artistsweettreatsphoto.jpg
The Weinstein Company (2011)
This should've been a picture of Uggie the Dog.
The Dinner: Columbia City bread and marinated Picholine olives, apple and Manchego

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The Artist and Olivar Are Both Sweet Treats

artistsweettreatsphoto.jpg
The Weinstein Company (2011)
This should've been a picture of Uggie the Dog.
The Dinner: Columbia City bread and marinated Picholine olives, apple and Manchego salad, canelones a la Catalana, and chocolate mousse at Olivar (806 E. Roy).

The Movie: The Artist at the Harvard Exit (807 E. Roy).

The Screenplate: The first line of dialogue in The Artist is, "I won't talk! I won't say a word!" and if you have heard any of the hype about director Michel Hazanavicius' newest film, this should come as absolutely no surprise. I'm here to confirm that the rumors are true: Yes, The Artist is a silent movie with "some talking parts," yes, it is also about the Silent Era of film, and yes, it is lighter and fluffier than chocolate mousse (foodies hang on, I'm getting there).

The moviegoer is transported back to Hollywood of yesteryear, specifically 1927, to follow the fairly-predictable but totally adorable romantic comedy that unfolds between silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and the up-and-coming talking actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). When George refuses to get with the times, it's up to Peppy, George's butler, and a dog to help him out. The Artist is a French film, but you don't really notice; the actors spend the entire movie not talking. However, between the experience of the silent movie and a successful transportation back to an era very few viewers have experienced firsthand, there is certainly something uniquely foreign about the film.

There is something uniquely foreign about Olivar, as well. Purchasing tickets earlier in the day at the Harvard Exit's box office, my date and I were pointedly corrected on our pronunciation when we asked for directions to the restaurant: "It's not 'Oliver,' it's Oli-vaaar "(That is, in the style of Eva Gabor of Green Acres. Turns out it means 'olive grove' in Spanish). To add to the ambiance, Olivar is housed in a fairy tale: the owner decided to leave up the building's original Russian murals, depicting a story detailed to the diner on the back of their menu. Although the art gives the interior an Eastern European flavor, the food remains true to French Chef Philippe Thomelin's roots...in Spain. While he studied at a culinary school in France, Thomelin considers Spain his "adopted homeland." His food is French, but, like the The Artist, you can hardly tell.

Because of the convenience of the affordable tapas-style plates, my date and I bit the bullet and paid the two dollars for a helping of some Columbia City bread, served with a delicious oil bobbing with marinated Picholine olives. Our other small plate consisted of thin slices of extraordinarily fresh honey crisp apple, Manchego cheese and chives, topped with a light dusting of pepper. It was this appetizer that absolutely stole the show. The honey crisp did nothing short of remind me why Washington is the apple capital of the world, and the unexpected pairings (pepper and apple?) were delightful. Overall service tended to be do-it-yourself with the water being left on the table for us to pour, but instead of inattentive, I'd rather describe it as unobtrusive. And unobtrusive was exactly what the fresh-out-of-college crowd that populated Olivar seemed to want.

The Artist is similarly unobtrusive. Only dialogue that is completely essential is given in text; the rest relies on necessary overacting. Yes it is cutesy (wait for the "Timmy fell down the well" scene, my God), but it is consciously, unabashedly, inoffensively cutesy, which, frankly, was a hell of a refreshment after the movie I saw on my last date.When George refuses to act in "talkies" (cutting-edge films where you can actually hear the actors speak) and crashes harder than the Great Depression, The Artist also hits its rock bottom moments. The plot drags itself through lonely sequences detailing the down-and-out actor's black days. George has a lot of people putting up with him, not the least of whom is the audience that has to endure repeated tantrums inflicted by the film's only antagonist, George's pride. Off screen, it proves impossible to not be at least a little charmed by his refusal to get with the picture, but on screen you've got to wonder what Peppy sees in the guy.

Following the main course of beautifully presented canelones a la Catalana served in a red-orange clay bowl that harkened back to Thomelin's time spent in Spain, Olivar paralleled The Artist, hitting its own lowest moments. While the canelones perhaps lacked the same intriguing flavor that I'd hoped the olives and salad foreran, I was only truly underwhelmed by the chocolate mousse dessert, light but again without the bold, experimental flavor that the appetizers had built up.

The same could be said for The Artist: for all the build up, I kept expecting a bold, experimental flavor to be introduced, but like the mousse, it sometimes felt like there persisted an overwhelming absence of wow. Where The Artist wins us over is in its direct induction of nostalgia for an era we've never experienced. Peppy, like the apple and manchego salad, was the charmer, but in the end, maybe that was only because of her honey crisp-sweet adoration for the man who stole her heart.

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