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Originally published Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 3:08 PM

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‘Spinning Plates’: a look into the kitchens of 3 restaurants

A three-star review of the documentary “Spinning Plates,” which plumbs the hearts and souls of three very different U.S. restaurants.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Spinning Plates,’ a documentary directed by Joseph Levy. 93 minutes. Not rated; for general audiences. Varsity.

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The three restaurants profiled in Joseph Levy’s “Spinning Plates” are as different as, well, caviar and cornflakes. Alinea is an ultra-high-end Chicago restaurant specializing in molecular gastronomy and run by world-renowned chef Grant Achatz, who thinks nothing of spending hours on a tiny, perfect morsel of food eaten in one bite. Breitbach’s Country Dining, in the heartland of Iowa, is a sixth-generation family-run diner specializing in fried chicken, homemade pie and friendly service to its numerous regulars (several of whom have their own keys to the place). Tucson’s La Cocina de Gabby is a small Mexican restaurant, where an energetic immigrant couple do all of the work themselves — and care for their young daughter, who plays all day in the modest kitchen.

“Spinning Plates” takes a while to figure out its story; the movie’s far along (and a little slow) before we learn that Achatz is facing life-threatening — and taste-killing — tongue cancer; that Breitbach’s 150-year-old building was destroyed in a fire just a few years ago; and that maintaining their dream of La Cocina de Gabby may require owners Francisco and Gabby Martinez to give up everything they have worked for, including their home. Though these stories have little to do with each other, all are gripping, and you watch the last third of “Spinning Plates” rapt. It becomes less about food than about tradition, survival and passion — about restaurants as places that are, as one Breitbach’s patron says, “like home, or what you’d wish it to be.”

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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