Wow. Was everyone as shocked as I was last night to hear Padma ask Dale to pack his knives and go? I almost fell off my couch and dropped my pint of Rum Raisin ice cream. (The show makes me hungry, what can I say?)
I was certain Lisa was the one who was going to be sent home. But when I thought about it a bit, I thought judge's rationale was not unsound. He was the executive chef of the losing team, after all. And the butterscotch lopped scallops were his creation, but still. In terms of overall talent and performance on the show, I'd have sent Lisa packing, not Dale.
But the same thing happened last year on Restaurant Wars, the episode which I judged. You'll recall that Tre, a fan favorite and promising contender, was eventually sent home, to the shock and awe of many viewers. Responsibility for the team as executive chef does have its rewards and its consequences. It doesn't mean I have to like it, but I do in some ways understand it. I thought Warehouse Kitchen and Mai Buddha both presented likable trendy concepts as their restaurant themes, though I wasn't convinced that Warehouse Kitchen's menu was all that gastro-pub.
While I loved the name of the restaurant, and think it did convey the gastro-pub theme quite nicely, I was surprised to find Stephanie's Linguine and Clams on the menu. It's not a gastro-pub dish. For a gastro-pub concept, a chef is upgrading more traditional simple pub fare -- burgers, salads, stews, sandwiches, seafood and chops -- with more refined technique and often locally sourced, small-farm ingredients. I guess it's a small point but I'd have expected to see a really good burger or a heartier more rustic cooking for this concept than the linguine and clams and lamb squared dishes that were presented. Then again, what was presented was apparently delicious, which is quite an important feature in any restaurant, especially on Restaurant Wars.
On the other hand, Mai Buddha seemed doomed from the start with a team that could not get past its internal rivalries to cook for the greater good -- their survival as a team. Their bickering and inability to support and help one another pretty much assured their place on the bottom of the competition. It was almost like all that bad energy infected the food. Certainly it didn't help.
But again, I'd have sent Lisa packing, not Dale. Her Laksa was a disaster as was her sticky rice, and she's consistently seemed unable to cooperate or work as a team. I'd be surprised if she is not the next contestant voted off.
I really enjoyed the Quickfire Challenge this week and have always been in awe of the short-order cook. These folks are aces. I spent a day once working at Shake Shack here in New York City for a story, and I was amazed at how the grill guy kept track of all the burgers and their corresponding temperatures. He has this incredible ability to keep it all straight. I didn't. Luckily they never left me alone back there or asked me to do the cooking. I was just an awed observer.
I also love breakfast, so this challenge really intrigued me. After cheese, eggs are probably my favorite food. I love them every which way: scrambled soft with onions, fashioned into a crepe-like omelet and filled with feta and spinach, or in a Mexican casserole with refried beans, salsa, sour cream, and tortillas. But my favorite way to eat eggs is rather untraditionally -- fried or poached eggs served over more traditional dinner are -- over a salad (usually loaded up with lardons and blue cheese), on top of a burger, a steak, or a dish of polenta or grits.
There are a few egg dishes in this city that consistently wow me. Here are my favorites. I'd love to hear yours!
"Steak and Eggs" Korean Style at the Good Fork, 391 Van Brunt Street, near Coffey Street, 718-643-6636, www.goodfork.com
This adorable little neighborhood restaurant, shaped like the inside of a yacht, is all the way out in Red Hook but it's worth the trip (subway and bus will be necessary if you're coming from Manhattan) if only for chef Sohui Kim's tender grilled skirt steak, served with spicy kimchee rice, and a fried egg on top. Slice through the sunny center and let the yolk coat the spicy rice and the juicy steak, and you've got the world's best sauce.
Mayan Prawns and Anson Mills Grits at Momofuku Noodle Bar, 171 First Avenue, btwn 10th & 11th Streets, (212) 475-7899, www.momofuku.com.
With all of his accolades and awards chef David Chang is undoubtedly Top Chef of the nation at this point. He's got three acclaimed restaurants to his name -- Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, and his latest pre-fixe affair of culinary artwork, Momofuku Ko. But my favorite dish of his is one from his original Momofuku Noodle Bar menu and it's one that's still on there. It's a simple dish of Anson Mill white grits, perfectly cooked so they're almost soupy, topped with diced country ham (for a smoky, meaty punch), sweet Mayan shrimp, a shower of diced scallions, and an exquisite alabaster poached egg that runs over the grits and sauces plate in seconds. The only thing missing is a heel of bread to sop of the last bits.
The Pork Chop and the Polpettone at Mia Dona is located at 206 East 58th Street, between 2nd and 3rd, 212-750-8170.
Chef Michael Psilakis is best known for his spectacular Greek fare at places like Anthos and Kefi, but a few months ago he opened a stylish outpost for rustic Italian food called Mia Dona (which he owns with Donatella Arpaia). He's using the menu to showcase not only his talent with this other Mediterranean paradise, but also to show off his passion for eggs. He uses eggs in two dishes that are positively crave-able. In the first, he uses a fried egg as an accessory for his juicy roasted pork chop which he serves topped with a fried egg and a salad of frisee, lardons, and Gorgonzola. Fantastic. The second dish is called Polpettone and it's a sort of massive meatball fashioned from the classic trio -- veal, pork, and beef -- that's formed into a meatloaf with a seven-minute soft-boiled egg is secreted inside. Slice it open and you'll find your eggscellent surprise. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Enjoy!