Saturday, May 31, 2008

Top Chef 4: Raise the Steaks!

by Xani

**UPDATED with EP's Take!**

Hey, remember back in the day when we used to do Top Chef posts on this blog?? Oh, how times have changed. But this week we're back on the wagon talking about the 12th episode of the season, in which they choose the four contestants who will reach the finals in Puerto Rico.

Heading into the episode we were pretty confident that Antonia, Richard and Stephanie would make it through. But who would join them, Spike or Lisa?? If you don't know by now, you probably live under a rock, but still, we won't spoil it yet. Onto the episode!

The Quickfire Challenge was a two-parter. First, the chefs head to a meat purveyor to show their prowess at butchering giant racks of long-bone USDA Prime aged beef into individual, frenched "Tomahawk" steaks. Now, as soon as I saw them get to work, I was thinking "I can totally do this!" I've cut some steaks in my day. Granted, not steaks as giant as these, and not under such pressure, but still! Anyhow, this phase of the quickfire was a challenge for Stephanie, who had trouble maneuvering the large piece of meat, while Spike "channeled" his butcher grandfather and showed considerable skill in cutting, trimming and frenching the steaks into the perfect lollipop shape.

Next, it was back to the Top Chef kitchen for the next part of the quickfire: cooking those massive steaks! Rick Tramonto is the guest judge, who challenges the chefs to cook a perfect medium-rare (the only way to eat a steak, as we always say). Tramonto evaluates each steak by look and feel, not taste. Stephanie's poor butchering skills and Richard's under-cooked steak land them in the bottom. Spike wins the quickfire, giving him an advantage in the elimination challenge...OR WILL IT???

Moving onto the Elimination Challenge, where Tramonto hands over control of his steakhouse to the chefs for the night. Each must prepare an appetizer and an entree, and Spike's advantage is that he gets to pick the protein for each of his dishes first. He selects the Tomahawk steaks, which did him well in the Quickfire, and some crappy frozen scallops for his appetizer, leaving the other chefs and viewers alike completely baffled.

We finally get to watch the chefs work in a restaurant, solo, producing complete dishes. Tom Collichio is in the kitchen as expediter, making the chefs sweat and stutter, as usual. Finally it is revealed that the special guests at the meal will be Harold, Ilan, and Hung-- the previous three winners, and a tough crowd (I wouldn't want to cook for them!).

All of the food ends up being pretty good (finally!), with only minor complaints from the judges. Lisa's chilled shrimp dish should have been served warm; the frozen scallops don't really deliver (shocker), and Antonia's mushroom salad has a perfectly poached egg (if you recall, she won the diner egg station quickfire, after all!), but is otherwise nothing special. Richard and Stephanie, who both use sweetbreads in their appetizers, get the highest praises from the judges. The entrees are also very successful, Antonia, Stephanie and Lisa all get high praise for their well cooked meat and decadent sides (peanut-butter mashed potatoes?!). Richard gets points off for having his dish be "too deconstructed" and Spike's meat is good but overall his dish doesn't measure up to the ladies. And it's off to Judges' Table...

Unsurprisingly, Stephanie wins again! She's headed to Puerto Rico, as is Richard, whose appetizer was another winner. Then Antonia gets the good news-- the judges loved her entree best and she's in the top four! Onto the elimination, will it be Spike or Lisa...?? Spike gets the boot for his weak scallops and sub-par steak. Also, I'm sure his insult to Chef Tramanto ("well, the scallops were in your walk-in") didn't help things. And we've got our final four! Onto Puerto Rico!


Your hats couldn't save you this time, bro.

Xani's Take:

This week I got a respectable 10 points. My team was Spike, Stephanie and Richard:

I'm currently in fourth place in the BCD Fafarazzi group... just one more week to catch up!!

I was glad to see the chefs step up and cook really yummy looking food this week. And, being a steak lover, I was drooling over all that great looking steak! As for the winners/losers-- I was sortof neutral about whether Spike or Lisa made it into the top four-- they were both obnoxious! I think Spike was more funny-obnoxious, whereas Lisa is just cranky, so I was a little sad to see him go. Definitely looking forward to seeing if this will be the year a female contestant wins it all-- your odds aren't looking too good Richard!

Dish I wish I were eating: With all my drooling over steak, I thought that Richard's hamachi and sweetbreads appetizer looked AWESOME. Can someone make me a big plate of that right now??

Favorite chef at the moment: I'm torn-- all I can say is that I hope its Richard and Stephanie as the top two!

EP's Take:

Hey ya'll! See, only 2 days down South and I'm already talking (typing?) like them. Anyway, like Xani, I really liked this episode. I thought the challenges were interesting and different, and they required the chefs to show us yet another set of skills (skillz?).

Once again, I am an idiot and forgot to change my team, so I had Stephanie, Richard, and long-gone Dale on my team! I still managed to get 9 points though for Stef's win and cursing from her and Richard, leaving me in second place in the BCD group!

My favorite part of the episode was seeing all the chefs working in a real restaurant, with Chef Tom expediting. First, it showed that these people really do know how to be a chef, and so does Chef Tom! I always think that when a chef turns into an entrepreneur/TV host/author (I'm looking at you Anthony, Mario, Daniel, Rocco), they never get into the kitchen and cook like back in the day. But here, we see that Chef Tom's still got the knack. I also audibly gasped when the three former Top Chef winner judges came on screen (though you probably know I'm a bit dramatic at times) - I was so excited! And I heart Ilan even though he's kind of an ass...

Dish I wished I were eating: Stephanie's first course, the sweetbreads with sweet and sour sauce of golden raisins and pine nuts.

Favorite chef at the moment: Richard and Stephanie, of course! Though I am pulling for Antonia - she seems like a tough broad for sure.

Let's all "watch what happens" in the finale! I'm expecting some very exciting curve balls from the judges...can't wait!

X & E

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend 2008 -- Diagnosis: Fun!

by Xani and Erin

We hope all you readers out there enjoyed the long holiday weekend and the exceptional weather (at least here on the East Coast)! We certainly took advantage, and it all started with...

Pitango! Our loyal readers probably remember other posts about Pitango, the absolute best place for frozen treats anywhere in Bmore! It was the perfect treat to spend an hour on Friday afternoon to kick off the holiday weekend.
Xani got the strawberry sorbet and the mojito sorbet; EP got the coffee gelato and chocolate gelato. All were incredible, but the strawberry sorbet was especially amazing and a flavor we hadn't yet tried!

A few hours later, EP picked up her very special visitor for the weekend: Dr. Lee, a good friend from college who was very excited to experience all that Baltimore has to offer. (Phrase of the weekend: "Hell of a town!" [with fist pump]) We tried our hardest to ensure we crammed as many fun Bmore/Maryland activities into the weekend, and as you'll see, we think we did a damn good job.

We started with dinner at SoBo Cafe, a local fave, followed by dessert at Dangerously Delicious. Here we got to try a brand new flavor of pie they have created: The Baltimore Bomb, which is a pie that has Berger cookies inside of it. For non-Bmore folks, this may not mean much to you, but for anyone from the area, you should understand immediately that this is GENIUS. Dr. Lee, a big fan of The Wire, was hoping the evening would include a run by some of our famed "corners," but we decided to just eat some pie and call it a night.

The next morning Lee and Erin did a long walking tour of several areas of the city around the Inner Harbor, starting with Federal Hill, then going through the Harbor, then into Harbor East, and finally to Fells Point. Why did they stop in Fells? For more Pitango, of course! EP noticed that the flavors were different from the day before: no Coffee gelato this time, but they had Dark Chocolate gelato, which was amazing. (I suppose they don't expect people to stop in every day and notice the changes...ah well.)

Later that evening, we stopped for a quick drink or three at Little Havana before our dinner reservation. We sat on the patio and enjoyed sangria and mojitos in the sunshine.

Who needs a glass?

EP and the Good Dr.


Then it was off to Nick's Fish House for the highlight of the evening-- CRABS!! We gathered a crowd of friends, several of whom had never tried MD steamed crabs before ("crab virgins," as we called them), and threw back a couple dozen of the suckers, along with fries, onion rings, and, of course, beers!

Baltimore's Finest

EP & Lee

Alex & Rachel

Melanie & Katie

Lee and Liz-- it's their first time!

Kim and Xani- we're pros at this



All the "crab virgins" were really great sports and at least one (the fearless Dr. Lee!) was dismantling them like a pro by the end of the meal-- his medical training clearly came in handy.

After dinner the three of us headed up to the Brewer's Art in Mt. Vernon to let Lee taste some of Baltimore's best beers. Their seasonal Charm City Sour Cherry was on tap and was extra delicious. And, because crabs are more of an activity than a filling meal, we also got an order of their fantastic fries! On the cab ride home, we serenaded our driver with a stirring rendition of "Show Me the Way to Go Home" a la Jaws. We're sure he was moved.

The next morning we were up bright and early to meet the BCD parents for a drive out to Blackacre, their nearly completed new home in Taylor's Island, MD (about 20 minutes from Cambridge). We piled into the car and a quick two hours later, we were running through the house and squealing like idiots. The house is awesome, especially the kitchen (which we've tentatively nicknamed "Kitchen Stadium")! I can't even imagine what Sunday Dinners will be like once we're cooking with this stuff:

That's a lot of fridge!

Straight out of my dreams

With all the running around and squealing, we really worked up an appetite. So it was off to Portside, about 15 minutes away from Blackacre. We started the meal with their famous cream of crab soup and a special for the day, steamed soft shell clams. Also known as "pissers" or "piss clams" (not an appetizing nickname) these are OMG good. Simply steamed with a little Old Bay, you crack them open, dip them in melted butter and wolf them down. Good stuff. BCD Dad reports that these are available live at a local fish place, so you can bet we will soon be steaming our own! (Also, soft shell clams are what we used during this meal, when we fried them).

After a race back to Baltimore to make sure Lee got to his train on time (Bye Lee, we miss you! Come back and visit again soooon!), we rounded out the weekend with outdoors meals, BBQs and lounging poolside. What a way to kick off the summer! We hope everyone had a great weekend!

Happy Memorial Day!

X & EP

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