The Wife:

It’s Dine About Town in San Francisco right now, an awesome event in which a number of restaurants in the city offer $35 prix fixe three-course dinner menus. I held off on watching “Restaurant Wars” on Wednesday because my brain had already exploded from watching Fringe a day late (thanks to a Dine About Town outing) paired with the two-hour Lost-a-thon. Instead, I saved this for last night’s post-Dine About Town viewing. Coming off the high of a $48 prix fixe three-course with two-course wine pairing at One Market, “Restaurant Wars” was pretty disappointing. Food? Boring and safe. Restaurant concepts? Nothing exciting. That whole Hosea and Leah drama? Not dramatic at all. This episode made me long for the days of season three’s Big Gay Dale and his idiotic scented candles, or even for the satisfying teamwork between Blais and Stephanie in executing their really sweet gastropub last season. This episode – and these contestants – really need some spice, and not Hosea and Leah flavored.

Padma announced the Restaurant Wars challenge really early on, tying in the Quickfire to the Elimination Challenge, which I liked. She brought in guest judge Steven Starr of Starr Restaurants, for whom the cheftestants would cook a single dish that would showcase the concept for the restaurant they would like to open. Two winners would be chosen and, rather than giving either of them immunity, they would be chosen to execute their restaurant vision in the Elimination Challenge.


The Quickfire Dishes and Restaurant Concepts

  • Carla: seared cod in tomato oil for a homemade, seasonal New American joint
  • Hosea: shrimp with morels, garlic potato puree and asparagus for a Mediterranean seafood restaurant
  • Leah: tempura poussin with soy sauce and dashi for a blandly described “Asian-inspired” restaurant, in honor of her Filipina mother (a fact I never could have guessed, actually)
  • Stefan: an asparagus trio featuring trout, salad and soup for an Old World Meets New concept
  • Jeff: salmon with sunchoke and artichoke puree and grilled corn for a simple American restaurant
  • Radhika: seared cod with chorizo, creamed corn and spice rub for a global restaurant
  • Jamie: chilean sea bass with grilled corn and cherry tomatoes for a seasonally focused restaurant
  • Fabio: carpaccio, roasted veg and a high-end cheesesteak sandwich for a Mediterranean lunch spot (Fabio would punch me in the face for calling his filet mignon sandwich a cheesesteak, but it was a cheesesteak.)


Rightfully, Steven Starr placed Jeff and Fabio in the bottom two. Jeff’s dish was a little too simple to demonstrate a concept, and Fabio’s was just confusing. I do not understand how the three things he served on his plate went together at all. Starr’s top honors went to Radhika and Leah for their more innovative dishes. Looking at the dishes they prepared, these two deserved the win for the Quickfire, however, I think a better set of winners might have been Jamie and Stefan, whose visions for their restaurants were clear in the dishes they cooked and who, frankly, we all know would have ended up being better leaders. When I heard that Radhika and Leah were given the prize of having their restaurant concepts executed, I knew we were in for a fucking disaster. We’ve never seen either of them step up to the plate (Husband Note: The other kind of plate. Not the kind with noms on it.) and express an opinion before, and I didn’t think they were going to be able to start now.

Radhikas winning dish.

Radhika's winning dish.

Things were looking up for Radhika at the beginning of this challenge. She got first pick of teammates and chose Jamie, Carla (why?) and Jeff. As the team talked out the concept, Radhika immediately had an idea for a name for her restaurant: Sahana, a Sanskrit word meaning strength. I would eat at a place called Sahana. It sounds pretty. In fact, there’s a Middle Eastern place in San Francisco called Saha that must be derived from the same root word. Leah, on the other hand, picked Hosea (natch), Fabio and Stefan, her least favorite person. She had no thoughts on a name. Honestly, if you come in to Top Chef without potential names for restaurants you want to open in the future, you are probably not the right temperament to be on a show called “Top” anything. (Husband Note: Except for Top Stupid! Or Top Bad Chef! Or Top Gun…I mean…what was I talking about?)

Teams were given guestbooks for the evening, which was a nice touch, but definitely took away one major aspect of being a restaurateur, and that is promotion. Remember in season three when whoever played Front of the House had to act partly as a carnival barker to get butts in the seats when the restaurants opened that evening? I guess that wouldn’t quite work in New York to form the challenge that way, but I bet it would have made this challenge a lot more interesting. In addition to the guestbooks, teams were given the remainder of that day to put together and shop for decorations for the restaurant spaces. The following day they would get 3k to spend on food at Restaurant Depot and Whole Foods and 6 hours to prep for service. Restaurant Wars: The 24 Hour Edition.

The design process, which has always been an interesting part of the Restaurant Wars challenge, was also practically absent this season. We saw maybe five minutes of the chefs pulling bronze giraffes off the shelves of Pier 1 and Stefan, remembering Big Gay Dale’s mistake, hoarding all of the unscented candles for his team. But that was it. I once again have to point to Restaurant Wars from Season Three where the chefs were given 24 hours to paint and decorate their small restaurants in that Miami retail mall. Granted, the restaurants failed so spectacularly on their soft open that they were given a second night of “opening night” service, but the amazing thing about that challenge was that in between services, a decor consultant came in and gave the teams some small pointers on how to improve the decor to give the diners a better experience. How a restaurant looks and how it makes its patrons feel is a major part of the dining experience, and I didn’t get any of that this year at all.

Instead, I got Leah and Hosea getting too close, which ended up not affecting them at all on service. Why? Because they’re professionals. If I am to believe Tony Bourdain, a lot of shit goes down after service – and even during service – that certain cooks might not want to tell their significant others about. But even if that happens, when you’re cooking on the line, it doesn’t matter if you’re fucking the pastry chef or the hostess or having a ménage à trois with the garde-mange and the grill station. All you are doing when you are in the kitchen is cooking. So, thanks, Bravo. Nice try. I wish you had decided to show me some poor design choices instead. I am actually longing for scented candle and black table cloth disasters.

Other than that, there were some minor issues in the getting of the food stuffs. Fabio and Leah found that Whole Foods was out of the red snapper they wanted, so they bought black cod instead. Jamie and Jeff had a similar problem at Restaurant Depot when Jamie couldn’t find lamb shanks, but Jeff decided to poke about in the freezer on his own and managed to dig up two boxes. Problem solved.

Leah finally came up with a name for her Asian-inspired restaurant, Sunset Lounge, which is pretty much one of the most horrible names for a restaurant I could think of. (Husband Note: How about Syphilis Tumor Island?) I honestly can’t tell if it sounds more like a bar or a retirement community. Either way, I do not want to eat there. This is another reason I don’t want to eat there:

Sunset Lounge Menu

  • egg roll
  • sashimi two ways
  • short ribs
  • coconut curry bisque
  • seared cod
  • chocolate parfait
  • panna cotta


Will someone please tell me how those desserts complement that menu? And possibly why, for an upscale Asian-inspired restaurant, Leah and her team were unable to come up with a menu more elevated than what you might find at your local Hawaiian barbeque joint? Seriously, all she’s missing is a plate of loco moco and some gravy fries. The only thing Sunset Lounge had going for it, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that they had Fabio taking on Front of the House. I work in North Beach, a part of San Francisco that has hundreds of restaurants with Fabio-esque men asking you to eat there, and I can tell you that it does not hurt to have a pretty Italian man working in the front of your restaurant.

As far as the food is concerned, I’d rather eat at Sahana:

Sahana Menu

  • curried carrot soup
  • grilled scallop with chickpea cake (Chickpea cakes are all the rage now; I went to two restaurants this week that served them.)
  • braised lamb shank
  • seared snapper
  • baklava and frozen yogurts
  • spiced chocolate cake


During prep, Stefan discovered that his freezer was wonky, so he did what you do when in a bind in the kitchen: you find solutions. Rather than letting his panna cotta go to hell in a handbasket, he started chilling small batches of them in ice-filled pans to get them to cool properly. Carla had a similar problem, but didn’t figure it out until it was too late, forcing her to serve her froyos as froyo soups. Leah, meanwhile, ended up totally destroying her cod fillets because the bones were too delicate and she portioned them before boning them, basically ruining her fish.

As far as service itself was concerned, Fabio rocked it out as Front of the House, being charming and attentive, which are exactly the qualities you need to work front of the house at a restaurant. I think he knew it, too, strutting about in his tight white suit and declaring, in a Team Fabio shirt THAT I NEED while in confessional:


“I run the front of the house. We can serve monkey ass in an empty clam shell and we can still win this one.”


Frankly, I would have liked to see that. It would have made their menu more interesting.

I am so on Team Fabio this year.

I am so on Team Fabio this year.

Radhika, on the other hand, was probably the worst person to play front of the house. She was smart in asking Jamie, who actually runs a kitchen as an executive chef, to be her chef de cuisine and run the kitchen for the night, with Jeff on the line and Carla, the pastry chef, on desserts. But I think Jeff, with his Jesse Spencer good looks, would have been better for Front of the House. All Radhika did all night was wander around nervously, dressed in that lavender grey dress that made her look like a rain cloud, harshing the culinary boner of her entire restaurant. She also didn’t seat people promptly, manage her tables well and spent too much time in the kitchen. I mean, really, Radhika, that dress was pretty, but not on you. When I walk into a global restaurant, I expect one of two things: hostess/front of the house/waitstaff all in uniform trendy black or I expect the hostess/front of the house to be brightly attired, to stand out and to represent the kind of vibe you’ll get from the restaurant. I realize Radhika might not have brought a sari with her (and might not own one at all, though I’m sure she’s been to several traditional Indian weddings in her life), but I wish she had worn something that would have made her look more like the feel of the restaurant. A bright pink dress. A bright green one. Anything bright. Just not that sad grey shift. The sadness of that dress just permeated the place. And Radhika herself was practically grim. Bad news all around.

As far as the food served that night, it was all pretty passable. Leah’s fish for the judges came out undercooked, but the worst part of that wasn’t the undercooking, but the fact that Leah gave up on herself and declared that she didn’t care in front of the rest of her team. Then there was Carla’s dessert disaster of runny unfrozen frozen yogurt. Thankfully, Stefan’s desserts were good. So good, in fact, that the judges decided they were the best part of either restaurant. And for that reason alone, Sunset Lounge was called first to Judges’ Table and was declared the winners. The judges also saw fit to inform Leah that her cod was the worst dish of the entire evening, but Stefan’s desserts and Fabio’s excellent service in the dining room got them the win. I really thought they would give the ultimate win to Fabio, but I guess that’s not fair because it’s not a show about being a great Front of the House, so, instead, Stefan was declared the challenge winner and given a suite of GE appliances just like the ones in the Top Chef kitchen.

I would like Leah to go home as soon as possible, given her incredibly morose tone and lack of confidence. I don’t think she could have sounded any less enthusiastic about herself and her abilities when she answered, though several stutters, that she thought her food that night was pretty good when asked her opinion by the judges. She honestly sounds like she doesn’t want to be there anymore. And that’s fine by me. Go the hell home so I don’t have to see you anymore. In my head, when she’s talking, I imagine that she’s the sad little rolly thing from the Zoloft commercials. She can go hang out the Radhika, the Prozac Rain Cloud and have a miserable ol’ time together. Just get her off my fucking television.

As for the losing Sahana team, the judges identified its two main problems: desserts and service. They grilled Carla about her strange dessert decisions, and she grew bizarrely defensive, shouting things about how even though she knew the yogurts were not good, she served them anyway because making them made her happy and she wanted to send that love out to the dining room. What? What? Excuse me? What? That doesn’t make any sense. Tom mentioned to Radhika that it was part of her job to sell the food from the kitchen and if she knew Carla’s desserts were going awry, she should have cleverly started calling them yogurt soups, thus letting the diners know what to expect and saving the menu item. But Radhika has no leadership skills. She reveals that she basically let her team create the menu and work on their individual portions and that she did nothing early on in service to stop the Carla trainwreck from coming to froyo fruition. This, ultimately, proved tot the judges that Radhika did not have the makings of a Top Chef, and she was told to pack her knives and go.

Hooty-Hoo needs to get hooty-home ASAP, as well. Her and Leah are next on my list of people I hate and want to see leave.

You see how disappointing it is to come home to this miserable episode after a delightful meal at One Market? Filled with golden lentil soup with vadouvan and deconstructed mushroom pot pies and well-paired wines? Do you see?

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