Ristorante Paradiso by Natsume Ono: B+

Twenty-one-year-old Nicoletta arrives in Rome with the intention of confronting her absentee mother, Olga, and revealing the fact of her existence to Olga’s husband, Lorenzo, who had believed his wife to be childless. Instead, she becomes entranced by her mother’s world and ultimately finds a place in it.

Olga and Lorenzo run a restaurant, and though the food is excellent, many of the patrons come just to see the waiters, a staff of mostly older men who all wear glasses (whether necessary or not) to indulge Olga’s whim. At first Nicoletta is perplexed by the multitude of women swooning over these men until she begins to notice the particular charms of Claudio, the head waiter. Claudio is graceful, sexy, and very kind, though he’s still hung up on his ex-wife and continues to wear his wedding ring. Although Nicoletta originally wrangles a job as a kitchen apprentice in order to be near him, she proves to be genuinely good at cooking. She becomes part of the restaurant’s family, and her relationship with Olga improves as a result.

Ristorante Paradiso is a completely different kind of story than not simple, the other Natsume Ono title currently available in English. It’s happy, for one thing, with a cozy, slice-of-life storytelling style and the kind of predictable yet comforting conclusion that would be perfectly at home in an Italian holiday kind of chick flick. Things between Nicoletta and Olga work out too easily, but most of the focus is on the guys anyway, so I’m not as annoyed as I otherwise would be.

Let’s talk about those guys for a minute. Sexy Claudio is definitely the star among them, but grumpy yet kind Luciano is another standout, as is Gigi, Lorenzo’s eccentric half-brother who seems to have a completely unspoken thing for the boss’s wife. Nicoletta is continually upstaged by these men—and by Olga, whose zeal for life makes her a sympathetic character despite the mistakes she made in the past—and it’s no wonder that Gente, the prequel/sequel series due from VIZ in July, focuses on them and not her. Nicoletta starts out as a directionless twenty-something in search of her place in the world, but we just don’t get to know her well enough to find her journey truly compelling. That said, I did appreciate her confidence in certain situations and she has a terrific final line.

It might just be an illusion, but Natsume Ono’s art looks a little more traditional here than in not simple. There’s no way you’d mistake her work for anyone else’s, but the characters seem more normally proportioned and she really does a great job in conveying Claudio’s gentle demeanor and appeal whenever he appears. While the “show don’t tell” rule gets broken on several occasions, there are still a few examples of good nonverbal communication, too. My one artistic complaint is that I wish we could have seen more of the food! Then we might have had something like the Antique Bakery of Italian cuisine. The subtle inclusion of a hilariously oversized ravioli made by Olga is some compensation, however.

In the end, Ristorante Paradiso is definitely worth reading. The plot won’t knock your socks off, but the experience will likely put a smile on your face nonetheless.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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  1. […] it is up to eight volumes, but the latter (a “delightfully whimsical continuation” of Ristorante Paradiso) is complete with three […]

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