Accurately promoted as a breath of fresh air in the reality format, “The Restaurant” makes its debut with a highlight reel that condenses two months of preparations and construction of the Manhattan eatery Rocco’s. Chef Rocco DiSpirito has sex appeal, drive and an affinity for la famiglia that should charm viewers, regardless of their taste in cuisine. First two segments are not all that scintillating on their own – “The Restaurant” is about a building, hiring a staff and watching people work – but as is the case with so many unscripted shows, a sharp editing eye can make anything enjoyable.
DiSpirito has his heart set on a basement level setting at Mercer and Prince streets in downtown Manhattan for his new Italian eatery, but that idea is quickly shot down by his financier, Jeffrey Chodorow, whose research digs up financial snafus that need to be settled before moving in. Their extended location hunt results in a shortened timeframe; by the time they decide on the site of the shuttered Commune restaurant, they have six weeks to turn it into Rocco’s.
With the clock ticking, DiSpirito focuses solely on the new venue – rarely is he seen venturing into his established New York restaurant Union Pacific. He goes on the “Today” show to announce “The Restaurant’s” casting call – oops, this is reality, remember? They announce a day of hiring wait staff and cooks – and there’s a good chance some of the folks who work at Rocco’s are not actors.
A funny segment during the interviews demonstrates how awful “I’m a people person” can sound. Even funnier comes in episode two when the strain of opening a restaurant finds some frayed nerves among the waiters and waitresses. In complete sincerity, one comes close to breaking down, offering “napkin folding is stressing me out.”
Like any building project with a deadline, it gets pretty obvious at the 24-hour mark that the soft opening will be with rented tables and chairs and lacking in some other amenities. Through it all, and into episode two that kicks off with DiSpirito at a photo shoot, he is star, director, psychologist, parent and drill sergeant – it’s chef as superman. And in front of the camera, he comes off as the one with the least amount of ego driving decisions at Rocco’s.
To get the show made, NBC brought in corporate sponsors Coors Light, American Express and Mitsubishi. The first two are a cringe-inducing portion of the main title though their presence during the show is benign. The car maker, though, may want to rethink the affiliation: Their most prominent mention comes at the end of the second episode as DiSpirito’s SUV is being towed away.