'Top Chef: Las Vegas': Best. Restaurant Wars. Ever.

rickmoonen_padmalakshmi_topcheflasvegas_290.jpgWednesday night's Restaurant Wars episode of "Top Chef: Las Vegas" showed those other five seasons how it should be done. Now I'm a fan.

Don't get me wrong: I love me some "Top Chef." For some reason though, it seemed like everyone except for me loved the Restaurant Wars episodes. I always felt it was always too much of a disaster, too unrealistic, too much like "Hell's Kitchen" for me to enjoy completely.

Quickfire Challenge

The Vegas edition of Restaurant Wars was different, however. Let's just start with the brilliant and maddening Quickfire Challenge, which was by no means realistic, yet the chefs actually delivered what looked to be elegant, tasty and well-plated food.

In the Tag Team Cookoff, the remaining eight chef'testants broke up into two teams. Each team of four would get 40 minutes total -- 10 minutes apiece -- to cook part of and eventually plate a dish. The twist? There were two: No discussion of the dish would take place between the contestants, and those teammates waiting for their turn would be blindfolded.

Yeah ... I think Kevin called it "ludicrous" more than once.

jennifer_topcheflasvegas-290.jpgI gotta give props to both teams: Jennifer's team consisting of Laurine, Mike Isabella and Kevin and M. Voltaggio's team consisting of his brother, Eli and the dreaded mother hen Robin. They really do know their food and were able to puzzle out, improvise and sometimes even change the flavor profile/plan that was implemented. That was really something to watch.

Team Jennifer won with the sable fish dish, winning $10K for the team. Evil Padma the enabler offered them the chance to let it ride -- if they won Restaurant Wars, each team member would get $10K apiece. Otherwise, nada. They made the devil's choice.

Restaurant Wars: Team Mission

Chef Rick Moonen graciously allowed the chef'testants to cook and serve at his RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay, which meant -- woo hoo! -- no decor responsibilities! That always seemed like the silliest and needlessly time-consuming part of Restaurant Wars to me. Sure, a chef must have a vision, a certain aesthetic, but having no design consultants (which even "Hell's Kitchen" provides) and having it cut into food prep time? I call BS.

Oh, and all chefs were told to keep the restaurant's stance on seafood sustainability intact, which meant cooking the right fish. Check out Fish Watch for more.

laurine_topcheflasvegas_290.jpgAnyway, Laurine decided to volunteer for front of the house. Wait, what? She's a total robot-mouse! Gregarious jokester Mike Isabella would have made much more sense. And Laurine was even more dismal than I expected. Timing was completely off in the kitchen, so she totally lost it, running back and forth, losing her food judgment and forgetting to inform the diners (and judges!) of what they were eating. Her one dish -- lamb that she prepped, but Kevin finished -- was lackluster and the meat's temperature was inconsistent.

Everyone else just took on far too much. Mike had two cold dishes (inconsistent arctic char and asparagus), Jennifer had two fish dishes (bland trout with broken butter sauce and Alaskan halibut with mussels and clams), and Kevin had two meat dishes (pork belly and Laurine's lamb).

No lie. The timing was just disastrous from the start, mainly because Jennifer was too ambitious and steamed her shellfish to order. Yikes!

And ... they decided to leave off dessert completely since dessert always spelled Waterloo for previous Restaurant Wars losers.

Restaurant Wars: Team Revolt

michaelvoltaggio_topcheflasvegas_29.jpgOkay, the Voltaggio Brothers -- love 'em or hate 'em -- always make me laugh, especially when they're squabbling. I'm just waiting for the "Stop hitting yourself" or "I'm not touching you!" moments. In particular, Michael's idea to name the restaurant Revolt -- Robin, Eli and Voltaggios -- was hilarious. As Padma so wisely pointed out, "Did they not think we'd think of 'revolting'?" Nope, that was brought up, but they went with Revolt anyway.

Eli went through his "Clark Kent" transformation for the front of the house. His intensity was scary, but at least he was thorough. Since apparently the boys were scared that Robin might eff up the team, they only gave her one dish: a twist on her successful apple tart -- a pear pithivier (yeah, I had to look that up) with an elderflower sauce. Yum!

The Brothers Voltaggio each took on two dishes apiece and executed them splendidly, Michael better than Bryan though. The editing highlighted Michael throughout the episode, which made me fear that he was heading for some sort of comeuppance, but nope, he won. That brilliant-ass chef won again. This is all written with affection though, especially since he showed his true colors when he decided to share his spoils of Restaurant War -- the $10,000 that Team Mission lost by letting it ride -- with his entire team. Good on you, Michael.

Miscellaneous thoughts and musings:

  • Yes, Michael isn't the most self-aware person. He's a bit of a jerk in the kitchen and gets distracted by feelings of superiority. If I knew him in life, I'd probably be annoyed. As it stands though, he did keep the team in order and creates food that lives up to his cocky attitude. The boy can cook.
  • Can the Voltaggio Brothers cook no wrong (forget that other episode)? Just hearing about the chicken and calimari noodles, tender cod and ganache with spearmint ice cream makes we want to go to there.
  • I'm leaning towards Bryan. He's better at keeping his temper and has yet to demonstrate his brother's level of arrogance.
  • robin_topcheflasvegas_290.jpgI'm still waiting for Robin to get kicked off the island. She delivered a good dessert, but really, being with the Voltaggios' team saved her ass.
  • Wow, superstitious much? Deciding not to offer dessert was just chicken. What kind of Top Chef are you?
  • Top quote -- Eli: "[Robin's cooking is] somewhere east of mars in terms of the kind of food we do."
  • Top quote -- Jennifer: "I called my black cod 'trout' on national TV. Awesome."


Next week: Natalie Portman visits, and Mike Isabella practically pees himself. Hmm, we all know she's vegan, so can we be prepared for more quinoa a la the Zooey Deschanel "Top Chef Masters" challenge?

Your thoughts? Agree that Revolt was the best Restaurant Week restaurant ever?