The Restaurant is a reality series centered around a star chef, his petulant staff, and impossible-to-please customers; the second is a foodie fantasy that eroticizes chicken breasts and chocolate; the third is cashew-nuts-and-bolts stuff: getting good grub on the table, fast. About ''The Restaurant,'' if you've seen the ceaseless American Express spots starring chef Rocco DiSpirito, you've pretty much seen the show. In the ads, white-aproned hunk DiSpirito whines about the long odds against launching a successful restaurant over some quick cuts of frying-pan fare being flipped, wine bottles being uncorked, and voiceover plugs for the credit-card company's small-business loans. In ''Restaurant'' itself, we see much of the same thing: whine, wine, and flip, plus hyped-up montages to create false suspense when a customer (gasp-choke!) discovers that her chicken entrée is really veal. Add a waitstaff hired more for their self-absorbed exasperation than napkin-folding skills, and you've got a show that can be entertaining (who doesn't like a good kitchen fire?) without ever being likable.
The big mistake ''Survivor'' producer Mark Burnett made was setting ''Restaurant'' in Manhattan, universal epicenter of know-it-all rudeness as practiced by media-conscious climbers. Do I care that DiSpirito (a hustler who trundles out his little old mom to calm eaters angry about cold appetizers) thinks his joint is ''hemorrhaging money''? Or that one of Rocco's surliest waitresses resents having to be ''nice to everyone''? No. Had the show followed the genesis of a grilled-cheese-'n'-milk-shake diner in Dubuque, Iowa, curiosity and sympathy might have swelled within my own chicken breast; as it is, it's fun to see so many New Yorkers so ostentatiously miserable amid so much ripe produce.