still the highlight of the evening. Mmm! Again! Watch me demolish the puff pastry almond milk goodness!

Grandma Monkey was nicer to me tonight. There was no mention of my being fat. In fact, she and my mom both commented that I have beautiful skin and teeth. Random. But I'll take what few compliments I can get. They only happen once every several years. Compliments are like the Olympics in the Monkey family.

I was so happy that I asked Brother Monkey to get a shot of the three of us with my iPhone. He took two. Can you believe my mom is 55?

I definitely look like my dad.

Even More Mini Movie Snippets

The Savages

Laura Linney's new typecast is apparently the sister in brother-sister films (recall You Can Count on Me with Mark Ruffalo). Here, she plays the younger sister to Philip Seymour Hoffman's character, and together they brave the daunting task of caring for their ailing father stricken with dementia. It truly puzzles me that this has been categorized as a "comedy" by the Golden Globes. If it's a comedy, it's a really really really really really dark one.

This indie flick is driven solely by dialogue and will bore the less patient who are not enamored with so much talking and so little action (e.g., Mr. Monkey, who went to watch sports and play Wii at his friend's house last night). I enjoyed it, but you must be willing to watch quietly. I hope you understand what that means. I really liked the final scene, which was somewhat uplifting after so many minutes of wah-wah material.

Also, it seems that all indie films this year must include The Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking With You." This film couldn't have been more different from Juno, yet they both used this song. Am I crazy to have noticed this? Perhaps.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)

What an incredible work of art. I will warn you, though, that it is a foreign film in every sense of the term -- total French sensibility and subtitles galore. Mr. Monkey, of course, wanted nothing to do with this. I watched this right after eating at Angelique Cafe and visiting Mode, so I was in the right Frenchy mood. He left to play basketball.

This movie is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of Elle magazine. Bauby suffers a stroke and is left unable to speak due to complete paralysis. His brain, however, remains totally intact, and he can fully understand everything that is said to him and all that transpires around him. The film is methodical and thoughtful, told entirely through the eyes -- or, rather, eye -- of Bauby, who communicates solely through blinking with his one functioning eyelid.

I won't give away just how amazing the tale is, but this is a must-watch. You are literally in this man's head from start to finish. You may have to be in the right mood for something so heavy and plodding, but the film is astounding, heartbreaking, and beautifully poetic, even in translation.

Away From Her

Here's another movie I watched while Mr. Monkey was playing basketball. It was written and directed by Sarah Polley, who starred in the thrillingly fast-paced and comedic Go (which has an awesome soundtrack, by the way). I find it somewhat surprising that a 28-year-old would make a totally depressing film about old people, but Julie Christie should be kissing Polley's feet for giving her perhaps her last opportunity at an Oscar.

Christie plays Fiona, an elderly woman who begins to suffer from Alzheimer's and who is adored by her husband of 44 years, played by the wonderful Gordon Pinsent. To say the least, this isn't exactly a movie I would recommend to uplift one's spirits, but it is elegant and the acting exquisite. This is another total heartbreaker, and now J.S. Bach's Prelude No. 1 in C Major, BWV 846, is forever ruined for me. (This is what happens when you study classical piano for over 13 years; you develop the useless skill of identifying baroque pieces you played when you were six years old.)

Good film, but you may consider skipping it, if only because of its extremely slow pace and complete downer content.

Sunday Morning Downtown Eats


I've been meaning to try Wood Spoon for months now. It's a little family-run Brazilian comfort food place here downtown, but its hours are oddly sporadic. Knowing this, we walked down there earlier today and had a backup plan in case the place was shuttered.

'Twas good we'd anticipated the possible letdown.
Isn't the signage adorable, though? There is no inkling of the words "Wood Spoon" anywhere, simply the graphic. I'm in love with the place already just for this. Fear not. We shall try again.

Unfazed by the predicted closed status of Wood Spoon, we made a detour to the nearby Angelique Cafe.
It's an old neighborhood favorite of mine, although it seems that lately it has lost a bit of its luster. (Analogy: It's sort of like a spouse who has gained a little weight after being happily married for awhile, if that makes any sense.) Nevertheless, I still go to Angelique Cafe from time to time, and this was our pre-chosen destination in case Wood Spoon was closed.

Don't be fooled by the Tapatio and Heinz poised on your table next to the salt and pepper shakers and long-stemmed rose in a small glass vase. Angelique Cafe is owned and run by real French folk, and it shows in the simple but good food. Even the coffee and fresh French bread are worth mentioning.
We shared my usual omelette marocaine (an omelet with spicy merguez sausage and ratatouille and sides of country potatoes and greens) and a ham and cheese crepe.
With regard to breakfast, omelets are hands-down the way to go here. Very good. Even though the sausage was a zesty celebration for my tastebuds, I will admit to dousing my omelet with Tapatio because I'm a Tapatio fiend. But that's just me. Most will enjoy the marocaine sans added Mexican hotness.

The ham and cheese crepe was a bit bland (and was eventually also doused in Tapatio) and came out lukewarm. This made us sad. The crepe itself, however, had a decent texture and was not the least bit gummy, even when sort of cold.

After cleaning up our savory delights, we shared strawberry jam crepes. Again, they were sadly lukewarm. But we still ate them all.
It should be noted that our server was great. He was very friendly, and my coffee cup was never empty. He even got down on the floor to fix our wobbly table. Who says all Frenchmen are snooty? Also note that lunch is quite good here. The sandwiches are big and delicious, and I especially love the fries. Oh, excuse me -- pommes frites.

We paid the check and decided to walk around a bit to work off a few bites of our casual French comfort food. I knew that Mode, a 24-hour French brasserie, had recently opened fairly close by, so I wanted to check it out and possibly get a to-go menu.

Mode was easy to find (on Olive Street between 9th and Olympic). It looks pretty cool and has a sleek modern feel to it -- my favorite!
The host at Mode was friendly and seemed really familiar to me. Then I realized who he was and asked, "Hey, do you also work at The Coffee Bean on weekday mornings?" And the answer was yes. (Actually, the verbatim answer was, "Yeah, that's me! I gotta get my money on!") The host at Mode was indeed my usual barista who happily makes all my drinks with soy. He just as happily gave us a menu to take home.
The offerings look rather inviting, and I look forward to trying this place very soon.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Mini Movie Snippets

Eastern Promises

I really enjoyed this movie. Not only was the acting superb (yay for Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen), the plot is exciting and fast-paced. Be forewarned that some scenes are rather graphic, but they made sense (i.e., they were not gratuitous). This Russian organized crime exposé is on DVD now, and I highly recommend you rent it...unless you don't want to see Viggo Mortensen totally naked and kicking somebody's ass. Notwithstanding Viggo's exposed nether regions, this is another good movie for boys.

Into the Wild

This is an elegant film, albeit a tad slow at times. Perpetually baby-faced Emile Hirsch does well as a real-life Christopher McCandless, a successful college grad turned self-proclaimed "supertramp." What does that mean? He leaves the shackles of money and society to go...into the wild. (Oooh.) McCandless strives to be a modern-day Jack London (or Jack London protagonist, take your pick), and his ultimate goal is to conquer Alaska. Along the way, he meets all sorts of characters, who grow to love him.

McCandless and his sister Carine (played by the always enjoyable Jena Malone) narrate this bittersweet bildungsroman, and, although it's not really a focal point of the film, the strong brother-sister tie that binds these two through their parents' tumultuous relationship really spoke to me. If you are an Eddie Vedder fan, you will love the soundtrack, which is entirely Vedder. It pains me to say it, but I liked something Sean Penn directed. He even adapted the screenplay himself from Jon Krakauer's book. Argh. Damn you, Sean Penn, and your skillz.

Dan in Real Life

I have to give Steve Carell a hand for playing semi-serious without evoking the reaction I usually get when I watch Jim Carrey attempt to play serious (with the exception of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Eek. Juliette Binoche is perfectly cast as the love interest; I've adored her since Krzysztof Kieslowski's Bleu. (Aside: If you haven't watched Kieslowski's Three Colors Trilogy -- Bleu, Blanc, Rouge -- you must go rent them immediately.) Unfortunately, Dan in Real Life is little more than a decent date or family film. It's not award-worthy, in my opinion, but, if you're looking for a feel-good flick, here it is.

Mini Movie Snippets

3:10 to Yuma

I'm not a fan of westerns (old-school or even Clint Eastwood-style), but, as far as westerns go, this one was well-made, even if I wasn't entirely enthralled. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe rocked it. Mr. Monkey really liked this flick, so this might be a good option to mollify your man.

No Country For Old Men

Javier Bardem is creeeeeeeepy to the max as a psychopathic murderous hitman. The movie is suspenseful, super gory, and not for the weak and queasy. The performances are excellent, even if the ending is huh?-inducing. Bardem is really something else in this film. Really.

Lars and the Real Girl

Sadly disappointing. I like Ryan Gosling, but this movie was so blah. It was not nearly as interesting as BBC's documentary series "Love Me, Love My Doll," which I watched several months ago. If you're interested, you can see a snippet here.

I realize the focus of Lars and the Real Girl is not the practice of loving a doll, but, rather, the care and support of family, friends, and neighbors when a person is having problems. I can't lie, though. I found the insightful BBC documentary regarding Real Dolls (open at your own risk -- not safe for work) far more intriguing. Lars was saptastic and irritating.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Mei Love You Long Time

REMINDER: Blog Party #3 is being planned! Join the fun!

Mei Long Village (301 W Valley Blvd., San Gabriel).
Operatives: Lilcee, tater, Wan, and yours truly
Mission: Introduce Wan to the deliciousness that are xiao long bao.

Background: Xiao long bao ("XLB") are scrumptious little pockets of juicy goodness. The approximate translation is "little basket buns," as the large mouthful-sized dumplings are traditionally steamed in bamboo steamers, although nowadays many restaurants use metal steamers.

XLB originated in Shanghai and began as snack food (hence their continuing popularity at modern-day dim sum), but they are now also regularly eaten as full meals. XLB are sometimes referred to as "soup dumplings" by non-Asians because of the wonderful abundance of savory meaty juice that bursts in your mouth when you puncture the delicate skin of an XLB.

But don't call them soup dumplings. You'll sound like a know-nothing. Call them xiao long bao. It's really not that hard to do. Just do it.

Pork XLB and accompanying vinegar and bamboo. Juicy. Delicate. Yum. We got two steamers of these. Our second steamer was better than the first.

Crab and pork XLB. Not quite as good as the pork. A bit fishy.

Vegetable bao. These are the traditional types of bao most Westerners envision when they hear the word. (In reality, XLB are more like dumplings than bao.) These were the duds of the meal. The outside was decently fluffy, but the flavor of the filling was sorely lacking. Bland. Uninteresting. Don't bother with these. Just get more XLB.

Potstickers. Tasty, but nothing to write home about. Again, just get more XLB.

After all this, we still had room for more. Hey, those li'l suckers were small! We headed to the Beard Papa's in the same strip mall. Convenience at its finest.

Fun holiday packaging.

And what is there to say about Beard Papa's that you don't already know? The magical combination of sweet luscious vanilla bean cream and fresh flaky pastry continues to delight.

It seems that Wan enjoyed her foray into the world of XLB. Mission accomplished!
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