The Husband:

It happens every year. Just like the film industry, ideas seem to come in packs of two or three. In 2004, Lost fever infected the networks, and three deep mystery science-fiction shows were unveiled for the 2005-2006 season. Two made it a full season before being unceremoniously canceled (Invasion and Surface) while one didn’t even make it to midseason (Threshold). The quality of these shows are unimportant, because they were created to either capitalize on a trend or a repair a hole missing from the schedule. This works in the film world, too. In 1998, we had both Armageddon and Deep Impact. In the same year, we had both A Bug’s Life and Antz. In 2005 we had both Capote and Infamous (one was pushed back to 2006, can you guess which?). And this is not a new concept in Hollywood. I can trace back to most years started with the studio system and can point out virtually identical films coming out within the same few months. But with television this year, two things happened:

1. CBS tried once again to give us their version of what they think draws people into Grey’s Anatomy, but on their own network. That show is called Three Rivers.

2. After a staggering 15-year run, ER finally came to a close last season, and NBC frantically tried to recreate its medical drama glory. But this time, they decided split the show in two to hedge their bets but take up too much room on a schedule already reeling from one man named Jay Leno.

If you don’t feel like listening to my half-assed television history lesson for the remainder of this article, let me just break it down for you. So far, NBC’s Mercy has aired three episodes, NBC’s Trauma has aired two, and CBS’s Three Rivers has aired one. And how do they rank in terms of quality? The exact order I just put them in, with Mercy almost head-and-shoulders above Trauma and Three Rivers, with only a single episode, drudging the bottom of the lake.

The title is probably ironic.

The title is probably ironic.

So about that splitting ER into two parts. It’s really not at all complicated. Mercy is the character drama, and Trauma is the action show. Put together, these elements apparently made some of the best ER episodes of all time, but on their own, it can be a struggle. So far, however, Mercy is a remarkably competent (big praise, I know) slice-of-life story about the unsung heroes of hospitals — the nurses. This year they have come back in a big way, and while I haven’t seen an episode of similarly themed Nurse Jackie and Hawthorne (two other nurse dramas, unseen because I don’t have Showtime and I avoid networks like TNT and USA like the plague), I can tell you that it’s a refreshing change of pace. Surgeons get all the glory, but nurses are the backbone of any hospital. Taylor Schilling leads the show as former army nurse Veronica Callahan, and she is in the top five best new characters on television this season. Tough and hard-edged but sympathetic, she seems like a real woman doing an unappreciated job, and her quiet energy is such a welcome respite from the outwardly emotional hysterics that populate Seattle Grace and Oceanside Wellness. She is a true find, and her personal life storylines (her troubled marriage, her drunk family, her affair with Men In Trees‘s James Tupper) help the very reality-skewing Jersey City-set show and are handled by the writers with what at least appears to be a great deal of honesty.

I haven’t been able to get a handle of many of the remaining characters, but Guillermo Diaz (he of Weeds and Half Baked) does well playing against type, and while the casting of Michelle Trachtenberg as rookie nurse Chloe Payne brings the wrong kind of tone to the character, casting a lesser known and more sullen actress would have made the character completely unimportant. My favorite element, oddly enough, seems to be the reversal of roles, as James LeGros’s doctor character, Dan Harris, is mostly seen on the outskirts of storylines, much how most nurses are treated on nearly every other hospital drama. (You know how Nurse Olivia was just let go from Seattle Grace at Grey’s Anatomy? It took me a good thirty minutes to remember that she was the one who gave George syphilis after getting it from Karev way back in the early seasons.) And, almost more than anything, I appreciate the fleeting comparisons the show finds between Jersey City and the warzone of Iraq. Both are lost places in their own way, and it’s haunting without being obvious. This is definitely staying on my Season Pass list, and I hope that its unfortunate placement Wednesday at 10 (it belongs later, but thanks to The Jay Leno Show, half of NBC’s schedule seems misplaced.)

HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXPENSIVE! AND ON FIRE!

HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXPENSIVE! AND ON FIRE!

Trauma, so far, is just a big, slick, expensive version of Emergency!, a spin-off of a spin-off (Dragnet to Adam-12 to…) which ran for several seasons back in the 1970s (six seasons plus a handful of TV movies). From the several episodes I’ve seen of that show (starring a young Kevin Tighe, a.k.a. Locke’s father on Lost), I really can’t see much of a difference between the two programs other than its location and its budget. I complained that I couldn’t get too much of a handle on Mercy‘s characters, but at least I can give you a general impression of their internal monologue. Not so on Trauma, which is as surface-level as one could get outside of a CW primetime soap. New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis is, so far, the only character with any personality (unfortunately, it’s a shitty one) and the rest get lost in the shuffle.

What Trauma has going for it, though, is a whole lot of money behind it, something that could cause it to be canceled very soon. Paired up with the fledgling Heroes, Trauma continues to represent how NBC is hemorrhaging money and viewers, and by not putting the show at a proper 10 p.m. spot, it’s getting crushed by the two CBS Chuck Lorre sitcoms. But oh man, does it ever get saved by its big action sequences. Nothing has been spared in the high-octane situations that structure the show, from the mostly unnecessary season opener that blew up part of a building to what can’t be cheap San Francisco location shooting. But with an HD DVR and a 52″ HD LCD Eco-Series Bravia television, I’ve never missed my old stomping grounds of the San Francisco Bay Area more. I’m staying to watch this show just from how much is shot there, how [mostly] accurate the set-ups are, and even its inclusion of mayor Gavin Newsome’s actress wife in the supporting cast. My wife can tell you more about the show’s focus on North Beach, where she worked for two years.

My issue, though, is seemingly contradictory. The action is what makes the show work, but it’s a chore sitting through a single episode. It’s fun to yell out “Trauma!” whenever something terrible happens, but in the second episode, we had four separate cases of trauma including the Embarcadero Street Fair getting pummeled by a car piloted by a man having a stroke. This is enough for three episodes on Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s almost a sidenote here. It’s too much action in a show that desperately needs it to survive. But goddamn, does it look expensive. And that expense kind of negates the verité style it’s going for, so I don’t know what to think anymore.

I would rather see Alex O'Laughlin do anything else.

I would rather see Alex O'Laughlin do anything else.

Three Rivers has only aired one episode, and this is after it was heavily recast (which happened to Alex O’Loughlin’s last show Moonlight as well) as it was decided to air the second episode first. No matter, because the show helped drop CBS to one of its lowest-rated Sunday nights ever, being paired up with Cold Case. (All the family viewers and young professionals pretty much abandon the channel after The Amazing Race is over.) It’s not long for this world, and for good reason. It thinks that we want to be preached to right off the gate, and so this drama about an organ transplant facility in Pittsburgh just doesn’t work. It’s unfair to judge it based on one episode (and one that isn’t the damned pilot), but when a show starts off talking down to us, it’s not a good feeling. ABC’s Grey’s started off as a much frothier show (I would even call it a dramedy) and only later fell into its soapy rhythms, but Three Rivers doesn’t seem to have time for that. A major problem: I understand its decision to include the story about where the organs are coming from in order to humanize the situation, but it’s mostly unnecessary and I hope they abandon it, because it makes the characters back at the facility complete ciphers, just going through the procedural motions. Even O’Loughlin, as famed surgeon Andy Yablonski, isn’t enough to draw me back for much longer, and I once again fear that Alfre Woodard is one of the most misused actresses of her generation. It’s not the worst new drama of the season, nor is it the most obnoxious (so far, that seems to be the tonally misshapen The Forgotten), but if it doesn’t pick up soon, it will be canceled before I even give up on it. (Remember CBS’s hospital drama 3 Lbs.? No? It was on less than five years ago. Still don’t remember it? Exactly. But I watched all three episodes.)

So give Mercy a chance, and I don’t think you’ll regret it. Its cases, while mostly unoriginal, are handled delicately, and the characters feel like actual people. The other two shows? If you’re not into high-definition cinematography of San Francisco or learning about the intricacies of putting new hearts into pregnant women, they probably won’t work for you, either.

The Wife:
I worry about Mercy‘s necessity. Fundamentally, I like the show. And I really didn’t think I would. When NBC was promoting Mercy, they almost entirely glossed over the fact that this show is a narrative about an Iraq war veteran struggling to reintegrate into civilian life, instead using its promo time to make it look like some slick, glossy glorification of nursing (which indeed deserves such glory) and the bonds of female friendship. Case in point: even if Veronica’s background as a soldier was included, what I remember from those promos is the shots of the girls at the bar together, drinking and smiling.

The hurt backpack.

The hurt backpack.

I do think Mercy, as a show about a female Iraq war veteran, an Army nurse not unlike my mother (who once made her non-military living as an OR nurse), is utterly necessary. It is important for us to experience narratives of soldiers returning from conflicts overseas and to understand what it’s like for them to try to carry on with all the horror they’ve experienced. And it’s especially critical that this is a narrative about a female soldier. For all the women who fight for this country, too many artistic renderings of soldiers focus on the men and their experiences. I even applaud the decision to focus this story around the life of an Army medic, a crucial military position I think many forget about. My mother never (thankfully) saw conflict. But when I hear Veronica talk about setting up field hospitals, I can’t help but think of my mother. She knows how to do that, and has done so many times in her life. I’ve seen what those hospitals look like, as we always went to the family day at the end of the Army Reserve’s two-week summer training exercises where her medical unit practiced setting up those hospitals. So this character is perhaps doubly unique to me. I know the women that she is drawn from, my mother and her friends, and that alone makes her utterly real to me.
But although I think Veronica is a starkly unique character and its important for us to have a narrative of a female Iraq war veteran, I do think that gets lost in the way NBC advertised Mercy and its inevitable pigeonhole as just another medical show. I don’t care so much about the cases Veronica deals with, but I care deeply about her inability to share her wartime experiences with her no-longer-estranged husband. Seeing her hold his head in her hands so that he cannot face her when she talks about losing her friend in the field was truly effective, and I hope those of you who watch Mercy continue to tune in for those stunning portraits of a soldier coming home to a world she no longer knows how to navigate.

As for Trauma, the best parts of the show are screaming “Trauma!” when something traumatic happens, and realizing that I probably walked through the set dozens of times when I worked in North Beach. In fact, there was a scene filmed on Green St. between Grant and Broadway in the second episode that I know I’d walked through during tear-down one day when my coworker and I were heading up to North Beach Pizza for lunch. (I was extra impressed that they got a shot of the new location of North Beach Pizza, which only opened in April or May . . . directly across the street from its former location.) This scene happened to feature a homeless drug addict trying to scam the EMTs into giving him morphine, and I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if the show stumbled upon some of North Beach’s actual colorful homeless people. I will keep watching simply to see restaurants I used to frequent and, hopefully, a glimpse of Knifey Knife (a homeless woman who once threatened my friend at the bakery across from my old office with a pumpkin carving knife) and Charlotte (a kindly homeless woman who enjoyed wigs and often sat outside my office, complimenting me on my shoes). Hell, if one of my couriers, Junior, made it into B-roll on Anthony Bourdain’s San Francisco episode of No Reservations, he might even turn up in a long shot, riding his bike down Columbus.

There is really nothing good about Three Rivers.

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The Wife:

With Jamie gone, I have no one to love and root for, as without her, I don’t think Stefan really has any actual competition. I hate Leah, and you all know that and know why. Hosea is a fine chef, but he seems to lack the huevos, if you’ll pardon the pun, to really beat someone with Stefan’s chutzpah. Fabio and Carla are both too hit-or-miss to take the prize, although both of them have really managed to impress in these last few challenges. Thanks to Carla’s hot streak, I’ve forgotten about any bad things she did except for not being inventive enough to figure out how to set her not-so-frozen froyo without the use of a freezer. Fabio, though? Unlike Carla, I am haunted by some of his worst dishes. That disastrous oat-crusted eggplant, for instance, looms in my mind. As does his strange Italian lunch plate with the cheesesteak-that-wasn’t-a-cheesesteak. For Carla and Fabio, when they are on a high, their food can be sublime, but when they fail, they fail hardcore. So unless one of those two cooks everything perfectly in the New Orleans finale, Stefan will be declared Top Chef.

For the Quickfire, Wylie Dufresne of WD-40, New York’s premiere molecular gastronomic eatery (and possibly the second most famous of such eateries in the world, only outmatched by Ferran Adria’s El Bulli in Spain), asked the cheftestants to create an egg dish that would “surprise and delight” him, per Padma. The two wild card chefs were the most interesting to watch in this challenge, as Fabio revealed that he actually knows a lot about molecular gastronomy, something I actually wish he would have pulled out of his crazy Italian hat earlier in the show – more than just that one time when he made those spherical olives. Has he not realized how much more interesting this show is when there’s a molecular chef thrown in with all the classically trained Cordon Bleu types, the CIA grads, the professional caterers, the hoof-to-snout guys and the seasonal/organic chefs? (Actually, I’ve not yet seen a hoof-to-snouter on this show. Top Chef usually has an odd meats challenge, but has never had one to my recollection that involved cooking pig face or trotters.) It’s always good to have a tension between molecular chefs and seasonal/organic chefs, because those two schools of cooking highlight not just what’s big in cooking right now (as Leah so dryly observed), but also to diametrically opposed ideas about food. This isn’t to say that molecular chefs eschew fresh, seasonal and organic things in favor of their true antithesis (processed factory foods in any form, from your McDonald’s hamburger to those infernal Hot Pockets), but simply to say that they bend and change the laws of nature through science. It’s an extreme version of what cooking already is (changing the nature of something through heat and flavor), combined with only the most well-intended food science. For all of that, though, Fabio’s molecular skills failed this time around due to an ill-conceived dish. Carla, on the other hand, chose to highlight her skills at cooking simply, natural foods and managed to pull out a victory with a playful take on green eggs and ham, which someone always does when given an egg challenge.

I suddenly feel like I'm in a Dali painting . . .

I suddenly feel like I'm in a Dali painting . . .


The Quickfire Dishes

Stefan: a savory poached egg with hollandaise and a sweet poached egg panna cotta
Leah: quail egg with potato and caviar and a bacon, egg and cheese mini breaky sammie thingy
Carla: green eggs and ham with egg whites and salsa verde
Hosea: egg white sushi roll with asparagus, poached shrimp with siraccha sauce and a tempura fried egg salad
Fabio: quail egg sunny side up, coconut “sunny side up” panna cotta, and “egg” with lychee juice and mango “yolk”

Wylie liked Fabio’s molecular gastronomy, but thought the dish overall was just playing with ideas more than executing them, landing Fabio in the bottom three along with Leah’s sad Leahness and Hosea’s failure at executing a Japanese-style dish the way someone from Japan would have done it. Stefan probably should have won, but Wylie gave in to Hooty-Hoo’s whimsy and let her simple dish win an advantage in the Elimination Challenge.

The chefs then drew knives from the knife block, emblazoned with the names of other chefs: Lidia Bastianich, Susan Ungaro, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Pepin and Wylie Dufresne himself. Each chef was to cook their knife-chef’s ideal “last meal” on Earth, a concept I like in general because this is a very popular question amongst those in the culinary profession, as well as a tidbit on Yelp user’s profiles. (Mine is currently listed as “goat cheese, straight from the goat.”) Tony Bourdain writes about this a lot, often asking his chef friends over drinks what their last meal would be. It’s never something complex. Many American chefs would choose a perfectly grilled hamburger or a flatiron steak. Tony’s Mexican cooks would choose a dish their mothers always made: tamales, menudo or some carne asada. The best thing you’ve ever eaten may have been the tasting course at the French Laundry, but when you’re about to die, all you really want is some mac and cheese, just the way your grandma made it. Comfort food. Simple and satisfying.

True to that form, none of the guest chefs chose anything terribly outlandish. Lidia Bastianich chose to have a roast chicken with roast potatoes and a simple leafy salad. Susan Ungaro chose shrimp scampi with provencal tomatoes. Swedish chef and Aquavit owner Marcus Samuelsson went for a roast salmon with roast potatoes, the simplest Swedish dish he could have asked for. Jacques Pepin decided on roast squab with peas and Wylie, well, Wylie chose eggs benedict. During prep time, Hosea, who drew Susan Ungaro from the knife block, questioned whether these chefs would really choose these things as their last meal, and while he himself might not choose shrimp scampi, I point to the simplicity of the dish. No one here is asking for their last meal to be more complex than what they could, and probably have, made at home.

The most exciting thing that happened during prep was Fabio somehow breaking his pinky. I don’t really know how this happened, but I always appreciate someone who has balls enough to work through the pain. Dude was a trouper: he had the medic set it and wrap it and he just kept on keepin’ on, even though he had trouble holding things and chopping things. He also remained imminently quotable throughout this:


“I’ll chop it off and sear it on the flattop so it doesn’t bleed anymore. And tomorrow, I deal with nine finger.”


Fabio = one hardcore motherfucker.

During service the next day at New York’s Capital, Leah presented the first course of eggs benedict. She made a simple salad, for no good reason, and everyone hated the salad. Wylie noted that her egg whites were a little watery, but that he didn’t mind it. Marcus Samuelsson, on the other hand, thought her whole dish was a failure of textures. (Maybe she should have stuck with the traditional thicker bread on the bottom instead of going for soft, crumbly challah.)

Stefan served up the second course of salmon, roast potatoes, spinach “two ways” and dill sauce. All of the judges and chefs agreed that his fish was overcooked, and Susan Ungaro said that she wouldn’t have noticed he had made spinach two ways if he hadn’t mentioned it, because she couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

Hosea served the third course of shrimp scampi with burre blanc and tomatoes provencal. Susan thought the shrimp scampi was too creamy, stating that she would have preferred the simple butter, oil and garlic version to one laden with cream. Jacques Pepin didn’t think Hosea rendered a true version of tomatoes provencal and then delivered the most damning critique of all: “He didn’t cook from his gut.”

Broken-fingered Fabio served up the fourth course of roast chicken, roast potatoes and caramelized cipolini onions with a leafy salad. Although everyone thought the salad looked like an airplane salad, his chicken was declared the best meat so far. Marcus Samuelsson loved it so much that he called it: “The first dish I’ve seen that could go straight into a restaurant.”

Hooty-Hoo Carla brought up the fifth course of roast squab with lemon-thyme butter and butter-tarragon peas. Tom Colicchio loved the audacity of her simplicity: literally, just some squab on a plate and a bowl of peas. Jacque Pepin loved the peas so much that he declared, “I think I could die happy with that.” Um! Please don’t, Jacques! We love you!

lady knows how to plate.

And I will say this for Carla: lady knows how to plate.

Tom had pleaded with the cheftestants before service to not embarrass him in front of such highly esteemed chefs and restaurateurs, and he praised his cheftestants for holding up to his standards. Even with overcooked meats and some missteps, nothing was inedible and it all tasted good. Maybe not “last meal” good, but good. At Judges’ Table (which Padma announced with her nipples, because the stew room is apparently a walk-in freezer and I’ve just never noticed before), the panel awarded Fabio with the win and a spot in the semi-finals. He also got a weekend in Napa at Terlato vineyards and a really frickin’ huge bottle of Terlato! (I will stalk him when he’s there. I don’t know how, but I’ll do it.) Carla was also given a spot in the semi-finals, leaving Stefan in the bottom for the first time, like, ever. Fortunately, overcooked fish and not-true-to-form scampi and tomatoes provencal were not enough to knock either him or Hosea out of the top, sending Zoloft Commercial Leah home without much emotion of any kind. I’m just glad to be rid of her.

I think its going to be Stefan for the win. Everyone else is pretty much just a wildcard for the role of “whom he should defeat.”

Fuck yeah! Leah's finally gone!

Fuck yeah! Leah's finally gone!

Other random observations:

  • “It’s Top Chef, not Top Pussy.” – Fabio, a quote that reminds me just how much I hate hearing Italian men say pussy. It just doesn’t sound right. Ever.
  • Did I hear Carla say that she started cooking back when she used to be a model? I mean, the lady is tall, but I’m really curious about this supposed former modeling career, given the beak of a nose that woman’s sportin’. I will give her this, though: she has great hair. (But you know Tyra would crop it. Tyra never lets a girl keep an afro. No one’s hair is allowed to be bigger than Tyra’s.)

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?

The Wife:

I know we don’t usually foray into books on this blog, tending to focus our pop culture prowess on television and – if we ever get around to writing about them – movies. I often wonder about the question of accessibility and communal experience when it comes to books, and while I would say that they are currently a less accessible medium than movies or television, literature has a great history of influence over popular culture and I would be remiss to leave them out of a blog that claims to be dedicated to pop culture narratives. I spend a lot of time reading on the train, in addition to all the television I watch, and I wanted to share some proof of that with my readers. Here’s my reading list from 2008, complete with page count. (An asterisk indicates that a book is very highly recommended by me.)

    1) Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes* (Edith Grossman translation) (932 pages)
    2) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins (384 pages)
    3) The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (159 pages)
    4) Struwwellpeter by Heinrich Hoffman, Sarita Vendetta and Jack Zipes (124 pages)
    5) This Side of Paradise* by F. Scott Fitzgerald (244 pages)
    6) Ahab’s Wife: Or, the Star-gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund (704 pages)
    7) Slam by Nick Hornby (304 pages)
    8) Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (422 pages)
    9) Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (303 pages)
    10) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (709 pages)
    11) The Life of Language by Sol Steinmetz and Barbara Ann Kipfer (400 pages)
    12) The Grapes of Wrath* by John Steinbeck (455 pages)
    13) Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (560 pages)
    14) In Defense of Food* by Michael Pollan (244 pages)
    15) I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley (240 pages)
    16) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (576 pages)
    17) Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (385 pages)
    18) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (355 pages)
    19) The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (418 pages)
    20) Um: Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders and What They Mean by Michael Erard (320 pages)
    21) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (176 pages)
    22) World War Z by Max Brooks (352 pages)
    23) All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen (256 pages)
    24) Paradise Lost by John Milton (442 pages)
    25) A Cook’s Tour* by Anthony Bourdain (288 pages)
    26) Blindness by Jose Saramango (304 pages)
    27) When You Are Engulfed in Flames* by David Sedaris (336 pages)
    28) The Greek Plays* by Ellen McLoughlin (240 pages)
    29) On the Road by Jack Kerouac (320 pages)
    30) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (544 pages)
    31) My Antonia* by Willa Cather (226 pages)
    32) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (228 pages)
    33) The History of Love* by Nicole Krauss (272 pages)
    34) The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (220 pages)
    35) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (326 pages)
    36) Decantations by Frank J. Prail (320 pages)
    37) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (336 pages)
    38) New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (563 pages)

Total Pages Read in 2008: 13,987