Trouble With Toast

Top Chef Las Vegas, Episode 9 | October 22, 2009

Normally, I can’t stay up late enough to enjoy Top Chef on its regularly scheduled Wednesday night slot.  Mock me if you must, but mama needs her beauty sleep, ya dig?  For Restaurant Wars, though, I made an exception and hunkered down for the super-sized episode.

Our first shot at the TC compound shows teeny tiny Jen in a teeny tiny (but super cute) bikini.  Inside the house, we hear MORE about the Voltaggio brothers and their lifelong competition, and Ash is missed for the dynamic he brought to the group.  At the M Resort, Padma and Rick Moonen greet the chefs for the quickfire challenge, which they describe as a tag-team cook-off.  The chefs draw knives, and Jen ends up getting “First Pick” and Mike V. gets “Second Pick.”  So, they are the “leaders” and get to pick their teams in that order.  Jen wonders whether to split up the brothers or keep them together, but she ultimately picks Kevin, Mike I., and Laurine.  That leaves Mike V. with Bryan, Eli, and Robin.

The tag team challenge involves each chef cooking for 10 minutes while the remaining chefs are blindfolded.  Somehow, this is supposed to test their teamwork.  I am confused, as I always thought that teamwork involved collaboration and communication (and the chefs are not allowed to talk to each other, making this a see no evil, speak no evil kind of situation).  Anywho, on the blue team, Jen pulls and trims some black cod, starts a sauce, and heats some oil for poaching.  Laurine unwraps scallops and looks perplexed for a moment before she figures out the whole poaching idea, but I’m not sure what she does besides that.  Mike I. inexplicably moves Jen’s oil from the heat and starts a second pot of the same thing.  Kevin ditches the whole poaching idea altogether and decides to butter-roast the fish in the pan.  The final dish: sablefish (another name for black cod) with sauteed mushrooms, shitake broth, and radish salad.  Moonen really likes it, though Jen mistakenly describes it as trout.

As for the red team, Eli starts out by grabbing tons of ingredients and just prepping the hell out of them.  He also starts to sear some strip steaks.  Robin comes in next and is impressed by what Eli was able to accomplish.  She sees the available ingredients and thinks Caesar salad, so she makes a yuzu anchovy vinagrette to use with some shaved fennel.  Bryan realizes he’s in the land of Asian flavors, so he blends some soy and avocado with the yuzu concoction.  Mike V. comes in and finishes the plating.  The finished dish: pan-roasted New York strip steak with whipped miso-avocado puree.  He tells Chef Moonen that the whip is pretty salty, so the steak was underseasoned in order to counteract that.  Moonen wishes the steak would have been cooked a wee bit more, but likes the dish overall.  Forced to choose, the guest judge picks the blue team.  Yay, Team Kevin!  The winners will get a big advantage in the elimination challenge, but they also get $10,000 to split–OR, they can “let it ride,” and if they win Restaurant Wars, they EACH get $10,000.  Clearly, the blue team opts to let it ride.

The teams do all their shopping and strategizing with relatively little drama.  The red team is naming their restaurant REVolt, which incorporates the “R” from Robin, the “E” from Eli, and the “Volt” from Voltaggio.  I think it’s adorable that they worked everyone’s name in there, and that they are focused on a food revolution.  As you will see later, I am the only one who holds this opinion.  They throw ideas around, and Mike largely poo-poos brother Bryan’s suggestions.  Mike V. gives props to Robin and her winning apple crumble, suggesting that she refines it to create a pear pastry dessert.  Bryan wants to make his chocolate ganache, but Mike V. is skeptical because it tanked before; he asks snottily if big brother could manage NOT to make it grainy this time.  Seriously, the Voltaggio ‘tood is getting on my nerves.  Eli volunteers to work the front of the house, and he proceeds to try on many ill-fitting suit-like garments.  Such a mess, that one.  The blue team is naming their restaurant Mission, blabbing something about architechture or whatever (yawn).  Laurine is going to work the front of the house, which I think is the most horrible idea ever, since she seems to have the personality of a wet noodle.  An occasionally cranky wet noodle.  Mike I. is going to do two first courses, Jen is going to do two fish courses, and Kevin is going to do two meat courses.  The team is opting out of dessert because they feel like everyone who does dessert ends up going home.

For the challenge, they are cooking at Moonen’s double-kitchened, two-story restaurant at the Mandalay Bay, and the “significant” advantage gained by the blue team is simply getting to pick first.  Lame.  They go to the fine dining area, leaving the red team to set up shop in the more casual eatery.  Everyone is behind, everyone is in the weeds, and everyone is fussy.  Mike V., in addition to being all of those things, is also a bossy asshole.  Nonetheless, the prep time passes and it is time for service.  The judges visit REVolt first, and immediately start bagging on the name (saying that it makes them think “revolting”).  Seriously?  My mind didn’t go there AT ALL.  Eli seems to be an attentive and relatively charming host, and he brings out the first course, his smoked arctic char with beets and horseradish cream and Mike’s pressed chicken and calamari.  The judges are not wowed by Eli’s dish, but they LOVE the chicken.  Like, to the point where Tom and Padma are glaring at each other over who gets the last bite.  Next comes Bryan’s duo of beef (short ribs and NY strip) and Mike’s cod with billi-bi sauce.  The beef is good but not great, but the cod is very popular at the table.  For dessert, the judges get Bryan’s chocolate ganache with spearmint ice cream and Robin’s pear pithivier.  Both are very successful, with Toby stating that the pear dessert is Robin’s best dish to date.  Generally, things seem to go smoothly, with the exception of some cursing and yelling between Robin and Mike V. in the kitchen.  Oh, and the fact that Eli needs to tuck his damn shirt in.

Up at Mission, things are…not so good.  Everyone seems like they’re off their respective games.  Even Kevin appears to be stressin’ it, which is off-putting.  Laurine is really struggling with the full restaurant and the fact that things are moving so slowly.  The judges arrive and are given the first course, Mike I.’s arctic char tartare and asparagus and egg “salad.”  Good thing they had menus to tell them what they were eating, since Laurine practically sprinted away from the table after putting the plates down.  Neither dish impresses anyone, and Padma asks for salt.  Gasp.  Not a good start, and Mike I. knows it.  There is a looooooooong wait between the first course and the second, which is Jen’s trout (really, trout this time) with hazelnut butter and a bouillabaisse with halibut.  The halibut is beautiful, but the rest of the food is downright lousy–the trout in particular is just brown and unappetizing, and the accompanying sauce is broken and greasy.  The third course is Laurine’s lamb with carrot jam and Kevin’s pork three ways.  I don’t even remember what they said about Kevin’s dish, because mostly they were complaining about how the lamb was significantly undercooked and felt like Jell-O in the middle.  Bleh.  The judges also commented on the lack of dessert, and it wasn’t in a complimentary fashion.

Clearly, the red team ends up at judges table first, as the winners.  Toby says that if he reviewed the restaurant, he would have made fun of the name and the host’s clothes, but then he would have given it three stars.  There’s not a lot of negativity at all, except for Robin and Mike V. being all cranky with each other (there is passive-aggression and eye-rolling, as we have come to expect).  In the end, Mike V. is declared the winner, and he receives an autographed copy of Moonen’s book and the $10,000 chip that the blue team forfeited.  Mike V. asks the judges if he can split the money amongst the team, and they say he can do whatever he wants with it.  In the stew room, Robin comments on how generous the gesture is, but Bryan pouts that Mike can keep his (Bryan’s) share of the winnings.  Mike is all, like, “Are you pissed?” and Bryan is all, like, “No, but you won, so you keep it.”  To the camera, Bryan admits that he IS pissed that Mike’s unprofessional behavior is being rewarded.  Great, that means even more bro-on-bro conflict next week.  I’m over the sibling rivalry, Bravo.

The blue team looks all kinds of defeated when they stand before the judges.  Everyone admits that they had a bad night, and Jen even compares herself to her broken sauce.  Mike I. seems to be safe because his dishes were neither bad nor good, but everyone else has major issues to deal with.  For Kevin, it’s the poorly cooked lamb.  For Jen, it’s everything BUT the well-cooked halibut.  For Laurine, it’s bad FOH service and not taking enough responsibility for her lamb dish.  Thankfully, Laurine is the one sent packing, though I do wonder about that whole premise of judging each chef on a week by week basis (rather than cumulatively).

How was this Restaurant War for you?



  1. I’d agree that this was the best Restaurant Wars ever. As the judges noted, REVOLT was the best RW establishment out of all the seasons. Probably because they did not have to do the decor. Excellent choice by the judges or Moonen, as he probably didn’t want amatuer designers screwing with his place.

    I’m over the sibling rivalry too, though since I live outside of Frederick, MD, I think I’ll try Bryan’s Volt. I’ll try to ask about it if I see him there.

    Laurine was the right person booted, though I would have been happy if Robin was gone. She seems to be a good person, but her skills seem to be a step behind the rest. Of course, Robin’s great dessert and being on the winning team shot that hope.

    Comment by Big Money Tony — October 23, 2009 @ 2:29 am

    • The chef’s table (Table 21, I believe it is called) at Volt is supposed to be amazing, and gives you really up-close access to the chef. If you do try it, let me know what you think! I hope to visit Kevin’s restaurant here in ATL very soon.

      I have no love lost for Laurine (say that three times fast), and barring some odd twist of fate, I have to believe that Robin will be the next to go.

      Comment by bettyjoan — October 23, 2009 @ 2:00 pm

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