The Restaraunt Photgraph by Erin Patrice O'Brien
Jennifer Armstrong
July 18, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In a chic eatery in downtown Manhattan, a generic blond model-type in a pink-and-black slip dress leans toward her date and struggles to put her next sentence together between sips of wine: ”Do I have oregano in my teeth?”

Behind a two-way-mirrored wall in a makeshift control room decorated with a bank of TV monitors, her well-gelled companion’s response is drowned out by groans. ”What did she just say?” says one headset-wearing crew member. ”Did she ask if she has something in her teeth?” another scoffs.

Whatever the guy said must have worked, because the blonde is leaning in closer and mumbling about not having time to put much makeup on. Her date knows what she wants to hear: ”You don’t need it.”

Back in the control room, the headset wearers roll their eyes as they watch the pair program each other’s numbers into their cell phones. ”What are they doing?”

Why, they’re participating in a reality show, of course. But it’s not the kind you think. In a summer full of standard television verite — bad dates, hot-tub romps, lie detectors, and talentless talent contests — NBC’s ”The Restaurant” (debuting Sunday, July 20) promises something different: an unscripted drama that follows the lives of the patrons, waitstaff, and kitchen workers at a New York bistro. At the center of the gastronomic whirlwind is Rocco DiSpirito, a well-known Gotham chef with camera-ready good looks who runs the reality restaurant, Rocco’s, with his Italian-immigrant mom.

”There’s no game, no voting, no prize,” says executive producer Mark Burnett, who built ”Survivor”’s success on all three of those elements. ”It’s almost like a docu-soap. With great characters, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work wonderfully.”

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