But what the bleep do I know about such high-minded things? When I finally did see the movie, I spent more time thinking about which of the overeducated "talking heads" might be fun to take to dinner than I did wondering why water molecules change shape if you put the words love or thank you on a water bottle.
My friend Jamie had patiently tried to alter my thought processes on the night we went to dinner at the two-month-old Poco's Latin American Grille, launching into such esoteric subjects as brain receptors, the collective unconsciousness, psychic phenomenon, his new love affair (he'd had a paradigm shift and stopped snubbing skinny people) and neuropeptides. But none of them was as fascinating to me as a salad of field greens splashed in a vinaigrette made with sweet chilies and golden saffron -- topped with wild-mushroom cheesecake.
Cheesecake on a salad! Now there's a theory I could really get into. And such a delicious combination of portabella and shiitake mushrooms, onions, peppers and cream cheese whipped together and baked into a luscious, savory wedge! The kind of dish that says "I love you -- now eat me" without undergoing a noticeable molecular change.
There are plenty of other changes to discover at the sensational new Poco's, which had a complete personality shift when its new owner, Hope Dillon, took over the tiny storefront restaurant from the Grille On Broadway's proprietor, actor and bon vivant Sean Cummings. Out, thankfully, went the brassy raspberry walls and the tangerine ceiling. Ditto the twinkly Christmas lights and the pink-tinted mashed potatoes.
Since September, Dillon has put her own stylish imprint on the décor (the ceiling is now taupe, the walls khaki) and given chef Lorenza "Poco" Guitterrez -- a native of Juarez, Mexico -- free rein to create a menu that's Latin American in flavor, not Mexican.
"That's the most common misconception about the restaurant," says Dillon. "It's not a Mexican restaurant. Latin American cooking was strongly influenced by the culinary traditions of Europe."
Another misconception is that Guitterrez, a longtime staple in this venue's closet-sized kitchen, is one of the restaurant's owners. She's not, Dillon says. Guitterrez actually wanted the place to be called "Ajo y Cebolla y Chile," after her three favorite cooking ingredients: garlic, onion and chilies.
The wry Dillon is a hands-on owner; she not only manages the place but also works as waitress, bartender, bus boy, pastry chef, sommelier and occasional dishwasher. She's also a radio personality (co-hosting Food Talk with wine expert Lisa Burgess on Sunday mornings on KCKN 1340) and an enthusiastic booster of the proposed midtown renaissance. When I ask if this particular stretch of Broadway still deserves the "dangerous neighborhood" accolade that Cummings playfully gave it in his ads (which pissed off the Broadway Westport Council), Dillon laughs.
"I grew up in South Boston," she says. "This neighborhood's sleepy compared to that."
Sleepy? Not judging from the steady stream of oddball characters -- old, young, white, black, stoned, sullen -- who pass by the plate-glass window at the front of the restaurant. It's a rogue's gallery of neighborhood locals, attracted either to the cheap Chinese joint nearby or the busy head shop up the street. The once-grand hotel around the block is now a hard-bitten apartment building with a long list posted on its glass door of all the people who are banned from entering. I checked to see if my name was there.
But across the street, the Uptown Theater is almost always booked, and the space right next to Poco's, formerly occupied by the glummest of gay bars, is being rehabbed as a new jazz club. Now if only some exciting new tenant would move into the vacant Sidney's Diner on the corner, this neighborhood really would experience a paradigm shift.
In the meantime, Poco's is doing its best to lure the fine-dining crowd into a tastefully appointed room, complete with white linen tablecloths and napkins, pretty china and an excellent wine list. But the real draw, as the venue's name indicates, is the stuff coming out of Guitterrez's kitchen. She has held over only a few beloved items from the Grille On Broadway menu, such as the barbecued oysters. Current offerings include ten generously portioned "small plates," among them tart fried green tomatoes encased in a crunchy cornmeal armor, and grilled flatbread with a truly great, soothing white-bean dip fragrant with garlic and onion.
The breads are among the few items not actually prepared in that minuscule kitchenette. Dillon imports them from the City Bakery but serves baskets of warm, yeasty slices with her own homemade banana jam (which my friend Bob practically licked out of the bowl) or little swirls of butter flavored with sun-dried tomatoes.
The 13 dinner entrées are an interesting mix of seafood, beef, lamb, chicken and vegetarian offerings, though I knew beef-loving Bob would get bleeping mad when Jamie ordered the very dish he'd been eyeing: grilled medallions of filet over a slice of that delectable wild-mushroom cheesecake. Bob took solace in a big plate of beautifully grilled scallops and grilled vegetables brushed with Dillon's own hot tomato jam. (That's hot as in temperature, not spiciness.)
Jamie's filet medallions had more kick, thanks to the jade-green chimichurri -- the Argentinian concoction of parsley, cayenne, olive oil and garlic -- ladled on top. My own veal scallops, slathered with roasted tomatoes and garlic, were sided with very pretty Yukon gold potatoes whipped with chilies, though the heat was negligible.
The real highlight of that meal was the finale: Dillon's own chocolate tres leches cake, which is insanely rich from the beginning because it's made with condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy whipping cream. Adding an extra note of indulgence, Dillon piles on a scoop of Grand Marnier chocolate mousse and a cocoa-meringue cookie. Equally wonderful was the vanilla crème brûlée discreetly flavored (maybe too discreetly) with cardamom.
I returned with Bob and Jennifer on a Saturday night and found that the restaurant wasn't nearly as busy as I expected. But Dillon was, dashing from table to table, greeting guests, delivering plates or snatching them up, opening bottles of wine. Once we flagged her down, we started the meal with a meaty portabella mushroom filled with chorizo and blanketed in melted mozzarella, and a plate of plump crab cakes, fluffy under a crunchy crust and drizzled with a jalapeño tartar sauce.
Fashion-conscious Jennifer ordered a dish to match her ensemble: a supple slab of pink salmon on a bed of vivid yellow lemon couscous, topped with a green basil pesto. The fish was lovely, moist and flavorful. So was my spice-rubbed pork tenderloin. Unlike many Midwestern chefs, who typically cook all the life, texture and flavor out of pork, Guitterrez keeps hers tender and succulent, swimming in bittersweet mole. Bob was concerned when Dillon forgot to ask him how he wanted his pan-seared ribeye prepared, and it arrived somewhat more rare than he liked, but he bravely nibbled at the steak anyway.
I'd been thinking about dessert long before Dillon suggested the warm lemon polenta pound cake or the whipped-amaretto cheesecake. The airy pound cake (thankfully, it bore no resemblance to the savory fried polenta of my childhood) was topped with a whipped cloud of citrus mousse, and the fluffy cheesecake was drizzled with a kicky sauce of chocolate blended with jalapeño peppers.
Jennifer capped the meal by shifting into another realm entirely. "We should all go out to a club and dance all of this food off," she said.
Dancing? Honey, after that wonderful meal and two desserts, I needed to go home for a siesta larga agradable. What the bleep was she thinking?