What is it like to be young and single and in the big city for the first time? How about being a young woman surrounded by a group of handsome older gentlemen? And your mother, who left you and your father as a child? Well, it's certainly not boring…so far.
What They Say
When she was a child, Nicoletta was taken in by her grandmother so that her mother could remarry. Now grown up, she leaves everything in the countryside behind to visit her mother and her mother's second husband, a restaurant owner. To her surprise, her stepfather did not know his wife had a daughter!
A restaurant she had previously visited, Casetta dell'orso is hosted by a cast of dreamy, cool gentlemen who all happen to wear glasses. This curious restaurant's staff include cameriere (waiters) Claudio, Luciano, and Vito, GiGi the sommelier, and chefs Furio and Teo. Because women find the staff so enchanting, business is bustling and reservations are extremely hard to come by at this little Roman treasure.
Amongst all this, Nicoletta decides, on a whim, to work at the restaurant. Gradually, she begins to become interested in one of the gentlemen...
Delicious food and dreamy gentlemen await at the ristorante, casetta dell'orso. For everyone who works there, a tender connection to the hearts of each visitor is spun, and the curtain raises on a story about these first-rate Italian gentlemen in spectacles.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the first episode does most of the initial set up, I will spend more time summarizing it than the two episodes that follow.
Ep 1: Nicoletta
We open with a waiter attending upon a woman sitting alone in a restaurant. The lighting is soft. The waiter is kindly looking. She's trying to put the moves on him, but he's not responding to it at all. But he does bring out a small cake with a sparkler on top of it and wishes the customer a happy birthday. At this, she is taken aback. How did you know? He says that he overheard another customer mention it the year before, and he remembered the date. Obviously, this is not your normal little sit-down place where the service is merely good.
As a young woman's voice narrates about this mysterious restaurant that lies not far from the center of Rome, we come across a young woman who has just left Termini (the major train station in Rome; not particularly accurately rendered, but vaguely reminiscent in a way that says the animators might have seen a picture of it).
Cut to the opening animation. The opener is rather different from most anime fare, as it's neither some cutesy saccharine concoction nor some upbeat J-pop single. I can't quite describe it except to say that I think the opening song would be more comfortable in a smoky, dimly lit jazz club than anywhere else. Except that it's in Japanese. But I'm no music expert.
We then go back to the young woman from the train station, asking directions to a particular restaurant. She eventually finds the place: Ristorante casetta dell'orso (very roughly, "The Bear's Little Treasure Chest," what an odd name for a restaurant). Once there, she is asked if she has a reservation, but she does not. She asks to see the owner, but is told he is not in yet. But soon. So, she waits. In due course, the young woman notices that all of the staff at this restaurant are nice older gentlemen, and all of them wear glasses. How peculiar…
In due course, the owner appears. On his arm is a woman, fashionably dressed and smiling. Until she see the young woman sitting, waiting for them. The older woman quickly hustles the younger woman outside for a little chat. It turns out that these two are not strangers: they are actually mother and daughter. The daughter, Nicoletta, 21, has come to the restaurant to reveal the truth about her mother, Olga (age not mentioned), to the restaurant's owner (name not given): that her mother is actually a divorcee with a daughter. Apparently, Mr. Owner (what else are we supposed to call him at this point? Only from a brief mention in the next episode does it appear that his name is Lorenzo) would never have married Olga had he known that she was a divorcee. Nicoletta, angry and bitter from years of neglect (she was dropped off at her grandmother's house when Olga decided to remarry 15 years earlier, and hardly saw the woman again from that day forward), has come to reveal her mother's secret and exact a small measure of revenge. The plan, however, falls apart when Olga begs her to delay the revelation, and allow her to talk to her the next day. For now, the two will share a nice dinner with the owner in the restaurant. During dinner, Olga comes up with the story that Nicoletta is the daughter of a friend of hers, and she will take care of Nicoletta while she is in town. Nicoletta is none too pleased, but agrees, while throwing in a little jab at her "mother" as well. That settled, we move on to the meal.
Which is good, as the food is well prepared and executed. Except that Nicoletta notices something else: the clientele seems mainly female, and they all seem to have "googly eyes." The owner states that the chef is talented, but notes that most of the customers seem more interested in pursuing the wait staff than the food. While going into the back looking for the restroom, Nicoletta comes across the chief waiter (introduced before as Claudio) and the chef, and notices that he is wearing glasses as well. It appears that all of the staff wear glasses, even if they have no vision problems. And that it is apparently at the request of the owner's wife (Olga). So, apparently Olga has a glasses fetish.
The next day comes and Nicoletta gets a call from her mother, telling her that something has come up and she won't be able to talk to her right away. But Olga will be setting her up with an apartment, and will be in touch. Nicoletta seems rather pissed yet again and complains about her mother's self-centeredness. Following that, Nicoletta does some sightseeing in Rome (we are treated to a montage of recognizable tourist spots: the Spanish Steps (except I never remembered it being that devoid of people), the Ara Pacis, the Castel Sant'Angelo, St. Peter's, the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) in the Piazza Navona), etc. During her walk, she happens to run into Claudio. They get to chatting and he invites her to eat at the restaurant, since he must already head there to help open up the place. Nicoletta, inside her head, notes how sexy he is. Oh, I think she has it bad.
After we get to the restaurant and are treated to some waiter fanservice (for those who are interested in such stuff), after which we finally get an introduction to rest of the staff: Luciano (older waiter, the sourpuss), Vito (the bald one), Teo (the pastry chef), Furio (the chef), and GiGi (the quiet one. There's always a quiet one, even in a slightly unconventional anime such as this one). Their various traits and their relative popularity with the customers are quickly noted and compared.
After the meal, Nicoletta heads back to the apartment that her mother has prepared for her use. Inside, there is a teddy bear with a note. This sparks a memory for Nicoletta, as apparently, her mother had given her a teddy bear before. The note (which oddly has the words "To Nicoletta" IN ENGLISH written on the outside), bids her welcome to Rome (on the inside, in Italian as it should be). And so, we're done with the initial set up.
Ep 2: Ring
In the second episode, Nicoletta continues find her way around town. As the restaurant is closed this day, she instead roams around. She happens to wander into Luciano and his grandson Francesco, who are sitting on a bench. GiGi comes along as well and the four have lunch. Nicoletta prepares it, and apparently she is a good cook (having learned cooking from her grandmother). Luciano is a sourpuss, but he does show some grandfatherly concern. And Gigi actually speaks, noting that he likes the pasta Nicoletta made.
The next day, Nicoletta is at the restaurant yet again. After closing, it's raining, so Claudio walks Nicoletta home, sharing Luciano's umbrella (lent to Claudio by Luciano when he sees the two pausing at the restaurant's doorway). On the walk to Nicoletta's place, Claudio reveals that the wedding band he wears does not signify things as one might assume. Claudio is actually divorced, but wears the ring to fend off some of the more aggressive female customers.
But the mention that he's not married anymore is like catnip to Nicoletta, and after offering him some coffee, Nicoletta pounces upon Claudio, quite literally. But Claudio sits there passively and says that he mustn't. Well, that's not something you see in anime everyday. At this exact moment, who should walk through the door but Olga, who is understandably shocked. But mother and daughter have a little chat, and things are squared away. Except that now Nicoletta has an idea (about her future and how to continue to leverage her blackmail knowledge over her mother).
Having been asked before what she wants to do with her life, Nicoletta decides that she wants to learn how to cook like a professional. And so, she gets a job as an apprentice in the kitchen of Casetta dell'orso. Of course, this gives her an opportunity to be close to Claudio. Yet, things are not so simple, as Claudio's ex-wife, Gabrielle, enters the picture. Apparently, she is coming to the restaurant that night. Nicoletta is anxious to get a look. After dinner is over, as Nicoletta is leaving the restaurant from the back, she happens to stumble into Claudio and Gabrielle talking outside. The encounter leaves Nicoletta feeling a little uneasy, wondering if Claudio is still in love with his ex-wife.
Ep 3: Paradiso
It seems that Nicoletta is in a bit of a funk over her one-sided crush on Claudio. The others, especially Luciano, notice, but Claudio seems intent on ignoring the whole issue. Amusingly, even Olga knows about the situation, since she is good friends with Gabrielle, who noticed Nicoletta and how she reacted to their encounter. Later on, "mother" even comes over to Nicoletta's place to give her some new clothes, but just as much to talk to her daughter about her feelings for Claudio.
Eventually, Nicoletta and Claudio have a little heart to heart in the back garden area of the restaurant, and the air is cleared. Nicoletta reveals that she is actually Olga's daughter, while Claudio makes a revelation of his own: Claudio's full name is revealed to be Santo Claudio Paradiso. An interesting connection to the name of the show?
In a landscape dominated by super-empowered teenagers yearning to be stronger and BMSE (big mouth, small eyes) caricatures of the human form, Ristorante Paradiso is a show aimed at a slightly older audience. The overall vibe is strongly that of a josei (adult women demographic) show, as we have a sort of bespectacled reverse harem here, except that it's not really a harem for young Nicoletta; there's only one man that she really has a firm interest in. The character designs are slightly more realistic in terms of bodily proportions, and the faces are not in any way made "pretty." The show is painted largely in earth tones with little in the way of flashy color. In certain respects, the show is reminiscent of Honey and Clover, another show that was clearly aimed at a somewhat older audience. But instead of looking at a group of twenty-somethings, instead we have a focus on just one twenty-something surrounded by a group of older men (and women).
There is not much in the way of action in this show. Characters largely stand around and talk (which I'm sure makes the budget director for the animation studio very happy). If you want a show with a lot of flashy action and titillating fanservice, this is not the show for you (not that there has been no fanservice, as we do see Nicoletta in her underwear at one point). For those who have an interest in a somewhat more mature relationship drama, and a helping of angst as we see our young heroine pine after an older man who seems difficult to seduce, this show may hold some interest.
For those who are in search of something a little different from the usual run of teenagers saving the world/universe/themselves, or the same old stale humor of most shows aimed at the younger set, Ristorante Paradiso might just fit the bill. While it may appear to be a reverse harem, and a strange one at that (a young woman pursuing men possibly old enough to be her father), it seems to be more a look at a confused young woman trying to find her place in life by exploring the big city, and also trying to see if she can finally resolve her bitterness at being abandoned by her mother when she was only a small child. The setting as well, the eternal city of Rome, might also be a draw, as we are treated to several interesting attempts to recreate notable sites from that famous capital. If you're looking for a change of pace, perhaps you'll want to make a reservation to see this show.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Apple Mac Mini with 1GB RAM, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard