When I was a hostess at a four-star French restaurant in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca, I learned the subtle differences between foie gras and sweetbreads and was reminded time and again that it's smart business to move a less attractive couple from a center table to a partially hidden deuce by the bathroom. Such politically incorrect politics are par for the course behind the scenes of haute cuisine, where who's eating the food is almost as important as the food itself. Any of the current restaurant tell-alls will attest to this harsh reality, from Anthony Bourdain's best-selling Kitchen Confidential to Bob Giraldi's appetizing new film Dinner Rush.
Set on a busy Tuesday night at a trendy Tribeca eatery, Dinner Rush doesn't skimp on the action, blending several intertwined stories that -- like a soufflé or a flambé -- come together only at the very end. Once a family-run restaurant, Gigino's Trattoria has matured from a place that served "your mother's cooking" to one that offers nouveau concoctions that customers don't know "whether to eat or fuck." This development is much to the dismay of old-school owner Louis Cropa (Danny Aiello), who's also trying to ditch his second career as a bookie after his business partner is gunned down by a pair of Mafiosi from Queens called "Black and Blue" (restaurant lingo for a steak seared but raw inside).
This plot line is just a side dish, however; the main course is really the changing industry itself. The evolution of dining out is cast as a conflict between the past and the future, as embodied in the tension between the elder Cropa and his hotshot son, Udo (Edoardo Ballerini). The cast of characters caters a bit to stereotypes -- the dictatorial Udo, who fires a line worker for wielding a dull knife; the sous-chef with a compulsive gambling problem; the opportunistic hostess boning both Udo and the sous-chef (which never happened where I worked, of course). Still, the stellar ensemble keeps the movie from becoming overly simplistic. Standouts include Mark Margolis as an abominable art gallery owner who complains about his waitress because she introduces herself by name; Sandra Bernhard as a bitchy food writer disguised in an ill-fitting wig; and John Corbett (from Sex and the City) as an affable Wall Street banker observant enough to wonder, "When did eating dinner become a Broadway show?"
Admission is $5.75-8.75
Directed by Giraldi, whose previous work includes commercials and music videos, the film is faithful to the insular world of the kitchen. Much of that accuracy comes from firsthand experience: Giraldi is also an experienced restaurateur (the movie was filmed mostly in one of his restaurants). Like unpredictable service, the alternating subplots careen wildly, drawing us toward a misleading climax that ties everything together too neatly. But then, in its last 10 minutes, Dinner Rush serves up a delicious surprise ending that leaves you hungry for more.