The inimitable Phil Rosenthal is back for a second season on Netflix with his entertaining food/travel show, Somebody Feed Phil. He describes himself as a foodie, but he’s really a gourmand rather than a gourmet. Jokey and light, he’s the polar opposite of the late Anthony Bourdain.
An indefatigable kibitzer with a gift of the gab who throws Yiddish expressions into the mix, he likes people and enjoys engaging them in spirited conversations. He takes us to six very different destinations — Venice, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Cape Town and New York City — and discovers them in jocular style.
At heart, Rosenthal — the creator of the popular television sitcom Everybody likes Raymond — is a gentle humorist who disarms interlocutors with a toothy smile and a goofy, boyish manner. Sometimes, he’s too rich for my taste, but his gift for friendship and approachability are admirable.
The series is a family affair. Toward the end of every episode, he skypes his aging parents, Max and Helen, telling them about his latest culinary adventures. They listen carefully and usually have something to say. He also introduces us to his Irish-American wife, Monica, and their two teenaged children.
In Venice, Rosenthal happily samples an array of tantalizing pasta dishes and seafood and drinks aromatic coffee. But the most compelling aspect of this episode is the city itself, which is laced with canals, characterized by exquisite architecture and suffused with atmosphere to spare.
Rosenthal, in Dublin, tries Irish pancakes, corned beef — which he claims is an Irish-Jewish concoction — Guinness beer and brown bread ice cream. Filling up on a breakfast of soda bread, eggs, sausages and wild honey, he exults, “I’m so happy.” Further afield, in county Cork, he tastes seaweed, which, he reports, reminds him of pastrami. More than the good food, he’s captivated by the friendly people.
Touring Buenos Aires, he enters La Recoleta, a vast cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. Discovering that Jewish fare is “very big” in the Argentine capital, he visits the Meshiguene restaurant, dining on mouth-watering dishes and, of all things, blowing a shofar. He takes a tango lesson, and in a commentary on Argentina’s barbecue culture, he raves about tender and delicious steaks.
Rosenthal’s family joins him in Copenhagen, where he consumes Danish smorrebrod sandwiches, orders a scrumptious meal at the Noma — supposedly the world’s finest restaurant — and gorges on falafel and organic hot dogs.
In Cape Town, a city of stunning views, he embarks on “the lazy man’s safari.” Rather than heading into the bush for an outdoor adventure into the South African wilderness, he bites into antelope and ostrich meat at a sedate restaurant. As well, he enjoys a Cape Malay meal in a private residence and stops for a oversize gooey “Gatsby” sandwich at a halal food stand. He’s out of his depth during an awkward conversation with Nelson Mandela’s grandson, but swings back into stride with a visit to a winery outside the city.
Born and bred in New York City, Rosenthal, now based in Los Angeles, returns to his hometown and pronounces it the “centre of the known universe.” In Williamsburg, he and an Italian chef feast on expertly grilled steak and lamb chops. And in Coney Island and Brooklyn, he gushes over two legendary pizza joints.
He rhapsodizes over the sylvan beauty of Central Park, explores Zabar’s, the super delicatessen, and turns up at that famous purveyor of hot dogs, Nathan’s. Seated in Russ & Daughters, he and a friend devour thinly-sliced smoked salmon and knishes and wash them down with a uniquely New York beverage, egg cream.
Returning to Central Park, he and three ballet dancers enjoy a picnic catered, in part, by Katz’s, the Lower East Side deli.
In closing, he invites celebrity French chef Daniel Boulud to his parents’ apartment for a bowl of his mother’s matzoh ball soup. Impressed by her gastronomic skills, he gives the dish a four-star rating. This brings an appreciative smile from Rosenthal and his Yiddishe mama.