Cast Blog: #TOPCHEF

My Dinner At Tramonto's Steak And Seafood

Bravotv.com's Editor dishes about her Windy City meal.

Well, hello again! I don't even know if I need to address comments this week seeing as they were all, um, the same: Lisa needs to go. Well, unfortunately for you I have zero say over that, and since the finale has been shot already, well, you'll just have to watch what happens .... (Yes -- I'm as surprised as you that that is the first time I have used that phrase in my blog.)

And stay tuned to the end of my blog this week for details on my trip to Tramonto's Steak & Seafood including dessert food porn!

OK -- let's talk about this episode. I have a feeling we're going to get a lot of comments about the emphasis on beef this week, especially since so many of you have commented on wanting a vegetarian/vegan challenge. I can assure you that I have brought this up to people who have more power than me. But for this week, it was all about steak. As a big carnivore, I love steak. I grew up eating a lot of meat and steak was a big part of that, especially since steakhouses are some of the few fine dining destinations my whole family can agree on. In the Quickfire the chefs had to butcher their own meat, and well, I thought some of the physically weaker chefs might fall over. I have to say the whole scene reminded me of a scene from Fast Food Nation. Fortunately for them, they were given only the best cuts to deal with. In the end, Spike prevailed, thoroughly impressing Chef Tramonto. As a viewer I was skeptical as to how well a chef would really be able to butcher that size cut, but being able to discern a good cut from a messy one is a chef's job. He only had to look at and cut into the chef's creations to determine who came out on top and who fell to the bottom. A lot of people are afraid to eat pink/red meat, but you should always order medium-rare at a steakhouse if you want the best out of your beef, and Chef Tramonto was looking for that perfect color and texture.


Anyway, Spike's advantage is to choose his two proteins in the challenge. He chooses the tomahawk and scallops ... frozen scallops. We asked Rick about the scallops in this week's "Breaking Bread with ..." and he confirmed that he does not normally have frozen scallops in his pantry. And you know what? Even if he does, Spike shouldn't have chosen them. Remember when he chose the bad meat from the Green Market? It's not the first time not choosing fresh product has bitten him in the ass. Furthermore, this isn't the first time choosing frozen protein has hurt a Top Chef contestant, and unfortunately it probably wont be the last. Honestly I'm sure you're all still upset Lisa is still there, but since there was an overwhelming "Spike should go" contingent, hopefully some of you will be satisfied. And while, yes, after reading all your comments I now know that you all love Dale, my comment last week referencing that you would be happy he was gone was based on comments before last week's episode. We had a lot of first-time commenters who had never expressed their love for Dale before, and, well, I gotta admit, i was caught off-guard. I can't say I don't disagree though. Lisa and Dale are both very talented, but I always saw Dale as a bigger threat. Who knows, though -- maybe Lisa will be a real wild card.

Once again, Antonia, Stephanie, and Richard wowed the judges ... which included our former winners! How nice was it to see Harold, Ilan, and Hung, together? (And Tom in the kitchen?!) I couldn't help but laugh every time the camera showed Harold eating. He really attacks that stuff, and you could kinda tell that he and Rick would probably be best friends if they lived in the same city. He says about as much in his blog this week. Stephanie and Richard both made sweetbreads dishes and while I've never eaten them, I think I'm going to start.


OK -- now onto the fun stuff (for me): My trip to Chicago! (Warning: Foodie fan bragging commencing ...) This past Saturday night, I had the pleasure of dining at Tramonto's Steak & Seafood. I had the advantage of having a reservation set up through Chef Tramonto and Gand's "people," and I certainly got the star treatment. I arrived at the restaurant which resides in the Westin Hotel in Wheeling, IL with four of my girlfriends and was warmly greeted by a lovely man named Tim Rice (If I'm wrong, I apologize!) and an invitation to a viewing party the restaurant was throwing to watch tonight's episode with Rick himself! (If anyone went to the event, please write in!) We were quickly shown to our table, which was the private wine room adjacent to the open kitchen! My eyes couldn't have opened any wider when I saw where they were putting us. The room was beautiful and we were surrounded by just a sampling of the 10,000 bottles of wine in the restaurant's selection. We were greeted by lovely servers and a sommelier named Jamie, who helped us choose our reasonably-priced (wink) Pinot Noir.

After a lot of gawking, it was time to order. Shockingly, I was the only one in my party of five that eats steak! Either the other girls were vegetarian or Kosher and had to stick with the fish and seafood options. Our obscenely helpful server, Edith, came out with the very tomahawk chop featured in the episode, but at 40 oz. I couldn't justify ordering it for myself. Although the filets were the only cuts small enough for one, I ordered the bone-in rib-eye as I had heard it was the best cut on the menu because of its marbling, and I'd just take home the leftovers. I also ordered the goat cheese potato gratin at Edith's recommendation and one of my friends ordered the black truffle mac 'n cheese. Before even our appetizers came, we were greeted with an amuse bouche sent by the chefs. Seriously, I was already floored by where we were seated, but this was too much. Obviously the chefs think i am more of a somebody at Bravo than I am, but who was I to argue?


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The amuse bouche (inadequately pictured above) was a beef tar tare with a poached quail egg and brioche foam! I have developed a serious love for quail eggs this year and this couldn't have been a better combo for me. Not to offend the chefs, I ate quite a few of my friends' dishes as they were restricted by their diets.

Next came some appetizers we ordered, and then finally the main dishes. My steak was very well-prepared, and despite my best efforts, I couldn't finish it. The potatoes were lighter than I anticipated. Goat cheese can sometimes overwhelm me. And the mac 'n cheese was amaaazing -- I've never tasted Dave Martin's famous mac 'n cheese, but this certainly cut the mustard.


While the entrees were great, I have to say the highlight was meeting Gale Gand and eating her work! She appeared in our tiny heaven and spoke to us for quite some time discussing everything from Senator McCain's wife stealing her recipes for his Web site, how you should eat a quarter of your dessert before a meal to curb your appetite, and what else -- Top Chef! Since I only get to correspond via e-mail or phone with so many of our guest judges, this was truly a treat to meet such an accomplished chef. And then she asked the quetison every superfan can only hope to hear (pieced together from memory of course):

Gale Gand: "Do you want me to just select your dessert?"

Everyone at My Table: "Um, yes."

Gale Gand: Who's a chocolate lover?"

Everyone at My Table: (Hands up)


A couple of glasses of Pinot Noir later, and in came a parade of desserts! I have a sweet tooth, so I was in heaven. One of my fellow diners had the good thought to take pictures and i can now share them with you with descriptions:

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Blood orange and raspberry sorbets, fresh raspberries, and strawberries (thoughtfully for my lactose intolerant friend!)


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Warm Chocolate S'more Cake

Moist chocolate layer cake, toasted marshmallow ice cream, graham cracker streusel


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White chocolate ice cream, blood orange and raspberry sorbets


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Single Estate Vanilla Creme Brulee

Madagascar vanilla beans, raspberry salad, caramel corn


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Malted Milk Chocolate Souffle

Malted candies, ovaltine ice cream

We also shread the Warm Blueberry Cobbler -- Oatmeal streusel, lemon zest ice cream. I have to say, the sorbets and the creme brulee with caramel popcorn were my favorites, but it was hard to choose. In all, it was one of the most memorable dining experiences I've had so far. It's not every day I get treated to such a special meal and I just wanted to share it with you. I'll have to go back to indulge in more of Chicago's dining (I think a food tour is probably in order), but for now, all I can say is that my dinner was the highlight of my first trip to the Windy City -- (which is admittedly equally exciting and sad.)

Next week's episode should be exciting as we finally travel to Puerto Rico for Part 1 of the finale ... where we get to see the final four duke it out ... and Lisa's new haircut! (Oh come on -- you were definitely going to make a comments about it after seeing the preview.) Leave your comments below -- I can't wait to read them!

Still full from Saturday night's dinner,

"Superfan"

Richard: "Winning Is Overrated"

Richard Blais congratulates Doug Adams on his admirable run and knows (from experience) this is just the beginning for this talented chef.

Doug Adams is not Top Chef.

Doug Adams is, however, the poster chef for what this competition is all about. A jumping off point for unrecognized or yet truly discovered talent.

Mr. Adams, yes I'm saying Mister because it pays respect to the man, and also because that's how The New York Times goes about things, came on to this season touting his resume of being a working class sous chef from Portland.

Doug Adams is not Top Chef. Doug Adams is, however, the poster chef for what this competition is all about.

Richard Blais

Sous chefs are on the line everyday (sous chefs from Portland I imagine are also butchering whole animals and foraging for botanicals, buts that's for a different blog). They are hands-on, blue collar grinders and early on Doug uses this statement to separate himself from the contestants who maybe are clipboard surfing, or worse, not even really in a restaurant at this stage of their careers. And although this is a part of his strategy or drive, and a very honest personal understanding and awareness of self, I have news for you...

Doug Adams is no longer a sous chef.

Sure, he may actually, technically still carry the title tonight, I'm not certain to be honest, but by his performance this season on Top Chef, he is now ready for the next stage in his career, and this is what can happen and should happen after Top Chef.

I can't imagine someone not taking a chance with giving Doug the opportunity to run a small restaurant. I can't imagine that someone out there tonight, hearing about Doug's goal of operating a Montana restaurant, connected in some way to hunting and fishing won't contact him. I can't imagine it; because it happened to me... My restaurant Juniper & Ivy in San Diego is a direct connection from my performance on Top Chef, and my gut tells me it had very little to do with "winning."

The fact is, winning is overrated.

Winning is fun. It may get you some cash or secure your ego, yes, but really, six months after this thing runs out on television, we are all just "that guy or girl from Top Chef.

Throughout this season, Doug has demonstrated everything one looks for in a great business partner. He cooks delicious, relatable, soulful food. He does it with a smile on his face. He cooks with a sense of authorship and knowledge of place and time. And perhaps most importantly (no, not his epic beard), most importantly, he communicates with his colleagues professionally and with integrity. I'd guess every cheftestant likes him. I know every judge likes him. He takes risks, like roasting a whole lobe of Foie gras, or say, blending up an aioli of ant eggs. Which, by the way, are you kidding me? Maybe he takes these chances because it's part of the game, but I think more so because Doug is a curious cook, which is a sure tell sign of a chef ready to do their own thing.

Doug, it may seem like I never had anything positive to say about your food, and maybe indeed that's how it played out on television, but it's not the case, Chef.

Congrats on an amazing run, one for all future contestants to take note of. And when rooms become available at your resort in Montana, I'm booking...

Blais
@RichardBlais (Instagram & Twitter)

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