Mel's Diner: Phil Rosenthal
August 3, 2007 9:53 AM
Dined On: This time I picked the restaurant, along with TelevisionWeek Design Director Jennifer Ciminillo, who introduced me to Phil Rosenthal, media columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
I was a little nervous about it. I don't know Phil too well, but Jen said he knows a better restaurant from a not-better restaurant.
And geez, turns out I and Simon L.A. had a tough act to follow: Phil told us over dinner that the previous weekend, his wife took him to the famed Charlie Trotter's back home in Chicago for a multicourse birthday dinner. Trotters is a restaurant-or, perhaps more aptly, dining destination-known as one of the best in the world. Once while traveling in Australia, Phil told a chef that he was from Chicago. The first thing the chef said: "Oooh, Chicago. Charlie Trotter's."
Jen and I are fans of Simon L.A.'s dessert platter, which features cotton candy as the centerpiece. But I'm certain it's not revered halfway around the globe a la Trotter's. Still, the place is stylish, serves inventive drinks such as a grapefruit-basil martini and is centrally located, adjacent to the Beverly Center mall. They also serve a nice mac and cheese.
Phil was in town for the Television Critics Association's semi-annual press tour. He's covered around 35 of the gatherings, having worked for 11 years as a journalist in Los Angeles before returning to his hometown 11 years ago.
We sat on the Simon L.A. patio. It's pleasantly lit and heated, but there was one slightly weird thing about the atmosphere: A marathon of sentimental songs piping all evening. Not bad songs, just noticeably on the sad side. If I was a girl on a date, I'd have been bracing to be dumped romantic comedy-style.
I e-mailed Phil a couple days later to ask what he thought of the restaurant.
"It was lovely on the terrace, despite all those sad songs, and the company was good," he wrote. "Comfort food is comfort food. I mean, mac and cheese, little Hostess-style cupcakes, meatloaf. All that was missing from my childhood was a TV dinner tray with peas and carrots sauteed in the syrup that spilled over from the dessert next to it and a 'Partridge Family' rerun."
Phil, who lived on the other side of the hill when he was an L.A. resident, seems still to be perfectly at home in Southern California. But personally, going back to Chicago was great for him, he said.
"My wife, whom I met after she returned to Chicago, told me we probably wouldn't have dated if we had met when she was still living in L.A. because she didn't go out with guys who lived in the Valley," he said. "Now we have two variable-rate kids and a lovely mortgage."
He's also got the claim to being half of the first married couple covered in Mel's Diner. His wife, Jennie Rosenthal, introduced me to the magnificence of Michael Mina's lobster pot pie during NATPE in January.
The Dish: Call him the real Dr. Phil.
As far as I know Phil and his work, he's always got a wise way of looking at things. An insight or two I hadn't thought of, whether the topic is media, careers or personal stuff.
While at press tour, he was doing a lot of background and brain-bending for stories and columns down the line.
"I'm looking for trends and new ways of looking at what's happening to the media business in the digital age," he said.
The biggest story for Phil lately has been following Rupert Murdoch as he gunned for Dow Jones & Co.
"The implications of that and discerning his strategies to take that company forward in the 21st century, like Sam Zell's efforts to turn around Tribune, could tell us a lot about where all media businesses are headed," he said.
Tribune, of course, owns the Chicago Tribune, so that's got to be one of the trickiest companies for him to cover.
"Apart from noting Tribune Co. owns the Chicago Tribune in stories, you have to set aside the fact it's your own company in your approach and dig in as tenaciously as you would in covering any story," Phil said. "After all, that's what you're paid to do."
One challenge is that the folks at Tribune treat him no differently than anyone else covering them, and some people outside the company view him warily, he said.
He's not in completely uncharted territory, though.
When he worked at the L.A. Daily News and was in his mid-20s, he had to write a story that mentioned Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the paper.
"I was sent to see him by an editor who thought he should have an opportunity to comment," Phil said. "The result was a terrifying experience in his office that ended with him telling me he thought I did very good work but I needed to work on my deportment. Oh, and no comment."
The state of the newspaper biz continues to be a hot media topic, especially when critics from papers across the country are gathered for press tour.
"I wonder how long press tour will continue, but I've been wondering that for a while and it endures," Phil said. "It's no secret newspapers are re-examining the role of television critics and eliminating the TV books that once were filled with stories banked from TCA interview sessions.
"Blogging has changed things too, especially with wireless Internet access in the rooms," he added. "Maybe that helps. Maybe not. I don't know. What do I look like, Kreskin? You know the old saying: He who lives by the crystal ball learns to eat broken glass."
Top that, McGraw!