It’s here. Restaurant wars is here. And Bravo wants you to think that it’s more important than the Inauguration of our first African American President. I am so sick of the Bravo ads, and I am dreading recapping another damn “super-sized” episode. The only “super-sized” thing about them is the commercials.
Anyway, the show begins with the recap of last week, which neither you nor I care about. Moving on, the guest judge for the Quickfire challenge is restaurateur Stephen Starr, of Starr Restaurant Organization. Padma, looking fetching as always, explains that Restaurant Wars is upon us. Like I didn’t already know.
The Quickfire challenge is to make a dish that expresses a restaurant concept, and which would impress a potential investor like Starr. The two winning chefs will get to be the team leaders for Restaurant Wars, and will have their concepts realized.
Maybe it’s the pressure, but the chefs are all over the map on this one. My Poor Boyfriend Fabio especially falters. His concept is Mediterranean lunch menu items (wuh wuh?), which doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Jamie puts together a good dish of Chilean sea bass and creamed corn with bacon and arugula, but doesn’t realize that Alice Waters already covered the “seasonal, local, sustainable” restaurant concept in, like, 1971. Jeff tries and fails to impress Starr with a piece of salmon that’s so pink I think it was dyed with beet juice.
I was kind of rooting for Stefan, whose trio of asparagus looked sophisticated and delicious, And his European-American restaurant concept didn’t sound half bad.
Instead, Rhadika and Leah are the unlikely winners of this challenge. Leah puts together a dish of tempura fried poisson with dashi soy sauce. But even though her restaurant concept (Asian) isn’t well fleshed out, Starr chooses her on the strength of her dish. Rhadika makes a dish of seared cod with chorizo and cream sauce that Steven thinks is well seasoned and well executed.
I have to say, Leah and Rhadika are both weird choices to lead Restaurant Wars—both are pretty shy and accommodating, and haven’t stepped up to leadership roles before. They’re wallflowers compared to Jamie and Stefan, who are much more obvious choices. I wonder how much of Starr’s “choice” was the Producers setting up these ladies to fail. Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything.
After the Quickfire challenge, the two winners choose their teams. Rhadika ends up working with Jamie, Carla and Jeff. They decide name their restaurant “Sahana,” with a menu based on the flavors of the old spice trade. I like the concept, but I can see the clouds gathering as Rhadika fails to take a strong lead early on. She can’t convince Jeff to run the front of the house, even though the blonde pretty-boy is the most logical choice for the role. Instead, Rhadika defers to him, and volunteers to run the front of the house herself. Not a good idea, Rhadika. Not a good idea.
Leah chooses loverboy Hosea, Fabio, and Stefan. In a bizarre move, they name their Asian-themed restaurant Sunset Lounge, which makes me think of hookers and martinis, not Asian food. I think Stefan came up with the name and no one wanted to challenge him. The team, wisely, chooses My Boyfriend Fabio to run the front of the house, thinking that, if he just stands there smiling in front of the diners, the guests won’t remember what they’re eating.
The chefs take a nice Product-Placement-y shopping trip to Pier One Imports (probably the most business Pier One has had in months). Kudos to you, Stefan, for buying unscented candles and not repeating the mistakes of Season three.
After some more shopping and strategy sessions, we come to the big moment we’ve all been waiting for—Hosea and Leah’s make out session! They’re cuddling on a reclining couch and they start kissing—you can even hear the smacking sounds. “Are they both wasted,” Wonktheplank asks? “Probably,” I reply. For all the build up, it’s a pretty small kiss. The next day, both of them are freaking out and convinced that they won’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend to go back to. Well good. You should be freaking out.
The morning after this little drama session, the Chefs jump in the Toyota Sequoias (Product Placement Number Two) and go off to Whole Foods (Product Placement Number Three) and Restaurant Depot (I’ll let that one slide. I think chefs would actually go there to get restaurant supplies, unlike Whole Foods) to finish up their shopping. Also, since we’re on the subject of Product Placements, what’s up with the joint Top Chef/Diet Doctor Pepper ad (Product Placement Number Four)? I seriously hate those things.
There are a number of problems in the food preparation, many due to the freezer. Carla, who is in charge of Sahana’s desserts, can’t get her frozen yogurts to freeze properly. Stefan, who is making Sunset Lounge’s desserts, can’t get his panna cotta to set up at all. However, Carla just hems and haws about the freezer, but Stefan actually figures out a way to make it work, which gives me a grudging respect for him.
Leah is also having problems with her fish, which she isn’t able to properly bone, forcing her to hack it into awkward pieces. But at least Fabio is looking sharp in his white suit with black button-up shirt. “I run the house,” he exclaims as he shows off his suit. “We could serve monkey ass in clam shell.” That you could, Fabio, that you could.
The judges stop at Sahana first, where they are greeted by a pale and stressed-out Rhadika. The meal starts out well enough, with an appetizer of curried carrot soup with smoked paprika and raita, and a chick pea cake with a seared scallop. Tom thinks the soup is “nice,’ but he says it a slightly awe-struck, reverential tone. Starr loves the chickpea cake.
The entrees, white lentils with seared snapper and braised lamb shank with Israeli couscous, are less successful. The judges like the lamb, but Toby thinks the couscous tastes like “dishwater.” This is high praise, however, compared with what they have to say about Carla’s desserts. The servers clear away the cutlery with dinner and forget to bring cutlery for the dessert, so Tom doesn’t even taste the melting, soupy frozen yogurts. Her spiced chocolate cake is also a failure, with multiple guests saying it should be off the menu.
The nail in Sahana’s coffin, however, is that Rhadika is nowhere to be found as the judges leave, and doesn’t even say goodbye. Toby critiques that she isn’t extroverted enough to be a good hostess, while Tom complains that she disappears for long periods of time for no good reason.
After Rhadika’s tense service, My Boyfriend Fabio, in his creamy suit and engaging smile, is a welcome change. “Fabio is fabulous,” Starr gushes. But Fabio’s amuse bouche, a vegetarian egg role with mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and chile sauce, is decidedly un-fabulous. “I thought a frozen egg role was better,” says Tom. The appetizers, a sashimi salad and a curry coconut bisque, aren’t hits. Starr thinks the soup is “okay,” and Toby thinks the spice is too “potent.” As for the sashimi, it could use some salt.
The judges think the braised beef shortrib entrees is nice, but Leah’s cod dish is a miserable failure. Starr comments that the sauce is like “eating a pickle.” Toby’s piece of fish is undercooked, and Fabio has to take it back. And no, the judges don’t want a replacement, thank you very much.
Stefan may be hard to work with, but Leah is lucky he’s on her team—his desserts are fabulous. The judges love his orange chocolate parfait, and praise his lemongrass and ginger pana cotta. He also gives them a chocolate mango lollipop as a sweet extra to end their meal, which both the guests and judges just love.
Remember in Season three where no one won Restaurant Wars, and the chefs got to do the challenge over again? I thought that might happen here. Clearly, the entrees and appetizers were better at Rhadika’s Sahana, but the service and desserts were better at Sunset Lounge. To me, the split was pretty even.
But the ultimate deciding factor is the guests’ comment cards, which give a very slight edge to Sunset Lounge. Even with Leah’s dreadful cod, which Tom calls “the worst thing we had all evening,” her team is the winner. It’s kind of mind boggling. The judges make it clear that Sunset Lounge won because of Fabio’s service and Stefan’s desserts, no thanks to the Star Crossed Smoochers.
The judges name Stefan the winner, and he even gets a whole set of GE appliances (Product Placement Number Six). Look, I know he’s a jerk, but you have to admire him for consistently getting himself together and putting out good food, rather than wallowing in self pity and fooling around with his fellow chefs. As Tim Gunn would say, he “made it work.”
Rhadika’s team is called back for a solid reaming out. The judges are split between what’s worse: Rhadika’s lack of leadership, or Carla’s awful desserts? Carla admits that she just gave up and concentrated on sending “love” out of the kitchen, along with her crappy desserts. But Tom and Starr make a compelling case this even Carla’s poor performance was linked to Rhadika’s tepid leadership. Despite the fact that Rhadika knew Carla was struggling, Rhadika didn’t step in to fix it.
So Rhadika goes home this week, leaving Hosea and Leah to smooch another day.
Next week: Top Chef All Stars! Does this mean Stephen Asprinio will be returning? A girl can dream, can’t she?