”Top Chef”: This means Restaurant Wars!
Thrilling developments. After last week’s downer ep of Top Chef — which made me want to volunteer at a battered-women’s shelter, I felt so angry at Howie, and so awful for Sara N. and Casey, with their open-toed shoes and exposed upper bodies — last night’s edition marked a graceful return to sanity, both on the show’s part and (I think) on my own. Let me come right out and say it: The show got it wrong last week, with that mean feed-the-drunks challenge, but so, in a different way, did I. After poring through the bouncy message-board back-and-forth (much obliged, troops!) in the bracing light of day (i.e., not at 2 o’clock in the morning, whilst jacked on warm diet cola and mumbling at myself), I see now that Sara N. did deserve to walk seven days ago. Phallus-headed Howie is simply the finer chef. He’s a contender. And, as maybe I’ve said, what’s good about Top Chef right now is that, down now to the final eight, any of them could conceivably take it. (Well, except perhaps Sara M. She still looks like flotsam. And if Sara N. were still around this week, then we’d have two Saras to get rid of — Sara M. Flotsam and Sara N. Jetsam.)
An early sign that I would end up liking this episode very much was the fact that Howie appeared in the opening moments and my stomach no longer revolved at the sight of him. Hmmm, must’ve been a one-week bug. ”Howie’s done for us,” CJ (my new favorite) said, when what he really meant was ”Howie’s dead to us.” But not to me — not quite yet. Howie came on and said he (bleeping) refused to (bleeping) go (bleeping) home for (bleeping) somebody else’s (bleep)-up, and I rubbed my chin like Tom Colicchio and thought, ”You’re an unstable lunatic, Howie, but that’s not a horrible point.” The Howitzer made more sense to me than Sara M., who was up next, and what I think she said, in an affected accent of some sort, was ”My boonda’s not here anymore,” referring to Sara N. Jetsam. What the (bleep) is a boonda? Get Sara M. out of here.
But first there was the quickfire. And ”holy schnikes!” Daniel Boulud was waiting in the kitchen. Judging from his easy nature and doughy smiles, you wouldn’t guess that this Frenchman’s one of the best chefs in the world. But his rep preceded him — somehow everybody on the show already knew that you call the guy ”Danielle,” not ”Daniel.” The challenge he presided over was a meaty one: The chefs had to make ”adventuresome” burgers. Boulud singled out these four patty flippers:
· Dale, whose tuna burger was topped with a fried egg, because ”in my world, everything is breakfast.” (What did that mean, and was it a gay thing? Reading the message boards last week, I suddenly grasped that I’m the last straight man with cable to realize that Bravo is mainly for gay guys and women, though I get it now, duh.)
· CJ, whose fugly scallop-mouse burger, with its leafy green tendrils hanging out its sides, looked to me like something he could’ve dubbed — ewww — a jellyfish slider, even though Boulud ultimately complimented its ”good fire.”
· Howie, who poked two long skewers into his black-truffle burger, making it look as if it had been stabbed by a pair of nurse’s scissors, as if a psychotic RN were loose in the kitchen.
· And Hung. His tempura-flaked shrimp burger sounded like it got dubbed a Hungburger (hey, that’s catchy!) in Boulud’s iffy English, which also attempted to praise Hung’s ”fire.” (Clearly Boulud loves to say the word ”fire.”)
Boulud eventually anointed a winner: CJ inexplicably kicked ass with his jellyfish slider. But he didn’t get immunity. Those days are over. As reward, CJ merely got to pick his team for the elimination challenge. Which conferred significant advantage when Padma (whose slinkily coiffed hair this week made her look even hotter than usual) announced that this week’s contest was ”something we like to call Restaurant Wars.” At that, everybody went, ”Yesss!” except for Micah, watching her first season of Top Chef at home; she went, ”Whaaa?”
Restaurant Wars, Micah, is when two Top Chef teams have 24 hours to open a dinner joint from scratch. CJ filled out his crew with Brian, Tre, and Casey, which — you would think — meant they were going to crush Howie, Hung, Sara M., and poor Dale over on Team Imminent Meltdown. But CJ & Co. looked wobbly from the start, even while just trying to slap a name on their place. ”What about April?” CJ said. ”My sister’s name is April.” April? I hated it. Big-muscles Tre is gonna be cooking at a dainty, grandmom-y place called April? What do you even serve there? At least if I named a restaurant after my sister, Gretchen, you’d know what you’re getting — heaping portions of jägerschnitzel, sauerbraten, herring salad, currywurst, and schweinshaxe, that’s what! At April, I see greenery, maybe a risotto, some white wine — meh.
The other team’s place, located across the way at Dysfunction Junction, was called the Garage, which at least was a more enjoyably, workably bad name. Weird thing was, these four troublemakers seemed to gel from the start. Howie says something, and Sara replies with ”I was thinking that!” Sara says, ”What about this?” and Howie pipes up with a ”That’ll be nice!” And while these two were making noisy love in the kitchen, Dale and Hung were at the design store agreeing that smelly vanilla-scented candles would really tie the room together….
NEXT: Everyone gets served
Let’s zap ahead now. Both teams blew it, big time. At April, Brian flop-sweated through his host suit, and Tre screwed up his smoky taters. At the Garage, Dale’s mood-setting candles merely proved that Boulud knew how to say, ”It smells like a massage parlor in here!” in English, while Howie and Sara’s rapprochement only produced a summer meal heavy enough to put a lumberjack under the table. It wasn’t looking good for anybody except Hung, who aced his tuna tartare. But the judges refused to declare one team the winner. For a while, it looked like they would pick an individual loser, and at one point, when Brian blurted, ”Anything that happened in that dining room was my fault,” and we cut to Tom all of a sudden snapping to life like Hercule Poirot at the moment the murderer inadvertently gives himself away, I thought for sure Malarkey would be fingered for the crime. He wasn’t. This week the judges decided to send no one home — instead, both teams were commanded to stage a Restaurant War do-over, in exactly 24 hours’ time. ”To be continued….”
So see you next week! Since they weren’t gonna send Sara home just to get her out of there, it was exactly the right choice. And such justified benevolence this week will only make the judges grouchier next week, which should translate into oodles and oodles of extra August fun for us at home. Don’t you agree? And what else did you like about this episode? Perhaps because Boulud doesn’t speak the language so well, the evening featured copious insight from an additional guest critic, blogger Andrea Strong, and although I thought the zingers of hers that Padma read on the show were watery (”I don’t want to eat off Billy Idol”?), tonight I dug around her site, The Strong Buzz, and was moderately diverted. At any rate, in the (sometimes very annoying) New York foodie universe, her name just got minted, but better her than that catty male idiot sitting at her table and bitching about the food. (Why do I feel I’ve seen that guy somewhere before? Whoever he is, that was a vegetable medley, and he is a monkey.) Finally, what’s your sister’s name, and what kind of food would you serve at the restaurant you named after her?