May 22, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Restaurant Wars

***spoilers included***
The awaited Restaurant Wars episode is here! I always look forward to this episode because I love seeing teams tackle interesting concepts and possibly bite off more than they can chew. This week's bonus replacement head judge, Anthony Bourdain, was a welcome surprise. Though I don't agree with the harshness of all of his views, his wit is always entertaining.

We begin this week with an early morning wake-up call from chef Collichio. The contestants are told to pack up and head out for breakfast service. They arrive at a local breakfast joint and are told they will each get a turn at the egg station. My 6 year experience as a Big Boy waitress taught me that there isn't a lot of "cooking" going on in most big chains these days. A lot of the food came from a local commissary and required little more than reheating by the cooks. The exception was always eggs. You could tell the skill and talent of the cook by how smoothly they could work the egg station. Salvador and Lupe, if you're out there, I mean you two! The cook's economy of motion and the instinct for egg timing lead to a smooth breakfast service. Antonia and Dale fared best at this challenge. Antonia takes the win for her ability to listen to direction and maintain a calm demeanor.

It's revealed that Antonia will be able to pick her restaurant team as reward for her win. Antonia wisely picks Stephanie and Richard for her team. This puts Spike, Dale and Lisa together for the opposing team. Minus two players, it's a rematch of the wedding wars teams. Antonia's team decides to call their restaurant Warehouse Kitchen (WK) and focus on high end cuisine in a casual environment. Spike, et al. choose the name Mai Buddha (MB) and are headed in an Asian direction. The next morning they head for Whole Foods for the food, Pier One for decor and back to their makeshift restaurants to start cooking. Bourdain arrives and the menus are revealed. I'm interested in the trout dish and the Gorgonzola cheesecake from WK and the laksa, halo-halo and short ribs from MB. Stephanie and Spike will represent their teams as front of the house staff in addition to providing help on a dish or two. Bourdain also reveals that each team will receive the help of an eliminated contestant. MB gets first pick and chooses Jen. WK decides to choose Nikki since they are making fresh linguine. The dining rooms are set up and waiters arrive. Plenty of the expected bickering occurs between Dale and Lisa. The judges arrive and the other guest judge is revealed to be Jose Andres. They visit WK first. There is praise all around, especially for Stephanie's two contributions the linguine and Gorgonzola cheesecake. The judges move on to MB. Ted Allen has a few snide comments about the decor. While the first course's pot stickers are praised Lisa's laksa is criticized heavily for its overpowering smoke. The second course follows the same pattern. Spike's short ribs are given heavy praise while there is nothing but disappointment over the overly sweet butterscotch-miso covered scallops. The final blow comes with the dessert course. The sticky rice fix has not done it's job and the dish is found sorely lacking. Baby vomit comments are thrown around.

It's time for judging and it's no surprise that WK is the winning team. The linguine and cheesecake are praised again and Stephanie is awarded the win. For her win she receives a luxury trip to Spain. MB is called in and their dishes are critiqued. The laksa, scallops and sticky rice are singled out as being the biggest problems. Spike's smart, game play influenced decision to take the front of the house and concern himself with only one dish works to his advantage. His short ribs are praised as the best of their menu. Lisa and Dale argue over culpability but in the end Dale is let go because of his role as the executive chef. Once again I'm sorry to see Lisa avoid elimination. Dale's food over the course of the competition seems much more inspired. He does seem to lack experience and will hopefully continue to improve and have success in life.

Little is revealed about next weeks episode. The question to me is will one of our strong players (Richard, Stephanie or Antonia) fail or will we finally cull Lisa?