Friday, January 2, 2009

Brad Pitt + Italian food = Heaven? Maybe not....


Maggiano's Little Italy
10455 NE 8th St.
Bellevue, WA, 98004-4346

Let me preface this review by saying - I usually shy away from Italian restaurants all together, because I am 100% Italian and my family's in the business - so its pretty hard to please me. I will usually only go if I have heard good things about it.

We went for a good friends birthday. Immediately we were drawn to the "Family Deal" which is basically $27.50* per person - which is every ones choice of 2 appetizers, two pastas, two main courses and two desserts. They bring enough for everyone (plus some). The only thing YOU have to do, is decide as a group what to order.

As we lamented (really it was a hard choice and if I EVER go back, I will not go this route) Our waiter (who never told us his name) - brought us bread and olive oil. Now we were a bit confused - its not customary to bring JUST plain OIL with bread. It usually has balsamic vinegar and spices in it. So we asked for that and it was brought. The bread would have been SO much better if the baker hadn't accidentally dropped a cup of flour on the crust. Seriously it made our fingers white, got on our clothes - very messy for plain bread.

Our appetizers came (I apologize for the lack of photos - I will have more as my blog matures). We ordered Caprese and Spinach and Artichoke dip. The Caprese was good - however there was BARELY any basil, and what was there was SHREDDED basil? There also was no salt or pepper. The cheese and huge tomatoes more than helped keep my mind off the basil however - they were both amazing. The Spinach dip was gone first - being devoured by everyone in our group. The only complaint was that it could have been served with more bread crisps, there were like 5 crisps and 8 of us.

Onto the Pasta. We ordered the Gnocchi with the spicy Tomato vodka cream sauce and the Garlic shrimp with Linguine*(which added $2 onto each of our head prices). The Gnocchi was fairly disappointing. I would have liked to have seen homemade gnocchi, instead it was machine made. Also the sauce was too bland but at the same time too spicy, if that's possible. The Linguine was fantastic, but not enough shrimp. If I am going to pay $2 extra for a dish with shrimp, bring ON that shrimp!

Main Dish. We ordered Salmon with Lemon and Herb and the Chicken Parmesan. The Salmon was cooked perfectly however the spinach was a bit too much for me. The herbs were very light but bold flavors. It was a great piece of fish. The Chicken Parm was just ok. The wasn't enough cheese on top with the sauce. Also the edges of the breaded chicken were HARD. Overall, I wasn't impressed with what was supposed to be the "Main Dish".

By the time dessert decisions were made, we were TOTALLY full. Something about pay now *$30 a plate - made you want to eat everything in site, to get your moneys worth.

For dessert, the waiter said their 4 layer chocolate cake was a safe bet for chocolate lovers and if you couldn't decide. Then we also got the Apple Crostada with Caramel Sauce. I have to say the Crostada was the best part of the night. I wish I hadn't filled myself with all that average stuff and just had room for the dessert.

Now the chocolate cake needs its own paragraph. Having two HUGE Chocolate cake fans at this table, I knew we would get a good review. I had one bite and refused to finish. What the waiter didn't tell us was that it had SAMBUCA in it. A very strong bitter liqueur. It tasted horrible to me. Half the table enjoyed it and the other half was also turned off by the alcohol in it. Either way I was disappointed - that with a 12 year old eating it - we weren't told there was alcohol in the cake.

In the end I felt like I spent WAY too much money for just an average quality of food. The con's out weighed the pro's. It was $30 per person, plus each soda was $2.50, tip and tax - it was steep.

Review - *** -- good but not great.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Rating: PG-13

I saw this movie on Christmas Day (the release date) and the theater was packed. The leading quote of the movie is "Life isn't measured in minutes, but in moments". That theme is echoed during this entire movie.

As it starts, you are immediately shocked by the quality of special effects used to make Young Benjamin, look so very old. The character of Benjamin is charming, simple and adorable. You find yourself forgetting he is a child, because of his looks, but then realizing that most people that were as old as he looks, act about the same. And so the dichotomy begins.

He is raised in a home for elderly people. His "mother" lovingly called "Queenie" in the movie was the angel that took him in and loved him unconditionally. As the world around him isn't sure what to do with him as a person, Queenie knows that God has blessed her with something special, even though its package may not be pretty. You begin to adore this woman for what she has sacrificed for this poor soul.

The love interest in the movie is slow coming but sweet. Its a childhood friendship that comes and goes over the ages. Until at one point they "meet in the middle". The idea of it is sweet and romantic. Cate Blanchett did an astounding job playing a prima ballerina named "Daisy". The dancing in the movie was spectacular and impressive seeing she had no dance background. There were some painful scenes between Daisy and Benjamin, while she was dancing in NYC - where she wasn't very thrilled to see him. It was very real and against the grain of how you WANTED them to be.

As their love grew - the age differences going the other way (Her older/him younger) started to be evident. The makeup and special affects deserve major awards for this film. There was a point that Brad Pitt could have passed for 17 - in my opinion. I don't know if it was on location botox or what, but it was amazing. Cate was aged beautifully but also became painfully old towards the end.

The ONLY complaint I had was as they aged Benjamin back to a child at the end. As in the beginning, special affects were used to have a small body, but it was BRAD PITTS face on the small body. When they had to take him the other way, they didn't do that - and instead got different actors (that resembled him quite a bit) to play the parts. It was harder to get into it that way, in my opinion.

The ending scenes, watching this child, dying - were SO heart wrenching. Dementia setting in and his body giving out - it was so sad. The entire time, Daisy, as an old woman, devotes her time to being with him and taking care of him. At the very end, Bejamin's voice narrates a very sweet moment - with a medley of video in slow motion, of each main character. While you watch these characters that you have grown close to, and started to love, you hear Benjamin explain that we all have a place in this life. Whether its as a mother (cut to a shot of Queenie with her arms open wide and a huge loving grin), or a dancer (cut to a shot of Daisy dancing on stage) etc, you see where I am going with this. Its incredibly emotional and is a perfect way to end the movie.

There were a few slow parts of the movie however I took that time to really enjoy the make-up and effects - so it wasn't that bad.

Rating: **** 1/2 (it was pretty close to amazing)

In closing. Skip the restaurant, but see the movie

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