Kris and I went on another date tonight. We had a good time.

I met Kris downtown at her office and we walked a couple of blocks to Veritable Quandary, a venerable (but hip) upscale Portland restaurant.

Veritable Quandary is built of brick and hardwood and glass. The building feels old; it would not be out of place in Boston. The entry leads directly to a long, narrow bar, packed with people at 5 p.m. on a weeknight, sitting and standing in Oregon raingear but posh — these are lawyers and executives, an upscale clientele.

We didn’t have reservations but politely asked if we might get a table for two this early in the evening. The host was reluctant, but he accommodated us. His voice and actions made it clear that we were imposing, creating difficulties with his scheduling, but he let us in nonetheless.

The service was excellent. The staff was attentive. Our table was kept clean, our water glasses filled. Kris’ coffee was always hot. We were never kept waiting between courses.

The menu was somewhat intimidating (I’m not sure why), but we were both pleased with our selections. To start, Kris had a salad of wild greens with toasted leeks and cave-aged (!) gruyere cheese with which she was well-pleased. My appetizer was unusual: grilled Black Angus beef on a skewer with a Peruvian (!) marinade of red wine vinegar. What made the marinade Peruvian? The beef had only a subtle, mild flavoring. It was served with potato slices and a hard-boiled egg (!) and a sort of mustard sauce. The combination was unusual, but good.

For the main course, Kris selected the wild-mushroom raviolis with crisp duck confit. She liked it (I wouldn’t try it due to the mushrooms), but it cannot have been as good as my meal, which was fantastic. I opted for Oregon venison served with mashed potatoes and roasted onions. Outstanding! Perhaps all venison is this good, though I suspect that’s unlikely. The meat was smooth and flavorful, encrusted with pepper and seasonings. The potatoes were unique: creamy but firm, a perfect compliment to the venison. The onions and some wild greens provided additional flavor.

Though we were both stuffed, we decided to try our luck at dessert. We’re glad we did. Kris had a Tiramasu with an espresso filling. I selected lemon curd ice cream served with a selection of cakes and cookies. Both desserts were delicious. The lemon curd ice cream was thick, thicker and richer than any ice cream I’ve had before. The cookies, most of them chocolate, were passable but a perfect compliment to the ice cream.

Last July, Andrew and I went to the Veritable Quandary for brunch one Sunday. We were unimpressed. The service was poor — we were the only customers in the restaurant at 2 p.m. on a Sunday — and the food vastly over-priced. Our experience last night began poorly and I was prepared to hate the place. After such an exquisite meal, however, my opinion has altered for the favorable.

After dinner, Kris and I completed our quest to see every Oscar nominee for Best Picture. In the Bedroom is a nearly-perfect film, one of the best films I have ever seen. (Note that I do not say that it is one of my favorite films; I say that it’s one of the best films I’ve seen.)

There is little that I can say that Roger Ebert has not already said in his review:

**** (R)

December 25, 2001

Matt Fowler: Tom Wilkinson
Ruth Fowler: Sissy Spacek
Frank Fowler: Nick Stahl
Strout: William Mapother
Natalie: Marisa Tomei
Miramax presents a film directed by Todd Field. Written by Robert Fetsinger and Field, based on a short story by Andre Dubus. Running time: 130 minutes. Rated R (for some violence and language).


Todd Field’s “In the Bedroom” only slowly reveals its real subject in a story that has a shocking reversal at the end of the first act, and then looks more deeply than we could have guessed into the lives of its characters. At first, it seems to be about a summer romance. At the end, it’s about revenge–not just to atone for a wound, but to prove a point. The film involves love and violence, and even some thriller elements, but it is not about those things. It is about two people so trapped in opposition that one of them must break.

The story opens in sunshine and romance. Frank Fowler (Nick Stahl) is in love with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei). He’ll be a new graduate student in the autumn. She is in her 30s, has two children, is estranged from Richard (William Mapother), who is a rich kid and an abusive husband. Frank’s parents are worried. “This is not some sweetie from Vassar you can visit on holidays,” his mother tells him. “You’re not in this alone.”

“We’re not serious, Mom,” Frank says. “It’s a summer thing.”

“I see,” says his mother. She sees clearly that Frank really does love Natalie–and she also sees that Frank’s father may be vicariously enjoying the relationship, proud that his son has conquered an attractive older woman.

Ruth Fowler (Sissy Spacek) is a choral director at the local high school. Her husband, Matt (Tom Wilkinson), is the local doctor in their Maine village. On the local social scale, they are a step above the separated Natalie and her husband, whose money comes from the local fish business. Is Ruth a snob? She wouldn’t think so. The Fowlers pride themselves on being intelligent, open-minded, able to talk about things with their son (who does not want to talk about anything with them). We sense that their household accommodates enormous silences, that the parents and their son have each retreated to a personal corner to nurse wounds.

Then something happens. A review should not tell you what it is. It changes our expectations for the story, which turns out to be about matters more deeply embedded in the heart than we could have imagined. The film unfolds its true story, which is about the marriage of Matt and Ruth–about how hurt and sadness turn to anger and blame. There are scenes as true as movies can make them, and even when the story develops thriller elements, they are redeemed, because the movie isn’t about what happens, but about why.

“In the Bedroom” is the first film directed by Todd Field, an actor (“Eyes Wide Shut,” “The Haunting”), and is one of the best-directed films this year. It’s based on a story by the late Andre Dubus, the Massachusetts-based writer who died in 1999, and who worked with Field on the adaptation before his death. It works with indirection; the events on the screen are markers for secret events in the hearts of the characters, and the deepest insight is revealed, in a way, only in the last shot.

Every performance has perfect tone: Nick Stahl as the man who is half in love with a woman and half in love with being in love; Marisa Tomei, who is wiser than her young lover, and protective toward him, because she understands better than he does the problems they face; William Mapother as the abusive husband, never more frightening than when he tries to be conciliatory and apologetic; William Wise and Celia Weston as the Grinnels, the Fowlers’ best friends.

And Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. They know exactly what they’re doing, they understand their characters down to the ground, they are masters of the hidden struggle beneath the surface. Spacek plays a reasonable and civil wife and mother who has painful issues of her own; there is a scene where she slaps someone, and it is the most violent and shocking moment in a violent film. Wilkinson lives through his son more than he admits, and there is a scene where he surprises Frank and Natalie alone together, and finds a kind of quiet relish in their embarrassment. When Matt and Ruth lash out at each other, when the harsh accusations are said aloud, we are shocked but not surprised; these hard notes were undertones in their civilized behavior toward each other. Not all marriages can survive hard times.

Most movies are about plot, and chug from one stop to the next. Stephen King, whose book, On Writing, contains a lot of good sense, argues for situation over plot; he suggests that if you do a good job of visualizing your characters, it is best to put them into a situation and see what happens, instead of chaining them to a plot structure. Todd Field and Andre Dubus use the elements of plot, but only on the surface, and the movie’s title refers not to sex but to the secrets, spoken, unspoken and dreamed, that are shared at night when two people close the door after themselves.

If you like fine film drama, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

According to the Weather Channel (and every other weather source I can find), we’re likely to have a white St. Patrick’s day. Bizarre.

Special weather statement
National Weather Service Portland or
950 PM PST Thu Mar 14 2002

…An unseasonably cold storm system still expected to produce very low snow Levels Friday night into the weekend…

A very cold storm system is still expected to organize near Vancouver Island on Friday then Drop South into the area Friday night into the weekend. Snow Levels will initially fall to 1000 feet by Friday afternoon…Then down to 500 feet late Friday night through Saturday. This should still allow snow to mix with rain in the lower valleys with mostly snow above 500 feet where some accumulation is possible. It still remains possible that mixed precipitation in the lower valleys could Turn to all snow for a time…Especially Saturday morning producing light sticking snow. Thunderstorms are also possible Saturday as the atmosphere will be very unstable.

The latest recorded snowfall at the Portland international airport stands at nearly 1 inch on the 10th of March 1951. Any accumulation would set a new record for the latest snowfall at the airport.


On 14 March 2005 (08:07 PM),
J.D. said:

Three years later, I have to say: this is strong praise for a film I barely remember.

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