Phil Rosenthal is back for a third, though abbreviated, season in Somebody Feed Phil, a goofy five-part food show currently streaming on the Netflix network.
Rosenthal, the creator of the immensely popular sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, is a gourmand rather than a gourmet. Which means he has an instinctive rather than a refined approach to the culinary arts. In the latest episodes, he visits Marrakesh, Chicago, London, Seoul and Montreal, tasting its delicacies with gusto and taking in its interesting sights in the company of new friends.
In the first segment, Rosenthal, a self-described “Jewish boy from the Bronx” and “a happy, hungry man,” is riding a camel in the Moroccan desert. Reverting to his jokey style, he calls himself Shlemiel of Arabia, a Yiddish inversion of Lawrence of Arabia.
Accompanied by a local chef, he explores a picturesque spice market, the intoxicating aromas sending him into a state of bliss. At a restaurant, he bites into a sardine tart infused with caramelized onions. Then he samples heavenly almond/orange blossom cookies.
Visiting a village in the Atlas Mountains, he enjoys a lunch of chicken, lamb, couscous and vegetables. Hosted by a Berber family, he pronounces the meal as one of his most memorable.
Obviously enamored of Marrakesh, a city of striking Islamic architecture, he describes it as beautiful, complicated and intense.
Before he signs off, he speaks to his wife, Monica, and his 93-year-old father, Max, on FaceTime, summing up his vivid experiences. This is his signature shtick. As each episode ends, he contacts them with the latest news.
In Chicago, where he thinks the promise of America is realized, Rosenthal tries a Polish hotdog smothered with deep-fried onions and peppers, a deep-dish pizza, and pasta and meatballs in what he claims is one of the best Italian restaurants in the United States. For dessert, he drops into an ice cream bar.
Rosenthal has no great expectations in London, having heard that the gastronomic scene leaves something to be desired. But he’s pleasantly surprised. He rhapsodizes over melt-in-the-mouth chocolate chip cookies he’s just bought from the Fortnum & Mason department store. And the advice of his guide, he orders fish and chips at Ken’s Fish Bar. “I love it,” he exclaims.
Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli restaurateur, impresses him with his rendition of shakshouka and a celeriac shawarma sandwich.
Rosenthal’s favorite place in London is Borough Market, where he devours a grilled cheese sandwich to die for. Later, he lunches with food maven/author Nigella Lawson.
Seoul is familiar to Rosenthal because he lives near Korea Town in Los Angeles. At the suggestion of a social media “influencer,” a model born and raised in the United States, he chooses a local favorite, tteokbokki, or chewy rice cakes. He likes them. He goes on to munch his way through hand-cut noodles, a freshly-killed octopus still wriggling on his plate and kimchi dumplings, all of which he adores.
Koreans consume more seafood per capita than anyone else, he tells us, and in this game spirit, he dines on a giant crab leg, crab fried rice and lobster roasted on a bed of charcoals.
Landing in Montreal, which feels like Europe to him though it is only one hour away by air from New York City, Rosenthal heads for the iconic St. Viateur Bagels shop (where I buy sesame bagels when I’m in the city on a visit).
In Rosenthal’s opinion, they’re the finest bagels in the world, bar none. Joe, the Italian proprietor, informs him they’re special because they’re hand-rolled, boiled in honey water and baked in a wood-burning oven. Joe prefers his bagel with a fresh fig, which is very Italianesque.
Rosenthal is also keen about a Portuguese chicken joint, a down-to-earth Haitian restaurant and Schwartz’s deli. “Yes, yes, yes,” he exults after eating a delicious smoked meat sandwich.
Judging by his gut reactions, Rosenthal brings boyish exuberance and a common touch to all his encounters with the bounty of the land and sea.