Friday, January 23, 2009

Top Chef: Restaurant Wars - Part Two…Plus Who Knew Stephen Starr Was Such A Sweetie?

I’m talking about guest judge Stephen Starr, who is a super-successful restaurateur. He comes across as a warm and caring mentor, as well as an awfully adept business person.

The guests and diners begin to arrive. Jamie yells at the waiters and is PO’ed that Radhika isn’t taking the lead. The judges arrive. Radhika greets them. Life-saver Tom looks fed up already and mocks the appetizer of Whole Wheat Naan with Garlic Oil. Padma explains what it is. Padma and Stephen like the taste (but maybe because they’re hungry).

Next out is Curried Carrot Soup with Smoked Paprika Oil and Raita. That looks pretty. Then Chickpea Cake with Seared Scallop, Masala Tomato Sauce & Arugula Salad. They taste the soup. Tom and Stephen like it. Stephen loves the chickpea cake. A woman guest LOVED the scallops.

The entrees: White Lentil Tabouli, Seared Snapper, Tomato Water (I would have left that out of the name of the dish) & Pea Shoots; Cinnamon & Saffron Braised Lamb Shank with Israeli Couscous.

Tom thinks the lamb shank was executed well and glazed nicely. Stephen likes it. They must be editing out all of Toby’s remarks. He’s strangely silent. Oh, here he is. Toby says the couscous tastes like dishwater. Stephen laughs and says “You’re rough.” Toby might as well as said bah humbug.

Tom says the snapper is only okay. Stephen doesn’t like his fish floating in liquid. Some other guest agrees that there is too much liquid on the plate.

Carla says her frozen desserts are a hot mess:
Spiced Chocolate Cake, Crème Fromage & Cashew Brittle;
Fig and Minted Frozen Yogurts
(STOP putting the “S” there)
Baklava Cigars

We’re getting more detail on the dishes. They sound much better.

The judges don’t have the proper silverware. Toby asks for a spoon. Stephen says it’s not big deal. Oh, they’re allowing Toby to speak again. He goes on about how this meal reminds him of the career of Elvis Presley, where it started off incredibly well and…Stephen finishes…it died on the toilet. Padma looks incredulous. Toby has to add, “THAT comes later.” Okay boys.

Other diners agree dessert was really bad.

Radhika is not doing a good job at hostessing. People say she looks tense and flustered. Toby says you need someone extroverted. Plus she disappears from the dining room for long stretches.

The judges get up to leave. Tom is appalled that they don’t get a good-bye, because Radhika is nowhere to be found.

The next team is up. Fabio says he’s using a really thick accent to charm people. Stephen says Fabio was fabulous at the door.

Fabio serves an Amuse Bouche - Vegetable Roll with Mushrooms, Carrots, Cabbage & Sweet Chili Sauce. That sounds nasty.

Stephen said it’s second rate. Tom: I‘ve had better frozen egg rolls.
One person said it amused her bouche.

First courses: Tuna & Salmon Sashimi, Radish Salad & Yuzu Vinaigrette; Coconut Curry Bisque with Shrimp Dumplings (THAT sounds good.) Stephen smiles. Toby says,”Too potent, shocking.” Padma says the food needed salt.

Leah says her fish sucks.
Entrees: Braised Beef Short Ribs with Ginger, Vegetable & Beef Demi-Glace
Seared Black Cod, Fresh Vegetables & Chinese Cabbage

Oh, one of these must be the undercooked thing that Padma was talking about. They all like short ribs, so it must be Leah’s sucky fish.

Some comments: “That sauce is brutal.” “The actual cod is undercooked.” Stephen says, “Ah, that’s a shame.” He really sounds sorry. I like him. Stephen’s not ready to pounce on the first mistake.

Wait, something is coming back to me. I know why I liked Dale so much. He was a sous chef at Buddakan, one of Stephen’s really terrific restaurants. I love Buddakan. I love Dale, so I guess there’s no reason why I wouldn’t love Stephen Starr.

Fabio asks Padma what’s wrong with the fish. She says it’s undercooked. He apologizes and takes it away.

Leah apologizes to Hosea. Hosea to the camera: “All the life force of our team just went out the window.”

Maybe if you two hadn’t been making goo-goo eyes at each other the night before, this wouldn't have happened.

Fabio tries to make it all better with the desserts: Chocolate Rice Parfait, Grapefruit Jelly & Pineapple; Lemongrass & Ginger Panna Cotta, Peach Purée & Ginger Honey

Why would I want Grapefruit Jelly after dinner and why did he ruin this chocolate thing with rice?

I really and truly know NOTHING! The judges love the desserts. Stephen: The desserts are better in this restaurant.” Toby: “Easily the best component of the meal.” Tom: “Yeah, easily.” Tom says Stefan could very well have saved his team tonight and he certainly saved himself.

Fabio brings out a palate cleanser of Frozen Mango, Bitter Chocolate & Mint Lollipop with Green Tea. All the judges loved it. Radhika is sure she’s going home. Carla is too. The only way Leah is not going home she says is if the other team did sh****er than they did.

Stephen chooses Sahana as the better restaurant, but he says they also have to weigh Stefan’s dessert on the other team. Tom says they have to factor in the superior greeting of Team Sunset Lounge (such a bad name) and the fact that Fabio actually said goodbye to them.

Oh no, Leah’s staying and Radhika’s going. Is that what’s going to happen?

Toby agrees that the food was marginally better in Radhika’s restaurant, but the service was so much better here.

That IS what I always say. Nothing makes a good meal worse than BAD service. And nothing can enhance a so-so meal more than GOOD service. But I’m not so sure I feel that way in this instance. This IS a COOKING competition. There’s no dispute that Radhika has a lousy personality and appears sullen and unhappy, but it looks as if her team cooked the better meal.

Padma asks to see the Sunset Lounge Team. The diners preferred their restaurant by a small margin. The reason their team is the winning team is because of Fabio’s service and Stefan’s desserts. Toby says Fabio was charming and won him over.

Okay, great, now he can be a greeter for any Friday’s in the country. That’s important, I agree, but, actually, I’m a bit torn. In that room, at that moment, shouldn’t the food be the overriding factor?

Tom tells Leah that the cod was the worst thing they had all evening. If Fabio and Stefan hadn’t saved the team, SHE would be going home. Stephen announces the winner – Stefan. He gets a great prize – a boatload of GE appliances.

The other team goes in. Radhika answers “I’m not sure,” when asked what went wrong. Stephen gently says he liked this restaurant better, BUT “The desserts here failed miserably,” he reluctantly told her.

Carla says her problem was trying to do too much. Tom laughs when Carla explains that even though she knew her dishes were horrible, she was sending out love with them, because that’s how she rolls. When Tom queries her, she says strongly, “That is my belief, Tom.”

She should STAY for that reason right there…or maybe that’s why she should go home. Even though the freezers were failing, Tom said, Carla should have told Radhika and Radhika could have called it yogurt soup.

He says ”Radhika, do you think you should go home for this?” She says, snottily, that if it’s an issue with the front of the house, then it’s her fault, and she can’t argue with them…as if she’s washing her hands of anything that happened in the back. Go Home. She’s so painful as she basically admits that she took no responsibility for anything. Tom says as a chef-owner you have to follow through with things.

Stephen gently explains, “As a chef owner, you have to assume no one will do their job properly.”

My goodness, Stephen Starr is really a lovely guy. He felt truly bad when dishes failed. He seemed to want to instruct the cheftestents (there I go again with my new word) in restaurant management know-how. Now if only I could get a reservation at one of his restaurants on a Saturday Night.

The chefs go out. The judges discuss. They all agree that Jeff and Jamie pulled their weight. Many of the comment cards said “Where is the hostess?” Tom: ”She seems beat down. She seems over it.” Stephen says it looks like the entire team was basically on its own and now well-supervised. Toby: “If we had decided to judge this challenge solely on the basis of the food, then they wouldn’t have even been out here.” He finally makes a good point. So I guess Radhika is going home.

Then Tom spits out, “TWO desserts! (Carla) could have gotten ONE wrong. She got them BOTH wrong.“ Stephen agrees that Carla can’t blame Radhika for the cake. Stephen says that if one of his pastry chefs knew a dessert was bad going out, but she was sending it out with love, he would fire her. They had a laugh over Carla.

Okay and the loser is…Radhika. She’s mad because she went home for being in the front of the house and this is a cooking competition. YEAH!!! That’s why you were a moron for being in the back!

She says her problem is that she gives more than she takes. GIVE ME A BREAK!!!
That’s like when people are asked about their character flaws and they say, “MY problem is that I’m just too nice.”

Radhika continues that she’s learned a lot while on Top Chef about how she tries too hard to accommodate people. When did that happen? She walked around with a long face, joyless, inspiration-less and just a total drag. She’s looking forward to going home to all the “recognition”.

It’s probably a bad sign when you want EVERYONE to go home. There was an interesting comment I got about Jamie and Stefan perhaps being the two finalists. It never occurred to me that Stefan would win, but perhaps that’s where this is all going and we’ve all spent an awful amount of time crowning the biggest nincompoop Top Chef.


DebCarol said...

Top Nincompoop indeed. And how right you are about S. Starr .... he elevated the proceedings to a height we haven't seen this year. He made Toby look like a first-grader throwing spitballs. Also SOOO agree with your daughter's comment on Sunset Lounge. Ha - name really did evoke a dark, smokey Vegas nightclubby dump.

Jen said...

I can't believe they didn't send Leah home. From all indication during the actual tasting Team Sahana made better food, it was just Carla's dessert that was awful... and Leah sent out uncooked fish to the judges! Ugh-- this episode made me really mad.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Thanks again for keeping me on top of this! I just caught the previous episode in a rerun this weekend. Hopefully I can catch Restaurant Wars before the next episode.

Sunset Lounge sounds like a hundred other bars and restaurants. Really stupid name. Heck, I can think of two restaurants in this area called Sunset Grille and one burned down!

Sue said...

Hi DC,
The funny thing is that I haven't used that word since 8th grade and it fits Stefan perfectly.

The name of their restaurant was a huge mistake and they squeaked by with a win.

Hi Jen,
You're so right. Isn't it supposed to be about THE FOOD?

TWO restaurants were named Sunset Grille? That sounds like a senior citizen 4 pm dinner type place to me.

Tracy said...

An interesting point of view -- I didn't notice that about Stephen Starr, but you're probably right.

And I agree that Sunset Lounge is a dumb name.