Express’ Karmah Elmusa breaks down a meatless “Top Chef” meal.
THIS WEEK’S EPISODE opens with Robin spewing some nonsense about how thrilled the outcome of last week’s Restaurant Wars made her.
Oh yeah, Robin?
I bet you are.
I bet it’s nice when a pair of Voltaggio brothers hoists you on their shoulders and marches you to victory.
WHY oh why is she still here?
Yes, still, after last night’s episode. I won’t tell you who had to pack up until the end of this post, but does it really matter if it wasn’t Robin? Methinks not.
Other highlights from this week include piles of veggies and a visit from young Hollywood.
TV Guide got in on the brand name challenges this week. Padma and guest-judge Paul Bartolotta — beloved Italian-American chef and the man behind the Wynn Las Vegas’ Ristorante di Mare — greet the cheftestants and explain the TV challenge. They are to draw knives with the name of a famous television show, and then create a gourmet TV dinner based on said show.
Most of the dishes produced don’t represent the shows at all. For example, Jennifer (who is one of Chef Bartolotta’s least favorites) draws “The Flintstones” and makes a chicken roulade with garlic cream, a simple pea shoot salad and caramelized peaches with hazelnut and sugar. Nothing about this screams stone age to me, and apparently it doesn’t taste good either. Jennifer needs to settle down — she’s freaking out and sabotaging herself, but we need her to stick around to give the cocky boys a run for their money.
His other least favorite is Robin, who makes a bizarre burger with an egg yolk center to represent … “Sesame Street.” She admits she’s never seen it. And D.C. Mike admits he’s never seen his pick, “Seinfeld,” which elicits astonishment from Chef Bartolotta. It also means Mike didn’t take any of the easy outs (egg roll, Chinese Restaurant episode; soup, Soup Nazi episode; calzone, George/his boss/the calzone episode). Instead he makes sausage and peppers. Neat.
Chef Bartolotta’s favorites are Kevin and Bryan. Kevin draws “The Sopranos” knife, and makes a tiny Italian feast divided into compartments on a TV dinner tray: Braised meat balls, creamy polenta, roasted cauliflower with chili flake and a honey-roasted pear. Bryan draws “MASH,” and goes old school with a chicken roulade (updated meatloaf), mashed potatoes, asparagus and an apple tarte tatin. Kevin snags the win (yay for Kevin!), and learns that a version of his dish will be coming to a frozen food aisle near you. This is beyond the Great Bearded One if you ask me, but I guess he doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
Tom Colicchio offers up his restaurant, Craftsteak in the MGM Grand, for this week’s challenge. He informs the chefs they’ll be taking over the kitchen and preparing a meal for the judges and a few special guests. The chefs spend an entire evening planning menus that center around succulent cuts of beef, lamb and pork, and wake up pumped and ready to make a feast fit for the King of Carnivores.
Once in the Craftsteak kitchen, the chefs start pawing the proteins like a gaggle of starved street urchins, until Chef Colicchio asks them to gather round. He then introduces a special guest for this week: Natalie Portman. Squeal, etc. You may remember her from such movies as “Closer” and “Garden State,” or if you’re Eli, from “Star Wars” Episodes I and II. As he puts it: “The only important thing she ever did was ‘Star Wars.’ That’s the only important thing you can do.” Eli, you continue to amaze: A Southern, Jewish, gourmet Star Warrior. One of a kind.
Ms. Portman then lays the ultimate twist, as far as these chefs are concerned. She’s a vegetarian! All former plans must be nixed — scrap those tenderloins and start over. The level of panic upon hearing they have to work, gasp, VEGETABLES, is hilarious. It’s like someone has asked a jeweler to make a necklace out of tree bark and play dough. They’ll put something out there, but it won’t be pretty. Here’s what they come up with to serve to Natalie Portman, Padma, Gail, Tom and a few of Natalie’s friends:
» Jennifer: Charred eggplant with braised fennel, tomato coins and wild coriander. Served with a butter verjuice that Jennifer serves each guest. She’s so nervous she dumps half of it on them. (They think it’s tasty, but more of a side dish than an entree).
» Kevin: A duo of mushrooms served with smoked kale, candied garlic and two types of turnips. (They find this hearty and delicious. Tom says, “Kevin’s dish proves that vegetables don’t have to be light all the time.”).
» Michael V.: An asparagus salad, Japanese tomato sashimi and banana polenta. (They find it fun, whimsical. Natalie Portman: “It made me smile, and laugh, and I’m confused.”).
» Bryan: Barigoule of artichokes, confit of shallot, wild asparagus and a fennel puree. (They like it, but find it light and meager).
» Eli: A radish salad with wild herbs and confit eggplant with creamed lentils and a spring garlic puree. (They love the texture of the eggplant and like the salad).
» Robin: A squash blossom with a mushroom duxelles, a beet carpaccio and fresh garbanzo beans, finished with chermoula sauce. (They find it unfocused and poorly seasoned, though Natalie thinks it’s “pretty.”)
» D.C. Mike: Roasted leeks with onion jus, served carrot with carrots and fingerling potatoes. (The leeks are undercooked and there’s no protein on the plate).
And while all this high-end gustation is going on, this lowbrow conversation occurs:
Padma: “The garlic is like a little prick on the tip of my tongue.”
Natalie (sqealing): “Oooh, Padma, don’t say that!”
Padma (laughing): “Yes, the garlic blossoms are small, but taste big in your mouth …”
Tom: “We went from little prick to big in your mouth.”
Random Friend of Natalie’s Who Takes It Way Too Far: “That’s what usually happens!”
Oh my — what a racy exchange! Simmer down, foodies.
The judges’ like Kevin, Michael V. and Eli’s dishes the best. They have a lot of nice things to say about all of them, but Kevin, our Great Bearded One, takes his second win of the episode. Michael V. immediately turns into a whiny baby and starts mocking Kevin’s dish, calling it elementary and expressing shock over the fact that he didn’t win. Over the past few weeks, he’s become this season’s villain, while D.C. Mike’s idiosyncrasies have made him endearing.
Which is why this next part is so frustrating. Jennifer, Robin and D.C. Mike are in the bottom three. Robin should go home based on the fact that she totally sucks at this. But nooooo, they send D.C. Mike packing (back to Zaytinya, actually. Check it out if you haven’t). And he takes it like a champ … bows out with a “it is what it is,” and a smug “whatevawhateva.” Bada bing, bada boom. We’ll miss our candid D.C. cheftestant.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
» Jennifer (on “The Flinstones”): “I probably relate to Pebbles the most. She has a cute little boyfriend named Bam Bam who pulls her around by her hair and beats her with a club. I don’t know if I like that, but it could be fun sometimes.”
» Jennifer: “I have never been a vegetarian and I never, ever will be.”
» D.C. Mike: “I’m going to do leeks and make them look like scallops.
» Kevin: “Look like scallops, taste like shit!”