The Dinner: Lotus curry and taro custard at Lotus Thai Cuisine (2101 N. 45th St.)
The Screenplate: Maybe what we all love so much about Paul Giamatti is that he cuts the crap. When he snatched the Golden Globe this year for his role as Barney Panofsky, the Jewish English-speaking man with Alzheimer's recounting his life in Barney's Version, he looked into the camera and said "I'm so jacked up from eating too many of the Godiva chocolates handed out at the ceremony!" And we believed him. Now, as the struggling attorney and high-school wrestling coach Mike Flaherty in Win Win, it's hard not to believe every minute of the act. Giamatti is accompanied by many other actors who, at some point, we've also believed to be real human beings. Amy Ryan, who sports the ankle tat "JBJ" for Jon Bon Jovi (a good excuse to play ironic Bon Jovi tune "Have a Nice Day") and a zany cardigan, plays his nurturing wife. Now that she has a 7-month-old of her own in real life, Ryan has the "mother thing" down. She does, however, look naked on the big screen without Michael Scott, her flirtatious counterpart on The Office.The character development at the beginning of the film is painfully slow -- and that's what makes it so funny. Alex Chaffer -- who plays Kyle, Giamatti's client's teenage grandson -- had the audience cringing with every one of his awkward one-word responses. And it only made his shining moment that much more radiant when he explained his token wrestling move: "Do Whatever the Fuck You Need to Do to Get Out." But don't be mistaken: This flick isn't really about wrestling. When Giamatti takes in Chaffer, and we learn he possesses stupefyingly awesome skills on the mat, Win Win looks like it might turn into another Blind Side. You know how it goes: Conservative cul-de-sac mummy takes in homeless kid/star athlete, helps raise his grades, and the sappy storyline culminates with a maternal bond that transcends initial limitations -- and ultimately, an Academy Award for its leading actress.
God bless Tom McCarthy, because the director just won't have it this way. Instead, McCarthy proposes a much more realistic sequence of events, with a lot less Disney fluff. If nothing else, Win Win is about laughing at the amount of times someone says the word "shit," doing the same at Giamatti's best friend and co-coach for his vaguely pedophilic comments, and generally noting everything as inherent irony.
The genre of Lotus Thai Cuisine is a bit harder to pin (to the mat). From the outside, it looks like a stale Wallingford antique shop, with a glass case of dishware one might find in a Bangkok Hallmark. Add to that a few golden statues and figurines, tacky electro-globes, and dramatic blue drapings with white lace, and it might seem as if the restaurant's motto should be "Leave no square inch behind."
It's possible you don't want to go into any restaurant an hour before closing. And it's also possible that at Lotus you're going to hear the cook badmouthing you in Thai if you do (bring a translator). But it's hard to pass up any restaurant of this caliber that opens its doors to the public until 10 p.m. To be safe -- and to also look like a Lotus veteran -- I ordered the namesake curry. The food arrived promptly, presumably because no one was there, and the dish was spicier than I imagined it would be (the star system is a corrupt system) and in a pretty generous serving size. Tofu, broccoli, carrots, bamboo, and other assorted vegetable were accompanied by a signature curry paste and white rice.
The taro custard that came out for dessert was spongy and flan-like, and I'm OK with that. The total for both entrees was just over $14; more than OK with that too. Good food at an affordable price goes down in the books as a "win win." Unfortunately, the meal wasn't accompanied by any Bon Jovi. But I still "Had a Nice Day."