Tom Colicchio

Tom Colicchio stresses the importance of butchering.

on May 29, 2008

Now I understand that not everyone has fresh ingredients (especially seafood) available to them at all times, and there are many perfectly decent home cooks and restaurants throughout the country that, by necessity, must rely on some frozen ingredients. But that wasn't the case here -- Spike had first choice among a walk-in filled with high-quality fresh options. He didn't have to use the frozen, and, frankly, he should have known better. Even after I quizzed him about this, Spike seemed to miss the point, saying he was going to try to make the scallops "look good on the plate." That's just backwards logic: If you worry first and foremost about making a dish that works on all levels, trust me, it's going to look good on the plate.

Rick Tramonto took Spike to task over this, which brought on Spike's feisty reply, "With all due respect, the scallops were in your walk-in." My heart sunk when I heard this because I've known Rick for years and can say with certainty he doesn't use frozen seafood in his restaurant. Along with the high-end steaks they had provided for the show, Allen Bros. had included a variety of other products to round out the restaurant's existing stock, including frozen scallops, which is how they came to be in Tramonto's walk-in. I learned later that Rick knew this when we taped the show, but chose not to make a federal case out of it. But as a colleague and fan of Rick's, I feel it's important to set the record straight.

Lo and behold, the resulting dish of scallops with hearts of palm and oyster mushrooms was less than inspired. There was a depressing sameness to all of the flavors on the plate, with none of the meaty sweetness of a nice, fresh scallop to elevate the final result. Spike's main course - a beef chop which, though nicely cooked, was served with brussels sprouts, cipolini onions and a cloying sweet potato puree -- failed to redeem his appetizer. The dish was reminiscent of an old-world steakhouse meal, but it wasn't memorable and it lacked the inventiveness and flair his fellow chefs brought to the challenge.