After nearly an entire summer spent in gastronomic discontent, the Defamer Special Movie Premiere Food Critic returns to gorge on the post-screening spreads of Hollywood, this time glutting himself at last night's Red Eye party. Would DreamWorks serve up airline food, or did the flailing studio let its culinary ambition soar much higher? Enjoy your meal:
It's been a long, dry summer for this reviewer without a decent free buffet in sight. Call it The Curse of the Tentpoles, but these days it seems that if it's not Oscar season, you're eating on your own dime in this town. Where I ask, was my Stealth banquet? My Fantastic Four feast? Yes, I suppose it's possible I just wasn't invited. But whatever the reason, I take my predicament as a very woeful commentary on the state of the catering arts in the industry today.
But tonight, invitation in hand, I was dusting off the Hugo Boss and preparing once again to dine like a film tycoon of yore. The engagement: the gala world premiere of August's most eagerly awaited new thriller, Red Eye. The site: Westwood Village's historic Gardens restaurant, storied home to literally thousands of pre-prom dinners for the past two decades.
At 83 minutes, the film hardly gave me time to work up an appetite fit for the task before me. After watching Wes Craven's breakneck ride set on a crowded airplane, the crowd walked across the village from the Bruin theater abuzz with one question locked and frozen in each eye — Did DreamWorks SKG still have the moxie enough, the raw showmanship, to serve airplane food, (or at least airplane-themed food) at the party? Sure, imitating airplane food was an endeavor fraught with peril. Absolutely, potential pitfalls abound from diving into a culinary sector whose shortcomings launched an entire generation of hack comedians. But would the Dream Machine realize that nothing ventured is nothing gained, and, with their company on the ropes, gamble on one fantastic theme dinner?
Within moments of walking into the Gardens' central rotunda, we exhaled—a Caesar salad looming before us, the answer was a resounding "no." While the party planners had passed on the airplane food theme, it might well have been "airport food" themed—the unifying principle, if there was one, seemed to be generic "normal food": baked chicken drumsticks, little Reuben and grilled cheese sandwiches, pizzas. For a man who has drunk deep from the chocolate fountains of Closer and gorged himself on the monkey bread of Beauty Shop this was intolerable. If I want to eat at Hardees, I muttered to no one in particular, I will move to Nebraska. We come, I continued, to Tinseltown to live a dream and I'm being handed grilled cheese sandwiches? I turned a corner into the bar room and saw looming before me, mocking my every step, a giant bowl of nacho chips and salsa not unlike those found at SuperBowl parties and backyard mixers. I choked down hot tears of rage and strongly considered turning on my heels and storming out then and there. But then I realized: I was hungry, very hungry.
And, actually, once I got over the lack of a chocolate fountain, the food wasn't at all bad. The little Reuben and grilled cheese sandwiches were the perfect size to mingle with and munch on. I found the deep fried olive appetizers a gluttonous delight, although others found them horrifying. The chicken drumsticks were perfectly cooked, moist and plenty of meat on each with a very tangy dipping sauce. he pizza was nothing special and the mini-hamburgers were dry, but sticking with the sandwiches and the Caesar salad, I did alright.
The restaurant, with just a few medium-sized rooms, was a bit overcrowded. More importantly, other than the film's star (a now blonde Rachel McAdams), the Gardens seemed to be celebrity-free. Near the VIP tables, four guys who looked like the least threatening punks in history, and whom I imagine were a band, pressed through the crowd and drew some excited giggles. One young woman told them she loved their REM cover. I am going to guess they were Good Charlotte if that band still exists.
Dessert followed a similar trajectory to the main course: initially terribly disappointing and then not so bad. The mini-chocolate cupcakes were very moist and had a nice, light icing. The lemon tarts were good. I didn't try the oatmeal cookies. A wagon outside offered hot chocolate with whipped cream and your choice of flavored syrup. I chose hazelnut and was satisfied.
In the end I left still puzzled over what the theme of this party was—what was the message the party was trying to send me? On a basic level, the party was Rachel McAdams-themed with giant stills of her providing the only decoration in the room. More interestingly, half the movie (SPOILER ALERT) is set on the ground in no place particularly interesting, so the party may have been a reference to that. But in the end, while it may not have been the night dreams are made, there was enough quality food to have put me, DreamWorks, and Hollywood itself back into the game. And in today's entertainment industry, that is really what it's all about.