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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rachael's Vacation: When Rachael Ray Pretended to Visit San Francisco's Restaurants

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 2:15 PM

Guess who visited a half-dozen San Francisco restaurants? Her producers!
  • Guess who visited a half-dozen San Francisco restaurants? Her producers!
Each week we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with televised cooking. This week: Rachael's Vacation, a half-hour show you didn't hear about from me, Fridays at 4:30 a.m. on the Food Network. 

Rachael Ray has 31 television shows and a line of car wax. I try to know as little as possible about her. I believe she has a team of sled dogs. The premise of Rachael's Vacation is that she goes on vacation and the Food Network pays for everything and her husband gets a little screen time and nobody says a word about any of it, you hear me? You want to go up against the Rach? STAND DOWN. 

I watched the episode about San Francisco. Admittedly, it's an old one, but I know I could never watch her visit, I don't know, Cork. At first I was so sure Rachael was just going to shout at crabs at Fisherman's Wharf that I decided to skip the show and simply base the review on my gut feeling about what Rachael Ray, a woman I have watched a few times on TV, would do on vacation in San Francisco.

I even came up with her quotes:

"I'm just going to kill myself before dessert, 'K?"

"I'm looking at sales of 100 million and you can't even bring me a salad fork?"

"Just tell me where the FUCK is the bathroom."

Then I turned on the show to see if my imagination had nailed the intro music (it had not) and saw that the title promo sequence featured Rachael sitting outdoors at Universal Café in the Mission. Suddenly I was caught in a reverie, for sitting outdoors at Universal Café is, to me, like eating, if I can make everyone a little horrified right now, a Madeline. Ouch.

You see, I used to live near Universal Café and I considered it my secret. It's stupid to consider a restaurant your secret but such are the times. I used to engage in this private dialog whereas I told myself I liked Universal and didn't like Slow Club, which is down the street and something of a competitor. The things we do in the city. Then Flour + Water arrived and just blew the neighborhood apart and of course we were still sorting out our feelings about Coffee Bar and trying to figure out what sort of person, exactly, went to Blowfish Sushi and what on Earth was going on with the burger at Jay'n Bee Club and ... anyway -- there's Universal on the teevee! I felt nearly famous. I let it happen.

Helpless, I watched the full episode. Rachael and Dearly Beloved opened the show on Lombard Street, an ominous sign. They might as well have been walking up a steep hill and commenting how steep the hill was (that comes later). Blessedly, though, Rachael's first stop on her vacation was NOT Swan's Oyster Depot and NOT the Stinking Rose and NOT Sick Jimbo's Sketchy Crab Pot down there on the sidewalk by the Bushman (who did NOT get profiled, unbelievably), but rather Tartine. Someone in Rachael's inner circle must have tapped her on the shoulder.

And yet, when Rachael went to Tartine she didn't actually go to Tartine. Rachael wanted you to think she went to Tartine when she went to Tartine but did you see her on camera at Tartine when she went to Tartine? No! You saw all these people working and all these people eating but who was conspicuously absent? The Rach. Her voice was there -- her voiceover is fast and hammerlike, like she's driving pilings into bedrock in voice studio in Burbank -- but her body was across town at the spa.

I didn't catch this at first because WOW EDITING but soon I realized Rachael Ray was not going to all of the restaurants she was going to and that this Vacations was definitely a brute force cash grab. Which, to be frank, respect.

Rachael went to:

Universal Café: Where she and Till Death sat outside in the cold and ate minestrone and pork chops. Rachael fumbled over the "adage" about the coldest winter being blankety blank blank and I saw it coming but I didn't shut my ears, I just let it splash all over me, and, oh man, nobody should ever say that aloud ever again. Even For Richer looked embarrassed and he sings for rock band called the Cringe. (I just Googled him.) (He's 15 years old.)

Hotel Tomo: Which is a Japan-pop hotel, and why didn't I know about this place? What does it take to get me to Japantown? For the whole segment Rachael and For Poorer played Wii in one of the theme rooms. You know what it looks like when older people play Wii? It looks like two even older people trying to work the self-checkout. If this show wasn't just a cash grab someone would have to be fired.

Spruce: Rachael and In Sickness both had the fish. Nice place.

Ottimista Enoteca: A restaurant in Cow Hollow. I don't even know. Cow Hollow.

Rachael did not go to:

Tartine: Because she might have been killed.

Mama's: Because what is this, 1993?

Cha Cha Cha: And that's fine, because no one goes there.

SPQR: Gesundheit.

Mamacita: Going all the way to the Marina for Mexican food feels a bit like getting a job when you could just sell your furniture.

Shanghai 1930: Which has since been closed, so Rachael nailed this one.

By my count, Rachael went 3 for 9, visiting just one third of the restaurants she visited on her vacation show, which is probably the norm in every episode. Should you feel cheated? No, not for a cash grab. When you sign up for a cash grab all you can hope for is that nobody gets shot and someone's husband gets a little screen time and you don't fall asleep with a cigarette and burn down the house.

Previously, Michael Leaverton watched:

The Donatella Project

The Sandwich King
The Worst Cooks in America

Food Hoarders

Rachel vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off

The Ice-Carving Show that the Food Network Somehow Ruins

The Show Paula Deen's Kid Was Given Because His Mom Makes Terrible Food

Bama Glama, the show all Alabama loves to fight over in comment threads

Guy Fieri's Weird Man Fort Mystery Diners Food Jammers

Have Cake, Will Travel

Chef Hunter

Baron Ambrosia

Sweet Genius

Best Thing I Ever Made

Sandra Lee's Hard-Drinkin' Halloween Special of Madness

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Michael Leaverton


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