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Danny Meyer is a powerhouse New York City restaurant owner with an impressive resume of properties to his name. He's a straight shooter, low to the ground, and demanding when it comes to the design and execution of his ideas. In 1998, Meyer faced a unique challenge: Opening two restaurants at virtually the same time, from construction to first service, hoping to create distinct dining experiences out of the same vast space.
"The Restaurateur" is a short documentary (56 minutes in length) about a very large idea. Using an extensive amount of footage from 1998, director Roger Sherman endeavors to pull the viewer into the middle of the chaos, observing the ideas, frustrations, and anxiety that comes with such an immense task. Eschewing reality show invention and drama to play creation with pleasing frost, Sherman simply presents the arc of restaurant development, almost reluctant to explore any melodrama that arises along the way.
Meyer is the center of this documentary storm, and we watch as he works from dreamer (stomping around a cavernous building lobby near Madison Square Park) to boss over the course of 11 months, shaping the restaurants Tabla and Eleven Madison Park with assistance from friends and employees (including Tom Colicchio from "Top Chef"). The film takes in the construction effort, hiring phases, and distinctive culinary execution, summarizing a frantic atmosphere of delays and disappointments before everything seemingly falls into place. Sherman offers up the intensity dryly, using Meyer and his monotone to communicate the backstage emotions as the openings draw near. It's not the most suspenseful documentary, but "The Restaurateur" manages a raw feel of business and preparation, exploring an extended time frame with fulfilling detail.
The full frame documentary presentation is pulled from various HD video sources, with the film resembling a private home movie at times, blended well with more professionally shot visits to workplaces and construction sites. There's inherent softness to the image, but colors remain intact, showing off the ornate design of the building and the vivid hues of the food. Black levels are comfortable but never remarkable.
The 2.0 Dolby Digital sound mix is a simple frontal blast of verbal activity and atmospherics, capturing the home video mood with a basic run of ambiance. Jazzy scoring cues fill out dimension somewhat, giving the track some needed life. It's a practical mix, but a very basic listening experience.
No subtitles are included.
"Epilogue" (25:25) catches up with Meyer and his employees, who have some heartbreaking news to share about the fate of Tabla, along with their own thoughts about food creation and the industry. There's also footage of Eleven Madison Park's renovation.
"Photos" from Eleven Madison Park and Tabla are included.
And a Trailer has not been included.
Cruelly, Sherman doesn't provide any footage from the restaurant openings, instead leaping forward to 2009 to quickly assess a decade of service, mistakes, and triumphs. The time leap is abrupt, but reinforces the specialty of the documentary, which never seems to be about food, despite a playground of culinary delights. "The Restaurateur" is business, plain and simple, popping the hood of fine dining to inspect the creative engine that drives the entire venture.