Check Please is a public television program that originated in Chicago in 2001. Ordinary folks visit three restaurants and then "chat" about their experiences in studio. Currently only four other cities host a version of Check Please and a fifth, Seattle, will start their version this year. Back in early 2011 I filled out the application and then promptly sent the link to my two of my most reliable dining buddies, hoping they would fill it out and we could all be on the show together, making the experience much like what we do already, eat, gossip and talk about fracking. However, my two buddies have much more detailed and busier lives than I do and the application link was soon lost in over-burdened piles of electronic noise. Months passed and no response was ever received to my submittal, leading me to believe that I had been rejected. That was until September when I received an email that I had indeed been selected and here's your three restaurants to visit. It was another Put Up or Shut Up moment. But really, was it that hard? Go eat food and then go talk about it on camera? For most people, probably not. For the lifelong behind the scenes, never in the limelight person, yeah, it was hard. But I did it anyway.
I have to admit, it was kinda surreal. I did snap a couple of photos before we started the in studio segment.
This is my place at the table. The one thing that bugs me about this show is the empty plates. I know it's set dressing but damn it if you're going to set the table, you better be putting some food on those plates. So I brought my own food. That's a photo of one of the appetizers from one of the restaurants we reviewed. Overall it was a fun experience and I'm glad I didn't punk out. You can watch the episode here. But because it's food and tv and me, it couldn't be without a whiff of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. You see back when we were filming I happen to mention that one of the restaurants was for sale on Craig's List and said how bizarre to try and sell a restaurant that way. (News that R-Bar is up for sale on Craig's List.) Apparently that triggered a whole landslide of "what the hell do we do now?" from the producers. The way the show is set up, more than likely what happens is the producers send out a general letter to many restaurants saying that they are considering reviewing your restaurant, is that ok with you? For the most part, restaurants like publicity enough that they will take the chance that they won't get a bad review. I know this because I asked while we were waiting for the studio segment if any restaurants had refused to participate and only a couple had during the history of the Kansas City version. Once the restaurants respond, the reviewers are sent out anonymously to eat at their three assigned restaurants. They send in their reviews and wait to see if they will be chosen to review on camera. Once the studio segment is done, camera crews are sent out to the restaurants to do the "hero" segments. Nice shots of pretty people in the restaurant, closeups of the food and owners talking about their business. So when it came to the restaurant up for sale I'm guessing they weren't too interested in allowing cameras in to shoot food for a concept that might be revamped if sold. As it was they were barely operating at the time and only open 3 nights a week and running on a severely limited menu. So the producers scrambled to save the segment. But in a bizarre twist, they brought in three totally new reviewers and...
...had them go to the restaurant, order drinks and food and then filmed the review segment in the actual restaurant. The focus of this last piece was liquor because this particular joint, at that moment, was trying to promote itself as a bar first and gastro pub second. I say at that moment because in yet another twist they announced in February that they've hired a new chef, thought about opening an additional night a week and teased that they might, just might serve lunch. Now I think this particular restaurant came out smelling like a rose in the whole Check Please deal because folks, the food when I went there was absolutely horrid. I didn't use the word horrid in my on camera review but I was honest when it came to the food. I thought the decor was beautiful, the thought the service was good but I thought it was way overpriced for the quality and quantity of food I ate. Or tried to eat. I don't remember specifically how the other two reviewers rated their food so I won't put words into their mouths but I don't think it was as glowing as the subsequent three new reviewers. I have to say that makes me sad for a couple of reasons. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was because it seemed an honest representation of ordinary people reviewing their experience in a restaurant. No one told me what to say or what not to say. Just be myself. I've seen previous reviewers who had strong opinions about whether food is good or bad or overpriced so it's not always a total valentine for the restaurants. Who I feel really bad for is Jadh, the young woman who chose this restaurant as her favorite and had her segment totally removed from the show. She got punked which is sad because she was really good on camera.
So there you have it. Mostly good, some bad and I got a great t-shirt out of it.