Dozens of people filed into South Beach's Dolce Italian last evening for the first Best New Restaurant watch party. The reason behind all of this interest in another Bravo TV series is the fact that five Miami restaurants are in the game, vying for a feature in Bon Appétit magazine, a $100,000 spot at a Las Vegas food festival, and the title of Best New Restaurant.
The show's format is such that it features two restaurants each week in the initial phase of the competition as they are individually introduced and then compete against each other. This week, Dolce Italian squared off against Doma in Beverly Hills. The watch party drew other competing restaurants in a show of solidarity. R House's Rocco Carulli and the Federal's Ani Meinhold and Cesar Zapata were on hand to support their fellow Bravo-lebrities, as was Haven's Todd Erickson.
In a nutshell, the show sees executive producer (along with Gordon Ramsay) Tom Colicchio in much the same role as the one he plays in Top Chef. Serving as both mentor and judge (along with co-judges Maggie Nemser of BlackboardEats and Jeffrey Zurofsky, Colicchio's partner and cofounder of 'Wichcraft), the chef gives each team tips for survival while explaining the rules to them (and the viewers).
If you're thinking this is just another Top Chef spinoff, you're wrong. Instead of quickfire challenges, there are "tests," such as the initial pressure test, which requires each restaurant to cook and serve a complete meal, from seating till coffee service, for 30 diners in two hours. At first, it's a little slow and confusing -- like watching people play a game of cards in which you don't know the rules.
Instead of the fast pace of the original Bravo show that has become an incubator of sorts for many chefs (including Nina Compton, who was on hand at the viewing party), Best New Restaurat is a slow simmer of a watch and could be a fascinating case study of how a restaurant team works together or breaks down from lack of communication.
Last evening's initial episode showed us just that. As California's Doma's kitchen got swamped (mainly because of waiter Igor Nicolas' inability to stop performing for patrons and simply take their orders), chef Dustin Trani dug deep and pulled the kitchen staff together in am impressive display of leadership.
Similarly, Dolce Italian's high point was its precision both in the kitchen and at the front of the house, although Tom Colicchio noticed chef Paolo Dorigato stopped tasting dishes before they were sent out. That proved to be a detriment, with some diners complaining about the taste. Fortunately, GM Dean Tsakanikis went to every table, making good whenever necessary. In fact, the ultimate win for Dolce Italian could rest on Tsakanikis' shoulders. With competition between the two restaurants extremely close, it was the GM's thoughtful gesture to send over an extra plate of sweetbreads to a green-suited man in a purple hat that sent the Miami Beach restaurant over the top.
After the win, John Meadow, owner of LDV, which operates Dolce Italian, said, "We couldn't be more proud of our team. What's really special about this show is it really showcases the group effort required to create a successful restaurant. For our team to pull together a win is so special for Dolce and the entire LDV family.
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Dolce advances to the semifinals. Up next week: The Federal battles Austin's Swift's Attic. Meanwhile, here's Doma's Igor, who absolutely needs his own sitcom.