Pros: Colorful, interesting look at the busness,
Cons: Not completely a foodie book (but that's okay!)
Reviewed by Jim Berman
Joe Bastianich’s Restaurant Man is a manifesto on business, the business of food, the business of people, New York business and the business of wine, all colored with red, white and green; the Italian flag, wines and money. Vehemently and aggressively Italian, this restaurant man makes no apologies for being a real bastard about making people cry tears of joy and tears of profound misery. But he’ll shake your hand and make you smile about dropping a cool grand for dinner for you and the family. Restaurant Man is as much about ego as it is a primer for doing the math of running a successful restaurant, far and away from the “greasy bag of deep-fired easy.” More access to information about running a sound operation, you need not. He gives you the percentages on the opening page.
Any book that peers out from the inside of a restaurant’s imaginary façade, be it the dungeon-esque interworkings of the kitchen, the song and dance of the front of the house, the coke-snorting owners, cash-skimming managers, or any combination thereof, seems to capture a view that is tumultuous, sexy, horrid, tawdry and just a bit maddening… in a good way. Any non-PG take on what happens along restaurant row is automatically compared with Anthony Bourdain’s now-legendary look at the “culinary underbelly.” Yes, there are frank diatribes on the respectability and pay of each member of the team; the vixen-like appeal of the coat girl to the absurd role of a manager to the maître d’ that actually runs the place. But, Restaurant Man really is all about the business. Restaurant Man is more about nonfiction then it is about superheros.
Sure, Bourdain captures the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll of hardened deranged cooks. And Steve Dublanica does the same with Waiter Rant, pervasive with tales of criminal managers and “crop dusting” through the dining room to intoxicate the rude dinner guest with noxious derrière perfume. Bastianich does not use the same formula. The appeal of Restaurant Man is in his original voice. He enjoys wine and pours enough of it in Restaurant Man that you crave Barolo and Brunello while getting drunk on his words that will shake you like a monkey.
Restaurant Man has some captivating writing. Bastianich draws you in with just enough familial histrionics without dowsing you in stories of famous mom. There is very little geeking out about having a mom who is to Italian cooking what Julia is for French fare. The same goes for his partnership with Mario Batali. There is just enough orange-clog talk to color his story without making Restaurant Man all about other people.
I do not not want to dine in Bastianich’s places after reading Restaurant Man. Instead, I feel at ease giving him $250 for dinner. He wants to “overdeliver, exceed expectations, every day.” He brings a voice to the menu, to the experience of dining, to paying the price of a night of living high. “What the hell… I [know] the power of good food. I [know] that it can could turn dark into light…”