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Recession-minded Wicker Park eatery offers dinner and a movie

05/13/2009 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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FRANK PINC/Staff Photographer
Rodan owner Maripa Abella highlights her love of Asian cinema on Soupline Cinema Sundays.

Banks, stock markets and financial institutions are keplunk. Jobs are disappearing. Wallets are bare. Past extravagances are mere memories as masses hunker down, tighten belts and confront the beast named Recession. The shift is guaranteed to test the spirits of both the financially secure and the cash-strapped.

Stylish Wicker Park eatery Rodan presents an antidote to these low money blues with a Sunday-night special devoted to fine eats, drinks and entertainment — all at single digit prices.

Inspired by the soup kitchens that fed the unemployed and poverty-stricken during the Great Depression, Rodan’s Maripa Abella devised Soupline Cinema Sundays, which melds the restaurant’s fine Asian cuisine and beer with a flick. Every Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m., patrons can get a bowl of Vietnamese pho soup for a mere three dollars. An additional three bucks buys a draft of Three Floyds Pride and Joy ale. Topping the deal is a double feature of Asian cult films screened on the farthest back wall of the sleek restaurant’s dining area. The cumulative result is a “dinner-and-a-movie” one-stop for budget watchers.

The flagship pho is delicious. Rice noodles, scallions, mushrooms, sesame seeds, carrot shavings and fresh cilantro float in a moderately spicy and somewhat salty broth alongside a choice of either thin sliced beef or hearty blocks of cooked tofu. A small serving of hoisin sauce for dipping accompanies.

Though inexpensive, the soup doesn’t scrimp. The dish is surprisingly filling, but not heavy — the perfect fare for days where slight spring chills play tug-of-war with sunshine warmth. This lightness pairs wonderfully with the mild Three Floyds Pride and Joy. The beer’s subtle citrus hints balance the soup’s saltiness.

Asian cinema buff Arbella selects the featured films with guidance from Odd Obsession Movies, a Wicker Park indie rental gem specializing in cinema’s wild side who provides the movies gratis. The selections are appropriately eclectic. Everything from classics (Wong Kar-wai’s “Days of Being Wild,” Akira Kurosawa’s “Stray Dog,” Yasujiro’s Ozu’s “Good Morning”) to cult faves (Ronny Yu’s “The Bride with White Hair,” Sammo Hung’s “Encounters of the Spooky Kind,” and Hua Shan’s “The Super Inframan”) are represented, promising something for all variety of tastes.

Despite the high quality of cinematic selections, their presentations are an unfortunate afterthought and reduce the films to mere visual ambiance. Rodan’s overhead music plays during the screenings, making the soundtrack near impossible to hear. The din of customer conversation doesn’t help, either. Subtitles help comprehension some, but the distractions may prove too overpowering for those hoping to experience the films to their fullest. Overall, a small concession considering the surrounding bargains.

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