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"The Restaurant" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/28/2003

When doing a review of a reality show that focuses on a specific subject or occupation, it helps to get the opinion of someone in that field.  When writing my review for NBC’s “The Restaurant,” I consulted an expert in the field…my brother.  He has worked in the restaurant field for about six and a half years and has seen it all.  I had him watch the second episode, and he said it felt like he was at work, because it accurately depicted the real life restaurant experience.


The show is about New York chef Rocco DiSpirito, a first-generation Italian-American restaurant entrepreneur, and his attempt to open an Italian restaurant in Soho called Rocco’s.  According to his bio, he has been running Union Pacific in Manhattan for years and most recently contributed his expertise to a midtown restaurant named Tuscan.  He was voted one of People’s “Sexiest Men Alive.”  Rocco grew up ashamed of his Italian heritage, but now embraces it, and now wants Rocco’s to resemble his grandma’s house and employs his own mother, Nicolina, as the Head Chef.  The first step was securing the location.  He finds a place in Soho called Canteen that he loves and tells his financier, Jeffrey Chodorow, all about it.  Jeffrey meets Rocco at the restaurant to check it out and it is there that Jeffrey is served a subpoena restricting his ability to buy it.  This is a big blow, because Jeffrey has only given Rocco a seven-week deadline to find a space, get it ready, hire a staff, and open his restaurant.  Rocco’s publicist, Matt, has booked him on two high-profile promotional appearances, on the Z-100 Morning Show and on NBC’s “The Today Show.”  He stresses the first one, because he has yet to secure a restaurant.  Fortunately, he finds a spacious restaurant in Manhattan, formerly called the Commune, before the TV promotion, where he puts out a call for staff auditions.  Hundreds arrive, but he is only allowed to hire one hundred people.  This includes waiters, waitresses, bartenders, runners, managers, and sous chefs.  Out of the many people hired, Gideon and Topher were the most memorable.  Gideon was the first in line, the first one hired, and the biggest goofball (I’ll have more on him later.)  Topher is an openly gay waiter, and you could tell quickly he was going to be successful just on his personality (more on him later as well.)  After hiring the staff, the biggest problem was getting the restaurant ready before the “soft opening” (an opening filled with invited guests intended to be a testing ground for the restaurant.  No one pays, though they will get a bill to see what they would be charged, and they are allowed to leave tips.)  They pull it off just in time, but other problems arise at the soft opening.


This brings us to the second episode (the one my brother watched.)  Rocco’s has its soft opening, and everything that could go wrong does.  They run out of utensils and red wine, the latter of which sends one waiter out with a customer’s credit card to get more (he comes back to find out that they did have more red wine.)  There is a fire in the kitchen.  Customers complain about the waiters and waiters complain about the customers.  The next day Rocco makes some hard decisions.  He fires a few people, demotes Gideon from waiter to runner, and praises Topher as the model for all other waiters to follow (it’s worthy praise, because he seemed to be the only staff member to have his act together.)  Gideon has to scrub toilets, and in the last scene of the episode, he is being sent to the hospital after slipping and falling on a stack of plates (and his manager tells him “That’s life…go home.”)  There are celebrities who visit on opening day.  Fran Drescher and the Coors Light Twins visit (shocker on the latter one…since Coors is one of the sponsors of the show.)  In one hilarious scene, a family that another customer describes as “The Sopranos” visits.  The “Tony” of this family praises his mama’s meatballs over the restaurant’s, but when Mama Nicolina comes out to visit the table, he praises her meatballs over his mama’s (with his mama giving him the evil eye.)  The preview for next week shows more problems, arguing, and the return of Gideon from the hospital.


My brother had gushing praise for the show.  Any complaints he had were about the people on it and not the show itself.  His biggest complaint (and one I had noticed myself) was that he couldn’t understand how they hired people with such limited knowledge of the menu.  He said that he has always made it a point to learn everything on the menu, since it is too much trouble to have to find out that information when customers ask.  He thought Gideon was an idiot and should have been fired (actually, I think he was confusing Gideon with another waiter named Pete.  I made that same mistake.)  Like Rocco, he thought Topher was the best waiter (he also thinks he’s worked with him before.  Hey, Topher…have you ever worked for a restaurant in the Denver area?)


What about my opinion of the show as a TV geek critic and reality show junkie?  I love it!  I don’t know jack about the restaurant business, since my experience working with food is limited to one day behind the concession stand for a movie theater (hence the consultation from my brother), but the drama of the show was exciting.  It should come as no surprise, since Mark Burnett, the producer of “Survivor” and WB’s recent “Boarding House: North Shore,” produces the show.  The man knows how to produce drama.  I bet he could make house painting exciting.


I have to respond to a comment Topher made on the second episode.  He said that Rocco should spend more time being a “celebrity chef” and less time being a “celebrity.”  I’m not sure if Topher realizes that a big part of the success of Rocco’s restaurant is his ability to schmooze celebrities.  If Rocco can keep the restaurant hot by playing “celebrity,” Topher will keep his job.  I like the guy, but Topher has to realize that there is a method to Rocco’s madness.


Now, I have one minor complaint.  The product placement is gratuitous.  The Coors plugs are obvious, but some of the other ones are a little sneaky.  The credit card that the customer gave Pete to get some red wine was an American Express card.  During the first episode, he is putting gas in his Mitsubishi, and in the second episode, that Mitsubishi is towed away.  To its credit, the product placements aren’t as sickening as they are on “American Idol,” and they actually fit well into the “story” of this show.

When I heard that “The Restaurant” was going to end the summer run of “Law & Order: Crime & Punishment” early, I was upset, but the show is a good substitution.  If you work in a restaurant, it will be disturbingly real to you.  If you don’t work in a restaurant, you will be entertained anyway, and maybe you will get a small idea of what goes on behind the scenes of your favorite restaurant.  Maybe we can have this show and my favorite “actually ripped from the headlines” reality show run back-to-back, and get rid of “Law & Order: Columbo was Better,” currently running reruns before it.


Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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