Date Night: Mirepoix Trio and the Princess Theatre

Just as food trucks have been a means towards establishing a storefront or brick and mortar restaurant (see: Filistix and Woodwork), I think pop-up restaurants have the same potential. It seems like ages ago now, but before RGE RD moved into their permanent digs, Chef Blair Lebsack hosted pop-up meals in the city and out on the farm (and even now, continues with the latter).

The Mirepoix Trio (made up of Chefs Rylan Krause, Jade Wu and Adam Zarycki) has been organizing special one-off vegan dinners in Edmonton since last summer. The functions not only let them collaborate and cook outside the box, but the meals have also allowed them to build a name for themselves and some money to boot – with the hope of one day establishing their own restaurant.

Mirepoix Trio

The Mirepoix Trio

Based on their Easter weekend suppers, I think the Mirepoix Trio is gaining quite the following in this city. They had generously invited Mack and I to dine as their guests as an engagement present (so sweet). Held at Upper Crust on Good Friday, the five course meal would have only set us back a very reasonable $40.

We started off with some refreshing drinks – a Mirepoix soda (Limoncello, vodka, basil, mint agave and soda) and an Orange Blossom (sugar, orange biters, St. Germain and Prosecco).

Mirepoix Trio

Drinks

Kudos to the chefs for preceding each course with a personal explanation – it’s always great to see the people behind the food! It was also insightful to hear about their direction for the meal – to make sure each course would flow into the next, each dish would adopt an ingredient from the previous one, ensuring some continuity.

The first course was a straightforward but delicious mushrooms and toast, served with an underlay of fennel pesto. Those two bites packed a punch, and set the tone at the start for a meal all about simple comforts.

Mirepoix Trio

Mushrooms and toast

On that blustery, snowy day, nothing was more welcome than the tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons (the cheese in this instance was Daiya). I could have eaten more than a handful of those crispy croutons, but I did particularly appreciate the brightness that the roasted tomato drizzle lent the dish.

Mirepoix Trio

Tomato soup with grilled cheese

Mack found the palate-cleansing iced tomato granita a little strange, given the extreme temperature shift from the earlier dish, but being a fan of caprese salad, I enjoyed the combination of tomato, basil and creamy cashew cheese.

Mirepoix Trio

Granita

We were both looking forward to the potato gnocchi, to be served with a creamy cheese sauce. The gnocchi themselves lived up to expectation, plump, seasoned well and satisfying. However, the accompanying asparagus seemed out of place texturally; the spears didn’t hold up to roasting at all.

Mirepoix Trio

Gnocchi

To end the night was Mirepoix’s take on a classic – strawberry shortcake. Here, the addition of basil tied it into the main, but what really made it sing was the sweet dollop of coconut whipped cream. I didn’t miss the dairy at all!

Mirepoix Trio

Strawberry basil shortcake

The meal was a great introduction to what the Mirepoix Trio is trying to do – elevate expectations of vegan cuisine, all within a scope of familiarity for those less accustomed to the possibilities of vegan cooking. It was clear Rylan, Jade and Adam are passionate about what they do – and given the growing niche of vegan establishments in Edmonton, I have no doubt a Mirepoix restaurant would help meet this need. Best of luck to them as they continue to raise their profile with these pop-up dinners! Follow them on Twitter to find out when their next event will be taking place.

After dinner, Mack and I walked over to The Princess Theatre to continue our evening with food on film. I had earmarked The Lunchbox during last year’s Edmonton International Film Festival, but due to time conflicts, I wasn’t able to watch it. Lucky for me, The Princess brought the film back to Edmonton.

It’s been some time since we’ve caught a film at The Princess, but this visit reminded us why we should be back more often – clean, intimate and retro, it was a much different experience than a trip to the typical multiplex. So much so that we indulged in popcorn, something we never do!

The Princess Theatre

Salty snacks

As for The Lunchbox – I highly recommend it, and not just for the food (even though the styling inspired immediate Indian cuisine cravings). My interest in the movie was initially to see the dabbawala food delivery system in action, but it is so much more than that. It’s a lovely story about the connection between two lonely people in bustling Mumbai, subtle and beautifully acted. Though The Lunchbox is no longer playing at The Princess, it’s now moved to Landmark City Centre, so you still have a chance to see it in theatres. Go, now!

Film: “Presumed Guilty”

Mack and I were invited to attend the second Doc Soup screening that took place at the Citadel’s Zeidler Hall on Thursday night. Global Visions Film Festival helped to bring Doc Soup to Edmonton – a monthly film series that showcases both local and international documentaries.

The night’s film was Presumed Guilty, a documentary exposing the ills of the Mexican justice system through one man’s struggle to prove his innocence. José Antonio Zuñiga was arrested and jailed for a homicide he was never proven to have committed, and as the title of the film alludes, in a system where a conviction matters more than justice, his subsequent retrial was for show only, and did not result in a verdict change. It was a minor miracle that the cameras were allowed to film the retrial however, and I have to say, the “face off” portion of the footage was fascinating. The defendant (behind a set of bars) was able to literally face his accusers – in this case, the witness and the case detectives – and ask them questions face to face.

Antonio appealed the guilty verdict, and was able to secure an eventual acquittal from the appellate judges, but in the process, spent nearly 900 days in jail.

Roberto Hernandez, one of the two people behind the film, actually attended the screening, and conducted a Q & A at the end of the film. He is a lawyer by trade, and continued to reiterate his lack of filmmaking skill and expertise – “I just edited until I cried,” he said.  He was also extremely modest regarding the impact he has made on reforming the Mexican justice system – it turned out his previous documentary The Tunnel, which he screened for the country’s legislators, was a catalyst for a constitutional amendment passed last year which institutes a presumption of innocence.

The next Doc Soup screening is Junior, on February 4. For $10, it’s sure to be a worthwhile evening of food for thought. Thanks again to Ted Kerr for the invitation!

Adam also attended and blogged about the film – check out his thoughts here.

Film: “Julie & Julia”

Whenever someone mentions Julia Child, I feel a bit like Anne Hathaway’s character Andy Sachs early on in The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl Streep, in a deliciously wicked turn as fashion editor Miranda Priestly, undresses Andy’s dismissal of fashion’s influence in one fell swoop, pointing to the runway origins of her cerulean sweater.

While no one has ever publicly demeaned me on the topic of Julia Child before – I feel nonetheless ignorant on the subject. I am not well-versed on Child’s significance, even as I am certain her effects, like the colour of Andy’s sweater, surround me (I did stop to see Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian, but because it was touted as a must-see exhibit more than anything else).

Julia Child’s kitchen at the National Museum of American History

On the flip side, while I won’t pretend to have followed Julie Powell during her year of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I did finish reading her memoir Julie & Julia recently. Her candid prose and sense of humour won me over almost immediately, and though her road to success may seem like a fairy tale to some, the foundation of her fame lay in her unrelenting execution of a novel idea. While I couldn’t relate to everything she went through, some of the internal pressures of being a blogger and the need for support were true for me too.

As a result, it was no surprise to me that on screen, even with Child’s romantic backdrop of an ideal Paris, Powell’s experience resonated with me the most. I do think Julia’s patience and perseverance with the publishing process was a little lost with the format of the back-and-forth-storytelling though, given she toiled nearly ten years over Julie’s one in the kitchen.

Though food plays a major role in the film (I’ve never wanted beef bourguignon so badly in my life), the movie really is about two women finding themselves with the aid of food. And if not equally important, the support they had from their husbands to overcome personal stagnation.

Much of the hype that surrounded the movie had to do with Meryl Streep’s supposed spot-on impersonation of Child, but I am not familiar enough with The French Chef to comment. However, she did a darn good job embodying a trembling exuberance for food, and maintaining a level of energy that seemed infectious to all that surrounded her. Amy Adams as Julie was adorable, and though not as much was expected of her, she emulated Powell’s spunk and escalating confidence.

If anything, the movie has given me a foundation to know more about Julia Child (I am devouring her memoir My Life in France as we speak), a desire to dabble in French cooking, and of course, rejuvinated my commitment to food blogging.

Julie & Julia is in theatres now.

Film: “Food, Inc.”

Mack and I had the chance to attend an advance screening of Food, Inc. at the newly-overhauled Empire City Centre Cinemas on Wednesday night (the theatres look great by the way – seats where the springs aren’t loose, plus stadium-style seating!). A nearly full house took in director Robert Kenner’s look at the pitfalls of the industrial system of agriculture and its ramifications on an unsuspecting public, including obesity, food safety and environmental degradation.

Anyone who has read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation will not find anything surprising in the movie, as Pollan and Schlosser act as the narrative backbone for Food, Inc. However, it is worth seeing for the inglorious visuals alone – the overhead shots of CAFOs, the dire conditions in claustrophobic chicken houses, and the assembly lines of mechanized meat factory workers.

On one hand, the scope of the film is admirable to encourage awareness of issues on a grand scale. But touching on everything from corn to tainted meat to Monsanto’s seed monopoly meant the film wasn’t as coherent as it could have been. In addition, several tangential storylines seemed unnecessary to me, such as the raids of illegal immigrants and the family struggling to feed itself well on a low-income. That time could have easily been spent providing more detail on some of the more central material.

Someone like Mack, who watched the movie with further distance from the subject than me, was hungry for facts, and commented that like other documentaries focused on getting a rise out of the audience, it played too much to the viewer’s emotion. He wished for more balance of fact and reason. Mack did really like the piece on the Stonyfield Farms CEO working with Wal-Mart – though some might frown at that partnership, it does make some sense to take organics mainstream, especially if it means reducing growth of the alternative.

My biggest criticism of the movie (echoed by Ron Berezan during the Q & A following the screening) was the lack of explicit actions empowered consumers could take. Particularly because the film was billed as containing some “opportunities for activism”, the lines of black-screen text suggestions were put together as seeming afterthoughts. Why didn’t they show consumers making deliberate choices at local farmers’ markets or growing their own food, and end with a resonating vision of what’s possible? While it’s true that the movie is just a catalyst, and that further education would have to follow, listing a website address before the credits just seems like a cop-out.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if this film will reach the wide audience that it should, but the fact that it is getting attention from the mainstream media is a positive step.

Food, Inc. premieres in Edmonton on July 17 at the Garneau Theatre.

Film: “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

Though I handily declared in my review of High School Musical 2 that I would not be shelling out cash to watch the third (and final?) instalment of the Disney franchise, I was sorely mistaken. Thankfully, I think this movie was well-worth my money, and did much in the way of redeeming the sad excuse for a second film.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year is set at East High (instead of say, a country club), and chronicles the musically-inclined friends as they ponder their futures and put on a final show together. My simple litmus test for an enjoyable movie of this calibre is whether or not it manages to put a smile of my face; it did.

Like the first film, Senior Year didn’t take itself too seriously – it was lighthearted and filled with catchy tunes. Some of the voices were obviously synthesized, but at this point, I felt I could overlook that for the spectacle of the musical numbers. There were a few “edgier” songs as well – Troy (Zac Efron) and Chad’s “The Boys Are Back”, performed in an automobile junk yard (as an homage to Stomp, perhaps?) and Efron’s anguished “Scream”, sung with lightning and strobe lights blazing in the background. Efron deserves special mention, as to both Mack and I, it seemed he was performing as if his career depended on it – he obviously put his heart and soul into this movie.

My favourite song was the clever “A Night to Remember”, which showcased the dual points of view girls and boys harbour with regards to prom night. The visual spectacle of “I Want it All” was also a high point. Mack liked the titular inclusion in the end number, “High School Musical”, but both of us wondered why the performers were made to wear their graduation gowns throughout the song – it was impossible to discern their dance movements as they flailed around, and I felt especially sorry for Vanessa Hudgens, as she was absolutely dwarfed by the cloth robe.

The movie also decided to (wisely) incorporate references and refrains to the original High School Musical, rewarding loyal audience members who have followed the franchise thus far. Mack thought this went too far, in the sense that some of the issues presented this time around were ones that had already been dealt with, such as Troy’s overbearing father.

While I won’t be running out to buy the soundtrack or the DVD when it is released, I am happy that the movies that bookend the trilogy are as positive and enjoyable as they are. If I ever feel the need to taste innocence and unbounded optimism, I know where to turn.

The Edmonton International Film Festival: “Rachel Getting Married”

The Edmonton International Film Festival, arguably the most accessible festival in Edmonton’s catalogue (“we’re going to…a movie”), began last week, screening independent and light-Hollywood films for nine days. I usually take in at least one fairly mainstream movie per festival, and this year was no different.

We chose Rachel Getting Married, an Anne Hathaway-feature that garnered much praise after it screened earlier this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. After reading the synopsis, I figured the wedding would be simply a backdrop to the real drama, but in actuality, the ceremony and everything that surrounded it (the rehearsal dinner, the reception) was showcased in full glory. This was both a strength and weakness of the film: while the scenes appeared so emotionally genuine (to the point where I wanted to be invited to be a part of the family), I think Mack was right in saying certain scenes could have used more liberal editing (was listening to a dozen rehearsal dinner speeches necessary? Or watching a lengthy dance floor montage?).

The core of the story, however, focused on Hathaway’s character Kym, a young woman returning home from rehab on the occasion of her sister’s marriage. Over the course of the movie, it is revealed that when Kym was sixteen, while high on drugs, ended up causing an accident that killed her younger brother. Each member of the family coped with this tragedy in a different way – Kym with her addiction, Rachel in studying psychology (an area that allows her to learn about human behavior) and the mother with separation and denial. How each member of the family related to each other was fascinating to watch, and in light of all of the wedding fun, I wished for more moments like the quiet one between Rachel and Kym preparing up for the ceremony.

The shaky camera (and seemingly unnecessary close-ups) had thankfully dissipated for the most part by the end of the movie, but I know Mack was happy when the film was over for this reason. While it’s not a must-see, Rachel Getting Married is an interesting window into a fictional family doing its best to move forward from a past tragedy.

The Film Festival runs until Saturday.

Film: “The Dark Knight”

Mack has been talking about The Dark Knight for months now, so it wasn’t a surprise that he bought ticket to see it at 12:01am on the day of its release. Though I originally balked at the idea of a midnight showing followed by the struggle of getting through an eight-hour work day, I figured the experience of seeing the fanatical moviegoers on top of the movie itself was worth sacrificing one night’s sleep.

We joined the line outside of the second floor IMAX theatre at West Edmonton Mall at around 9:30pm. We had checked in on the line at 8pm, and though there were already twenty people outside the theatre, we opted for a mall stroll before commencing a lengthy stationary period. Looking around us, I wish we had been as prepared as our lineup counterparts – not with camping chairs as much as portable game systems, packs of cards, books, or magazines. Still, without entertainment, the time passed by fairly quickly, with the flaming dragon going off every twenty minutes, and my anticipation of costumed patrons. The final count at the end of the evening? Two Jokers, and an honourable mention for the guy downstairs who brought an inflatable Batman with him.

A motley crew

The dragon!

We were allowed into the theatre an hour before showtime, where the excitement continued to build. By the time the laser demonstration started, I was more than ready to see The Dark Knight.

Two and a half hours later, I felt like my nerves were shot and worn through. Between Heath Ledger’s terrifying portrayal of The Joker, Harvey Dent’s tragic disintegration into the villain Two Face, Christopher Nolan’s apparent need to fill a gunfight quota, and quick cuts resulting in brilliant-but-breathless moments of suspense, even a good night’s sleep wouldn’t have released the movie’s haunting grasp of my dreams.

As always, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine elevated scenes with their presence alone, while Maggie Gyllenhaal provided a seamless transition for a character that could have been played by any competent actress. Aaron Eckhart was perfectly cast as Dent, who was believably upstanding, and really, his chin and jaw should also be lauded simply for the number of times they have been mentioned in other reviews. Heath Ledger will undoubtedly build a cult following for his performance – like Viggo Mortensen, who I’ve read lives and breathes his character roles, Ledger nailed the eerily melodic voice, oddball gait, and facial ticks (his continuous tongue-flicking was genius) of this Joker.

Dually exhausting and exhilarating, I highly recommend The Dark Knight, a film with a rare payoff that actually matched its hype. Watch for Mack‘s review, where he will compare screenings of the film in IMAX and on the regular screen.

Film: “Easter Parade”

When the schedule for the Edmonton Film Society‘s Summer 2008 was released, I was most looking forward to the opening movie: Easter Parade. Though I’ve seen the last, titular number more times than I can count, I can’t say I’ve actually ever watched the movie in its entirety.

Among the vocal older audience (as expected), it was a treat to watch Fred Astaire and Judy Garland on screen. They epitomize ease on their feet, and always make me feel like when I walk out of the theatre, I can as gracefully tap, twirl and sway in rhythm as they can. The first half especially showcased Garland’s comic talent and timing, which I had never really seen her demonstrate. One of my favorite actresses of the era, Ann Miller, glowing in her screen debut, played the “other woman” well, and I really did respect her for jumping at the opportunity to further her career.

The rest of the films in the series that runs every Monday until August 25 at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre are just as lighthearted, fun, and the perfect way to transition into a warm summer night. And for just $5, there isn’t a better deal to be had in the city.

Film: “Sex and the City”

(Spoilers ahead)

I did my best to avoid reading reviews for the hotly-anticipated Sex and the City movie, which opened on Friday. But from the few snippets I saw (such as the screaming headline of “NO STARS” from the Globe’s Rick Groen), I was only cautiously optimistic as I settled down in my seat for a Sunday matinee.

By the end of it, I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I might be, and I realized having extremely low expectations was one of the two reasons why I enjoyed the movie. The second was having watched (and re-watched, in many cases) all six seasons of the show, I had a thorough knowledge of each character and relationship backstory  – something those new to the series would not have.

Janice and I chatted about this on our way home this afternoon, and felt that the movie didn’t do the men justice at all. Big was much too serious all the way through, barely cracking his trademark grin at all. It’s a shame the editors decided to cut out the scene where he serenades Carrie in bed, because that’s quintessential Big! For those unfamiliar with how sweet and charming he can be, I wouldn’t blame them for cheering Carrie on as she strove to forget him and reconnect with her single self. As for the other men: Harry’s inclusion was essentially holiday and special-occasion driven, while poor Steve looked like he wanted to throw himself off of the Brooklyn Bridge every time the camera panned to his face – I wanted more of the Silly(!)Steve we saw a glimpse of in the Italian restaurant. And Smith? Mandatory viewing for those new to SatC is “Let There Be Light”, which shows his patience and understanding after Samantha’s Wright-slip – otherwise, the audience automatically assumes that Smith is just another young Hollywood write-off.

Also, as much as I loved seeing the parade of sometimes ridiculous outfits worn by the girls in the show, the naming of labels and the in-your-face product placements were just a little too obvious and self-indulgent in the movie. This was probably unavoidable – I’m sure they were just trying to cram as many designers into a two and a half-hour movie in place of several years of episodes as they could.

In this vein, though the film was long, I thought it felt rushed – they shuffled through several plotlines that in TV-land, would have developed over the course of a season. Miranda and Steve’s separation (and subsequent reconciliation, in a scene way to sweet for Miranda, in my opinion), Samantha’s waffling over her frustrations with Smith and her LA life, and of course, Carrie’s woeful “why did I fall for it again” cyclical fall from grace followed by a too-quick resolution (the time devoted to her inability to get out of bed would have been better spent highlighting why Big was such a great man to begin with, instead of a denouement demonstrating his ability to retype letters).

With the bad, there was also some good – Jennifer Hudson (playing Carrie’s assistant, Louise), was a surprisingly welcome screen addition, warm and genuine when playing opposite the sometimes over-the-top Sarah Jessica Parker. Second, my favorite scenes in the movie involved Charlotte. While she didn’t really have her own meaty storyline to contend with (just getting pregnant and living the perfect life), her upset stomach in Mexico and Big confrontation (“I curse the day you were born!”) were hilarious moments in the movie.

While it seems there was more to dislike about the film, I think as a whole, it would be impossible for any movie to replace 94 episodes of emotion, drama, and friendship. See it, but know you’ll always have the box set to go back to.

Film: “Definitely, Maybe”

After seeing the headline, “A Valentine for New York” in the Globe and Mail about the movie Definitely, Maybe, I knew I had to see it.

Ryan Reynolds is William Hayes, a devoted father who explains to his daughter Maya (played by the perpetually charming Abigail Breslin) how he met her mother. The foundation of their relationship provides some needed stability in the movie, though some would say Breslin’s character is simply a different incarnation of the leading man’s usual wisecracking sidekick friend. Anyway, Will recounts the different relationships he had as a young man, literally charting his would-be wives and the associated break-ups that ensued.

Definitely, Maybe is principally a movie about bad timing, and thus the flashback structure is an effective vehicle to carry the audience through the years (though it is hard to believe that baby-faced Reyonlds is old enough to have an eight-year old child). The women are a force to be reckoned with in their own right, every one of them easily holding their own. Elizabeth Banks as the comfortable college sweetheart, Rachel Weisz as the intense, sensual journalist, and Isla Fisher as the fun-loving free spirit shine in their respective sequences, and it is easy to see why Will falls for each of them. Reyonlds, who I remember only as an overgrown frat boy in Van Wilder, proves that he is capable of carrying the lead role in an emotionally-charged film (not to mention having eyes that you just want to fall into…).

The one notable weakness of the movie is not the fact that Will is in the middle of a divorce with Maya’s mother, but the fact that their life together is not shown. And beyond the audience’s own extrapolations of why it didn’t work (in order to allow for the ending), it is a narrative hole that should have been filled.

As for the inspiration provided by New York itself, besides the shock of seeing the Twin Towers in an early scene, wasn’t as prominent a backdrop as I was expecting. Moreover, the New York in the movie is spared from the winter season all together, it seems. Because of this, I thought it would have been a more appropriate spring release, though it is coincidental that Will’s involvement in politics (starting with his work in Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign) chimes now with Hillary’s current run for Democratic nominee.

As a whole I found this movie more satisfying as a romantic comedy than 27 Dresses – so if you’re looking for something sweet, go see Definitely, Maybe!