Nargis Cafe: Borat May Not Approve, But I Do

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For this one, credit will have to go to my grandparents. They spent the entire summer nagging that we needed to eat here, but for one reason or another it took forever to actually go. It’s a small, cozy Uzbeki restaurant (don’t let Borat’s opinion of the country deter you though), with outdoor seating and a friendly atmosphere, though the music is much too loud; it’s a restaurant, not a club, and people actually want to hear each other talk. Get with the program. If you’re going to go, go with a group because, as you’re about to see, the appetizer portions only come in family style sizes. And if you only speak english, don’t worry the menu has translations. Oh, and you can BYOB, or at least they didn’t care that we had our own stuff, so bring what you like.

The Appetizers

Non

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Okay, I’m cheating here. This is more of a side than an Appetizer, but it’s the first thing we ate so just go with it. The non is okay, but nothing special. It comes in warm, which is great, but not fluffy enough on the inside. On its own it was only okay, but it worked nicely when incorporated with other dishes.

Spring Salad with Cheese

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I should note at this point that I wasn’t involved in ordering any of the apps, so this may have not been the most original thing to go with. Having said that, that’s exactly my complaint with the salad; it’s plain and generic. The ingredients tasted fresh enough I guess, but at the end of the day it’s the same old salad that one might get at any other slavic restaurant. It tasted fine I guess, but nothing to go out of my way to get; feel free to ignore this and try something more fun.

Fried Eggplant Salad

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As someone who doesn’t normally like eggplant at all, this was a delightful surprise. It’s light, with a hint of spice, and a good cold app considering the weather was death outside. Save the non, and eat it with this; it works wonderfully as a spread for the bread. Or eat it on its own, what the fuck do I know.

The Soup

Lagman

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This is soup’s a real winner; it was also an integral part of my grandparents’ pitch to get us to go here. Last year for brother’s birthday, we took the family to Ippudo for some of the best ramen in NYC. So when it came to selling Nargis Cafe, they kept repeating, “they have soup just like the japanese place.” Let me tell you now, the soup is good, but it’s no ippudo. It’s also not a ramen, so I’m not sure why the comparison was being made in the first place. Point being, it’s very good, maybe even great. The broth has a nice thickness to it, not too thick that it makes the whole soup feel too heavy, but thick enough that it doesn’t just taste like flavored water. It’s also spicy, not very spicy, but it’ll slowly build up as you slurp away. In the soup were also homemade noodles, some diced beef, and vegetables. The noodles were lovely, a smidge flat and soft. Brother claimed they were udon noodles, I don’t think that’s the case. Similar, maybe, but not actually udon noodles. the meat was well cooked and soaked up the broth well so you got a lot of flavor out of the meat. The veggies didn’t do much for me though, at least not the peppers. They were just…well there, I can’t say they added anything unless you really like bell peppers. But there’s so much going on in the soup already, they felt largely unnecessary. Also, I should note here, there are two soup sizes. The menu doesn’t say this, but you can order a half-soup, which is the size of the above photo. I don’t know how big the full size is, but I can tell you, you don’t need the full size. You’re working your way through a lot of food here, let’s not get greedy, you’ll be stuffed by the end anyway.

Hot Entrees

Let’s get the disappointment out of the way first.

Samsa

I don’t even have a photo for this one because it just wasn’t worth remembering. Brother ordered this one, and he probably wishes he could forget it ASAP. The Samsa is a meat pie, except there’s way too much bread, and the meat is just not that good. Poor guy, he was warned not to order it, but he went ahead anyway. He wanted to try something new and, alas, things did not go his way. This is a critique of only the meat samsa, they also have a pumpkin samsa, but I doubt it’s any better. With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Manti

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I. Love. Dumplings. And god damn it these were good! They’re steamed meat dumplings and are lightly seared to brown the dough just enough to add some nice color. the filling is really superb, meaty, and soft, and tender. Brother claims that one of his dumplings was too chewy, that he may have gotten a fatty piece in there (he hates fat in meat, weirdo) but I didn’t have the same complaint with any of the ones I ate. So I’m going to chalk this complaint to either a freak mistake that no one else tasted, or he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Get the manti and enjoy.

Chebureki

No photo for this one either, not because it was bad, but because people ate it too quickly before I had a chance to get my phone out for the photo. I also started filling up here too much and still had more food on the way, so I only ate a small sliver. These are deep fried meet pies, flatter than the samsa, and much tastier. The dough wasn’t really that memorable, but the meat tasted great, from the small amount I had. Everyone else seemed to love it, so I’ll just adopt their opinion here. I was kinda starting to die from the amount of food I’ve had at this point, so you guys might want to order less when you go.

The Kebab

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What you see here, is a single piece of kebab. Don’t let this fool you, there was originally a whole skewer of them just for me. What happened here was a two part problem. The first, I was so out of it from all the food by this time, that I forgot to take a photo right away (this was the last piece from my skewer). The second is that it smelled so good, I dove in much too quickly and didn’t remember to take a photo until the food sedation kicked in again. Having said that, I had the lamb kebab, and it was delicious. It was moist, tender, and beautifully cooked, if not maybe a little under-seasoned. It also came with a mountain of onions soaked in lemon juice. I say soaked, but I really mean drowned. The lemon was way too strong. There was also a skewer of beef kebab going around, but that one didn’t really tickle my fancy. It was overcooked, much too chewy, and just didn’t compare to the lamb. The skewers come with 4-5 pieces, and you might be thinking to yourself, “I’m gonna need more than one skewer if that’s all I’m getting.” You’re wrong, take it from me, by the time you get to the kebabs, you’ll barely be conscious enough to complete full sentences, much less eat more than one skewer. The food coma will be strong, but damn well worth it.

Fries

I won’t waste much time on this, but someone ordered fries for the table and they were worthless. They didn’t fit the rest of the meal, nor were they good on their own. There’s enough food here that you don’t need to concern yourself with such a bad side dish.

One final note. This didn’t happen to me, but apparently this is the case. You need to tell them that you don’t want all your food coming at once, or they’ll send out all the food at once. So just let them know that you don’t want all the food sent out at once and you’ll be good to go. Or have all the food at once, maybe that’s the more fun way to go. Do whatever you want.

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Dark Knight Rises… Then Falls… Then Rises (Spoilers)

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In true Tork of the Town fashion, I’m now two weeks late to getting around to this film, but better late than never. And after my worries that it would flop after the greatness that was The Dark Knight, it alleviated my worries…mostly. I can’t say this film tops, or even matches, The Dark Knight, but it sure came close. LIke the previous films, the direction was great, the writing was fantastic, and the acting excellent, except for the Batman growl, I’ll never be comfortable with that. I also have to commend Christopher Nolan for finally getting good female characters into the plot, played by brilliant actresses. Let’s face it, Rachel Dawes was a terrible character and neither Katie Holmes nor Maggie Gyllenhal brought anything of value to the table. Here we had the Marion Cotillard being her usual brilliant self as Talia al Ghul, and Anne Hathaway doing a great job playing a more realistic Catwoman. Though, Nolan should have probably spent more time building the relationship between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Selina Kyle/Catwoman in order to make the ending more believable, which brings me to the other issue I had with the film. The ending was a bit disappointing, but we’ll get to that later. Every review probably already has the generic pros and cons of the film, so I want to stray away from that a bit and focus on just the particulars I found interesting.

The Villains

Anyone who reads the Batman comics learns one thing very quickly about the villains; their all a mirror of Batman; each one reflects how Bruce Wayne could have turned out if something about his upbringing was only a little different than it was. My love for this film, and the series in general, is how well they were able to keep up the idea of the mirror. There be spoilers below, this be the last warning if you don’t want anything spoiled (though IMDB’s cast list already ruins enough).

Bane

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The first thing I need to say about Bane, is a huge thank you to Christopher Nolan for making bane the intelligent mercenary (pictured above) and not, well this (fuck you Joel Schumacher, fuck you): Image

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s get down to it. The story of Bane that we have by the end of the film is that he was a prisoner of the world’s worst prison, and was horribly injured during his attempt to help Talia al Ghul escape as a child. The injuries along with the shoddy repair job by the prison doctor, forced Bane to wear a mask to keep the pain at bay. He’s eventually freed by the League of Shadows, and subsequently cast out of the league. Like Bruce Wayne, his past is dark and full of horror. Like Bruce Wayne, these horrors are what made him a stronger and harder man, and like Bruce Wayne, he was trained by the best, both physically and mentally. He is Batman’s equal, maybe even a superior in some ways. He matches Batman in both strength and intelligence, and has resources behind him that, though much different, match the resources that Bruce Wayne provides for Batman. Most importantly, they both had someone who they loved, who helped fuel their reason to fight. For Bruce it was the love he had for the parents he lost, then replaced by the love he had for Rachel and his need to protect her and the city. For Bane, it was the love he had for the child he saved who in turn would save him from the same pit of dispair. But Bane, unlike Batman, was led astray because of his love, granted we don’t know who he was and what he was before he ended up in that prison, but the life of hardship that he endured, and the decision to embrace the corrupt teachings of the League of Shadows, so that he may remain with the person he loved, made him a powerful villain. Though Bruce had a hard life growing up, he still had morally good guardians watching over him, whether they were his parents or his butler. And though Bruce delved into the world of darkness to make himself stronger, he was only a visitor. Bane puts it best when he says that he was born into the world of darkness, and that the shadows betrayed Batman because they belonged to Bane. It’s these differences that create the mirror to Batman; Bane is strong, smart, and determined. But the experiences have made him Batman’s opposite, and show what Batman could have been if Bruce stayed with the League.

Talia al Ghul

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The next villain, the true mastermind behind the events of DKR is Talia al Ghul, who went by the name Miranda (people who might have checked IMDB early on would have had this spoiled as they had her listed as both characters, they’ve fixed it since then at least). Her  character’s history from the movie, is basically Bane’s actual history form the comics. I don’t know why they decided to change her story line and switch it with Bane’s. The revealing of her character at the end of the movie was interesting enough, and it took everything away from Bane’s character to know that she was the one who escaped the pit, and not Bane. Whatever, what’s done is done I guess. But, based on Talia’s movie history, we again see a character that is mirrored to Batman and shows what he could have been. Talia is born in the prison that Bane was in, where her mother is serving a life sentence for Talia’s father. Like Bruce, she experiences the loss of her parents (her mother is killed in prison and she doesn’t meet her father till later). During the time she remains in prison she is raised by someone who cares for her, same as Bruce, though where he got a morally good and loving guardian, Alfred, she had Bane, someone who has done something bad enough to end up in that prison in the first place. When she finally gets out of prison, she reunites with her father, Ra’s al Ghul (and it’s pronounced Raish not Ras, one of the more annoying things about the trilogy for me), who is now the head of the League of Shadows and trains her as a member of the League. Her father then dies as a result of Batman’s actions. This of course is the greatest irony as Ra’s al Ghul’s death was due to the actions of a man who lost his parents to the actions of Ra’s al Ghul’s League (Bruce’s parents were killed by a mugger, who was poor and disenfranchised due to the Depression that was occurring, which was created by the League in an effort to destroy the city). Though she’s not as physically capable as Batman, she shows tactical superiority to him, and was much better at hiding her true identity than Batman (seriously, who didn’t know that Bruce was Batman by the end of the film). Her intellect more than compensates for what she may lack physically, and again we see that she is a mirror to what Batman could have been. Like Bruce, she is avenging her father’s death, but unlike Bruce her morals came from men who never taught her that killing was wrong, so while Batman tries to bring criminals to justice in an effort to avenge the death of his parents, she seeks to complete her father’s mission while getting personal vengeance against Bruce (first she takes Bruce’s money via Bane’s trip to the Stock Exchange, then she gets Bruce to give her his seat on the Board of his company, and then she tries to take his life). And again, she resembles of Bruce would have become if he ended up leading the League as Ra’s originally intended.

Scarecrow

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Even though he wasn’t a major villain in this movie, the Scarecrow is worth mentioning as he has managed to find his way into all three films. With Scarecrow, we see Batman’s mirror in his use of fear and his dispelling of justice. The former is technically more about Batman Begins than Dark Knight Rises, but Scarecrow, like Batman, uses fear to achieve his goals. The difference of course being that Scarecrow used fear for personal gain, while Batman used fear for both personal and societal gain. Now, in the third movie, we also saw Scarecrow acting as a Judge, dishing out sentences to everyone that Bane’s gang rounded up as enemies. Batman of course also considers himself an officer of justice, but unlike Scarecrow did not consider everyone who wronged him automatically guilty, and did not sentence everyone to a painful death. Scarecrow is the aspect of Batman taken to the extreme, he shows us what using fear for your advantage can lead to, and how strict justice can lead to injustice.

Homage to Comics

I’ve read a decent amount of the Batman comics and it brought me so much pleasure to see little references pop up here and there; these are the few that stuck out the most for me.

You’re in for a show kid

The first comic book reference I spotted popped up when Batman finally made his reappearance in Gotham. The cops are chasing down Bane’s gang from the Stock Exchange incident, when all the lights start to black out, and something zooms by a cop car. The rookie is completely clueless to what happened, but the veteran cop just relaxes and tells the rookie to enjoy the show as we then see Batman with his batpod. Though the events are different from the comic, the little snippet of dialogue, came almost word for word from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. In both stories, Batman just made a grand appearance after spending a significant amount of time secluded from his “work.” As the grand appearance is made, a rookie and a veteran are chasing criminals in a cop car and the veteran told the rookie that they were “in for a show.” It’s a great moment for the obvious reason that no matter what people thought of the Batman at that point, there were still those who remembered him for who he really was, and still supported him, while the rookies struggle between being in awe of the legend, and their duty to stop vigilantes.

I Will Break You

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This might be one of the most famous moments in Batman/Bane history. In the Batman story “Knightfall” Batman ends up in a fight with Bane, who breaks Batman’s back as he tells Batman that he will break him, which is precisely what we saw happen in DKR. Bane and Batman finally meet and begin their first battle against each other, and Bane knocks him around like a rag doll. This all culminates with Bane telling Batman that he will break him then, just like in the comic, he lifts batman over his head throws Batman down onto his knee, breaking Batman’s back. It was such a truly epic moment in the comics, and it makes me so happy that they were able to implement it in the movie in such a great way.

Gangs Ruling the City

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This wasn’t an exact reference to anything in particular, but paralleled closely with “No Man’s Land” and one of the chapters of Dark Knight Rises. In both stories we have cataclysmic events that lead to a dystopian society led by various gangs. We then see Batman lead a personal army to reclaim the city. In No Man’s Land Batman works with Gordon to systemically take back the city from the various villains who have claimed ownership of different areas of Gotham. In Dark Knight Returns Batman brings together an army of Batman followers to take back the city from the gangs who were rampaging through it.

The Ending

As promised, here’s my issue with the ending. This movie, and the previous films, showed us that Bruce would give everything to protect his city, including his life. We were also presented with the “smoking gun” as Wayne complains to Fox about the lack of autopilot in The Bat. So, when Batman sacrifices himself at the end to save the city it’s a bittersweet and appropriate ending. We also see his legacy live on with Blake, whose real name is Robin, who gets access to the Batcave, thus showing that Batman truly was more than a person, he was an idea that would live on long after Bruce. I twas an ending I could accept. Then things took a turn and we find out that Bruce survived, and left with Selina to be together. I don’t buy it, Bruce will always be Batman, it’s a part of him that he will never be able to get rid of. In many previous works we know that Bruce’s subconscious refers to him as Batman not Bruce. So I don’t buy that Bruce would be able to throw in the towel like that. Granted, they gave us a second smoking gun with Alfred’s story about how he always hoped he would see Bruce in that cafe in Florence with a woman, and they would just nod at each other. But this is just such a cop out to me. Out of fear that the ending would be too dark, they gave us an ending that cheapened the work overall. It’s a shame too, because the movie otherwise really hit it out of the ball park.

I loved the movie, I really did. The villains once again were presented in a realistic way, while keeping faith with the comics. The story was fantastic, and in some ways on an even grander scale than what we had with The Dark Knight. Most importantly, it left me nostalgic for what I still consider to be one of the greatest Batman works, and shows, of all time, Batman: The Animated Series. So, I’ll leave you with one of the greatest show intros of all time.