Monday, October 28, 2013

Spinning Plates

Joseph Levy's "Spinning Plates" bills itself as a documentary about three extraordinary restaurants, but it's actually about two extraordinary restaurants and an ordinary one.

The first is Chicago's Alinea, the highest-rated restaurant in America, where chef Grant Achatz practices molecular gastronomy, the culinary bailiwick of Spain's Ferran Adrià and José Andrés. I've experienced several meals by Andrés at SAAM, the private restaurant at the back of The Bazaar in Beverly Hills' SLS hotel, and it's always a unique sensory experience. The second restaurant is Breitbach's, a sixth-generation restaurant in tiny Balltown, Iowa, where regulars have their own keys and it's not unheard of for two thousand people from across the Midwest to come through the door on Mother's Day. Levy's third subject is La Cocina de Gabby, a Mexican restaurant in a Tucson strip mall, the labor of love of an immigrant couple trying to stay open, provide for their young daughter, and keep their house from foreclosure.

It made headlines when Achatz, the Alinea wunderkind, contracted Stage 4 tongue cancer, giving him a 60% chance of dying within a year and threatening him with the loss of his olfactory senses. Breitbach's, which had stood in the same spot since 1852, suddenly burned to the ground in 2007. The entire community contributed money and man-hours to rebuilding, only for the unthinkable to happen: the new restaurant burned down several months later. These stories are frankly far more compelling than the Martinez family's, which is not without its poignant moments but lacks especial noteworthiness. Still, Levy does well to keep the pot boiling, moving from subject to subject without sacrificing the momentum of each. And, if nothing else, his movie is a feast for the senses. My audience applauded.

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