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Nov 2, 2007 11:58 AM

Check Please! Bay Area.

I wanted to hear fellow hounds opinions of this show on Kqed. I have become addicted.

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  1. Feh. I watched the first 4 or 5 episodes of the program and then gave up.

    For me it was like a watching TV version of Yelp. Which is to say, it seemed that every episode had 22 minutes of vapid, amateurish, and contradictory musings from a collection of opinionated hipsters and 1 minute of potentially useful information. Maybe things have improved since the early days, but I haven't bothered to find out.


    Curmudgeonly Hound

    2 Replies
    1. re: hohokam

      Hey! I resemble that remark! Except perhaps the hipster part. And except that on Check Please!, people actually visit the restaurants (just kidding, yelpers).

      I'm with you kare -- so much I finally registered to post here on CH just to agree vocally. It's a fun show -- friendly even when testy, not elitist. More fun when you've been where they are talking about as to compare/contrast. Or can conceivably get out to those places (I am not going to rend a car so I can drive an hour to eat, with very few exceptions.) More or less "person on the street" stuff.

      Of course, if certain folks feel the level of discourse is not up to snuff, they can always go slumming and apply to be on the show. I had the time of my life . . .

      1. re: hohokam

        Hipsters? The episodes I have seen feature a bunch of sniveling dorks. ; )

      2. I don't watch it anymore. They apparently don't let you review your first choice anyway. Yesterday they reviewed Bucca di Peppo?! WHY review a chain? Why with all of the interesting places & hole in the walls to eat ..would you review a chain restaurant? What's next? A review of your local Chili's?

        2 Replies
        1. re: sugarbuzz

          Yeah, I thought the same thing -- reviewing a chain seems to be a "scraping the bottom of the barrel" kind of move, at the Bay Area barrel is far too deep for that!

          I don't look to CP for any kind of guidance, but it is nice to have a half hour of people just talking about food. And it's fascinating to see how other people judge what is "good". Oddly enough, I'm most entertained/bemused by the glowing reviews of places I hate…

          1. re: sugarbuzz

            I think it's great to review those kinds of places, for the simple reason that people actually do go to them. So why not explore them and let the audience know what's good or bad? I was a little surprised that Buca di Beppo was reviewed so favorably. But it's good to put a restaurant like that next to a place like Da Lian (also reviewed on that show). Maybe it'll open some people up to trying new things. Check Please does a great job of promoting restaurants that a lot of people wouldn't consider trying.

          2. I liked the show at first, then I was a guest and learned how it is produced. Now I don't watch it.

            My biggest complaint is that the restaurants are billed as the guests "favorite" place. That is simply not true. The producers have a lengthy set of restrictions - the restaurant has to be at least two years old, the style of food cannot be too similar to a restaurant they've profiled recently (no Indian food! no Soul food!), it has to be visually appealing enough to generate pretty film ops (no dives!), it has to fit properly in the producers' vision of the episode. I had five restaurants rejected before I found one we could agree on! My fellow guests had a similar problem with being forced to "settle" for a restaurant that was not their favorite. The result: lots of mediocre restaurants (like Bucca di Beppo) that no one really loves, except for the image-focused producers (who never actually try the places).

            I could accept this if the guests were honest. Here's where the production methods get creepy. After filming was over, a fellow guest told me that she hadn't been to her restaurant in over a year when she recommended it (once again, it wasn't her first choice, but the producers rejected all of her first choices and she had run out of ideas.) When she actually returned to eat there, she had a so-so meal (totally understandable; places go downhill all the time). However, the producers instructed her to be positive and enthusiastic despite her experience so that the overall criticism was balanced. Yes, you read that correctly, they instructed a guest to mislead the audience about her experience. To be clear: I do not blame the guest for her selection or her performance; she was at the mercy of producers who favor form over substance.

            Some of my hostility stems from the fact that I ended up eating two of the worst meals of my life on my own dime thanks to Check, Please! I'm not surprised the food was sub-par, given that my fellow guests would have much rather sent me to one of their favorite restaurants, and not whatever restaurant they could think up after the judges had summarily rejected all of their favorites. Some of my ill will comes from the fact that the editing was skewed to make me look like a confrontational asshole. Though I'll be the first to admit that I'm an incorrigible food snob, I was actually quiet and shy for most of the filming, only to become defensive when a fellow guest insulted my judgment (the insult was edited out and my response remained, naturally). The whole experience has made me sympathetic to reality-TV contestants who are depicted as jerks (Hung, Chris Cosentino) despite their actual personalities through conflict-driven production techniques.

            17 Replies
            1. re: Morton the Mousse

              Thanks for the insights. I guess I owe you and the other guests an apology.

              I should have been more critical in how I viewed the show. I guess I expected a little more integrity from producers at KQED than those who put out shows like "Who Wants to Eff my Wife?" or whatever they show on Fox.

              Sorry about my earlier comments and sorry to hear about your lousy experiences as a guest on the show.

              Despite my change of opinion about the guests, I'll probably never watch the show again

              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                Just curious: which restaurant did you finally agree to present?

                1. re: Stephanie Wong

                  I'd rather not post that for privacy reasons. Sorry.

                2. re: Morton the Mousse

                  Well maybe they should have been similarly discriminating/controlling about another restaurant choice for the Pinole city councilman who was on this show, and was involved in a city-financed loan gone bad to his restaurant selection....


                  You'd think they'd at least make sure the guests don't have financial/personal connections to the owners before moving ahead on a selection.

                  That said, even if I had to move to my fifth favorite place to please the producers, it would still be a place I know and love.So many excellent choices in this area...

                  1. re: Pincho

                    I posted on this one earlier, I wonder if they'll mention it on the reruns.

                    1. re: Scrapironchef

                      Given that they don't mention a thing about it on the website I doubt it.

                      That was too bad. I like Pear Street. While if I lived in Berkeley, I wouldn't drive up there for Pear Street, in that neck of the woods it is absolutely ... absolutely ... the only city-like dining option around.

                      On the dishes that Pear Street does well, it can kill it is so good. On the other hand, it can put out an average at best dish. Unfortunately, part of the problem is that Pinole wasn't ready for Pear Street, so the restaurant kept scaling back and back. They had some amazing stuff in the past that no longer appears on the menu. I miss Swish the associated wine bar/store that also seems to have tanked. Could be open, but never is when I'm driving by.

                      I also like the owner Gary Wong a whole lot. He has always been wonderful and welcoming to even a shelp like me and seems to care a great deal about his restaurants.

                      Pinole when I first moved to the area seemed like a charming Norman Rockwell type of place. Then I got to know it. It ain't so charming. There's a new restaurant going in across from Pear Street but seems to be taking its time. Seems like another city-financed thing.

                      As to Check Please, I'll listen to it if it is on. I like seeing what the restaurant looks like and the little mini talks with the owners. The host just grates on my nerves though like nails scratching across the blackboard. That's too bad because she seems to be really into food but personality-wise ... not for me.

                      The reviews are not the most reliable. I'm still more than a little ticked about the accolades for Maria Manso which is way at the bottom of the list of restaurants I've tried ... and I eat out alot.

                      And I am just too ticked with the recent whiney report by one person about a place I love, didn't order any of the dishes they are known for, ordered a different dish to save money then did something screwy with the dish and put down the place ... you know ... don't mess with the food and then complain.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I guess I could do a heck of a job on a few dishes if I got a 500K loan I was treating like a grant. I got big kick out of how the council member who was pushing the whole deal just up and joined the army at the age of 38 when all of the shadiness came to light.

                        1. re: Scrapironchef

                          No. It is not like that at all in terms of the restaurant. Gary wasn't screwing around. His family had a long-time history in the restaurant business in Pinole. His dad had a long-time Chinese restaurant which, IIRC, was at the location of his Human Village.

                          The influence of the town on this whole venture might have been trying to bring a 'hip' sophisticated dining scene to Pinole ... and that was the flaw ... the area isn't ready for it ... and no one from Berkeley is going to drive to Pinole to eat no matter how great. For the most part this is a poor or working class area and for many with families, that didn't jive with what this restaurant was trying to accomplish.

                          People do seem to like Hunan Villa very much though I've never understood that ... the hipness factor of that place is a real turn-off to me.

                          Swish was amusing in ways I can't post about on the board ... though the base at that wine bar was someone serious about wine. If Swish was in Berkeley, it would have been immensly popular.

                          For me, Pinole is the same distance as Berkeley. So a choice of trying out a new Berkeley joint as opposed to a place where I've tried alot ... well ... at most, I was lured back every now and then with a craving for the blue cheese and pear pizza. When they took my favorite gelato off the menu, that was when one of my other incentives for driving up that way was removed. However, if I lived in Pinole, I'd probably be a regular.

                          1. re: rworange

                            So you're saying the city of Pinole just learned a variation of "How do you make a million dollars in the resto business?" joke?

                            There is so much wrong business wise with the downtown Pinole redevelopment process that everybody seemed to overlook the facts you mention. This wasn't the location for that type of place and there are probably too many in the area to begin with. Everything I've seen indicates ego was leading the decision making on all sides.

                  2. re: Morton the Mousse

                    I should add that I was drunk as a skunk by the time we started filming. Don't know how or if that informs the discussion, but it's true, and I suspect the same for many of the other folks that have appeared on it.

                    1. re: Nisen

                      They really do push that wine in the green room, don't they?

                    2. re: Morton the Mousse

                      I constantly question the "guests" they've chosen to appear on the show. So many of them are possibly biased or are television personalities. (Like the former mayor of Pinole that has been mentioned, Stanley Roberts from KRON, and Liam Mayclem from KPIX.) The whole point of this show was to have regular "common-folk" come on the show and casually discuss opinions about their fave eateries. Higher profile people who already have a built in larger audience like local politicians and television personalities should be used on this show with great caution. It's because of it that I've stopped watching and no longer trust the production value of the show at all.

                      1. re: VirgoBlue

                        I actually found the mayor and Stanley to be totally approachable. Just because they are successful in local politics and media doesn't really make their opinions on food any different or more biased than yours or mine. I don't really see how they are biased based on their professions. If Check Please had people from the restaurant industry, then I think there'd be some bias.

                        I do have to say that Liam Mayclem was hard to watch because he kept hijacking the conversation. But that had more to do with his personality than his job.

                        1. re: Shane Greenwood

                          Pincho posted earlier about the Pinole city councilmember's/former mayor's part in some financial issues surrounding the restaurant he reviewed on the show, so that gives another reason why local "celebrities/well known" types should be used with caution.

                          Pincho: "You'd think they'd at least make sure the guests don't have financial/personal connections to the owners before moving ahead on a selection." Another bad move on the part of the producers.

                          1. re: Shane Greenwood

                            As Pincho mentioned earlier in this string, the Pinole councilmember was recently getting some bad press for his personal association with the restaurant he reviewed on the show.

                            All the more reason for the producers to do a little more homework on "special" guests before deciding to book them. There IS a difference between a higher profile guest than many of us ordinary folk.

                            1. re: Shane Greenwood

                              >Liam Mayclem was hard to watch
                              in my experience, it's the annoying clown-woman who hosts the show
                              who is hardest to watch.

                        2. Great post MTM! Add Check Please! to hot dogs and laws--things you don't want to see made. Though I will still probably watch, I won't bother to apply to be a guest--that's entertainment!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: annabana

                            Interesting, I've never heard some of this about the show...still, I find it entertaining...really good people watching too...

                          2. I do like the show if only to get some ideas on places I haven't been to or heard about. Watching the show usually involves a lot of fast forwarding on my tivo. I do think that the original version in Chicago is more entertaining. There is a sharper contrast of backgrounds and tastes among the guest reviewers there, so the reviews and banter are more entertaining in a way.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Shane Greenwood

                              The Chicago one has its share of critics, but the host is pretty charming and a true expert. A friend of mine who was one recently said that he was given a list of restaurants he could not choose, mostly because they had already been reviewed, and was asked nicely not to get "too ethnic." They mean, no goat eyeball tacos and stuff.

                              I don't think they have a rule against new restaurants, but they do tend to shy away from places with a huge buzz going on. I think the show has been pretty true to its theme, which is more aimed at neighborhood type places with good, affordable food. They have a few really upscale places, but $30 or so seems to be the upper end most nights.

                              And they do do dives, from time to time. It was pretty funny last week to watch a couple of real straight arrows go into a place that blasts heavy metal, where everyone is tattooed to the eyebrows, and the main offering is a burger the size of your head. But they liked it, sorta. They've also had a couple of taquerias and pho house and a couple of food courts, so they aren't total snobs.

                              The thing I don't like is every show seems to have three types: a cop, a yuppie and a boho/gay type. It gets irritating, particularly the yuppies.

                              It sounds like the SF version didn't get it right.

                              1. re: Pete Oldtown

                                I believe the only rule they have about new restaurants for the Bay Area version is that they need to be open for at least two years to give the place a chance to find its legs and customers.

                                1. re: Stephanie365

                                  That's the only rule they have about "new" restaurants in the Bay Area version, but it certainly is not the only rule.