If earnest is the new snark—and it is—then Phil Rosenthal is about to dethrone Anthony Bourdain as the king of food-travel stars. Last night was the premiere of the new PBS show I’ll Have What Phil’s Having, featuring the affable Everybody Loves Raymond creator and certified mensch Phil Rosenthal. The first episode takes place in Tokyo, and pairs Rosenthal—who has invested in some of L.A.’s finest restaurants including Providence and Mozza—with a slew of local guides who take him from sushi bar to yakitori stall to molecular gastronomy shrine.
The format is familiar: host visits local culinary and cultural attractions, scenes of which are interspersed with cinematic B-roll and confessional-style cutaways. What’s unique here is Rosenthal’s unabashed enthusiasm for food. Watching him relish the twitching body of a just-beheaded sweet shrimp, you’d think he’d never tasted sushi before. He seems genuinely wowed by the somewhat tired “forest floor” dish at Narisawa as well as the more novel black ant garnish at Jimbocho Den. The entire show is essentially 54 minutes of a super-nice albeit neurotic guy repeatedly having his mind blown. It’s a lot of fun.
Yes, his childlike wonder borders on naiveté at times, but Rosenthal’s palpable glee and flagrant absence of cool keep him from looking like a patsy. His brother is one of the producers, and the intimacy shows in the comfort with which Rosenthal delivers his stand-up quality confessionals. The first episode also features a Skype dialogue with his elderly parents, whose Seinfeldian shtick is almost too good to be believable.
Rosenthal’s glass-is-half-full Larry David act may not win everyone over, but it’s a refreshing antidote to the “too cool to be a tourist” vibe that Anthony Bourdain popularized over the last decade. The Parts Unknown star’s approach is entertaining—and more importantly, enlightening—but the confident swagger with which he strolls through countries is also unachievable. Who else can make touring a third-world fish market with a hangover look so damn good? Rosenthal, on the other hand, is the guy fumbling with a map on a Paris street corner, standing petrified at a Tokyo crosswalk, bowing awkwardly at shop girls, and loving every minute of it. AKA, the rest of us.
If Rosenthal’s sheer relatability doesn’t win you over, the final scene of the premiere will, in which the longtime New Yorker spontaneously whips up a batch of egg creams for a Japanese family at their century-old pond loach restaurant, Iida-ya. They giggle, he giggles, we giggle, and we leave the show wanting to travel more and eat better, or at the very least pledge some money to PBS.
The next episode takes place in Italy, and features Nancy Silverton’s Italian abode. The season finale will be in L.A., where he hangs with Roy Choi, Martin Short, and our own Bill Esparza, who guides Rosenthal through the city’s taco scene. We hear he goes nuts for Carnitas el Momo—though we have a feeling that “going nuts” is sort of Rosenthal’s thing. After last night, his show is ours.
You can watch the entire first episode here. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having airs Monday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS SoCal