"You don't know what you'll do under pressure. Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester." - Bobby Womack
Rao's, on 114th Street and Pleasant Avenue, is a New York institution that very, very few New Yorkers have ever had the privilege to ever eat at. It's legendarily the most difficult restaurant to get into in America. You can't get a table. I can't get a table. Tables are basically "owned" by long-time regulars or friends. If you are lucky enough to enjoy the Rao's experience, chances are you gotta know somebody. Politicians and high-ranking law enforcement officials like it. So, apparently, do high-ranking members of a certain Italian fraternal organization. A few years ago, one alleged member of this latter organization, taking umbrage with the rude behavior of a member from another chapter, had words with the fellow just outside, ultimately choosing to resolve the matter by shooting him dead. In October, just after the filming of this episode of Top Chef, the FBI, pursuing an inquiry into the alleged activities of a certain Teddy "Skinny" Persico, (nephew of the notorious boss, Carmine "The Snake" Persico, paid a visit to the tiny restaurant in this last Italian enclave of East Harlem, removing from a prominent position on the wall (just under a portrait of original owner, Vincent Rao) a photo of a gentleman known as Joey "Cupcakes." If the "Family" theme of this week's Elimination Challenge wasn't made clear enough
by Rao's owner Frankie Pellegrino (who has, just to drive the Family thing home harder, appeared as an actor in such films as Goodfellas, and such shows as The Sopranos), or the appearance of his son, Frank Junior, or Chef Dino, then it was stated explicitly: Cook a family freaking meal in an alleged Family-frequented restaurant that's served the same family-style Southern Italian and Italian-American classics for over 100 freakin' years. By the way, you'll be serving that family-style -- all in one plate or bowl in the center of the table. And you'll be serving it to a family. Capisce? Frankie even said: "Cook an Italian feast for me and my family." You would think that if ever some of our culinary contenders had a clear shot at absolutely crushing a challenge, this was it. But no. In the end, three skilled, experienced professionals stood before the Commission, hanging their heads in shame, guilty of the unpardonable sin of Crimes Against Pasta, waiting to see who among them would get whacked.
I wasn't around for the Quickfire, so maybe I missed why Padma was dressed like a Superfriend. Challenged to design dishes for their aesthetic value only, we got a delightful glimpse of some of our cheftestants' psyches. Angelo's "homage" to designer Roberto Cavalli went over like a bag of crap with designer Isaac Mizrahi (something you could see coming a mile off). Mizrahi, clearly not a Cavalli fan, compared Angelo's scrawling on the table to the work of Charles Manson. And there is something a little sinister about Angelo, now that I think about it. He's always smiling and talking about love and stuff. Somebody should probably take a peek in the chest freezer in his basement. I'm just sayin'. Fabio's "Woman Walking in Rain" piece, as illustrated in melting tuna, offered a curious window into his soul -- and new meaning to the catch-word "versatunatility." Looked good though. Dale had a bad beginning to what ended up being an even worse following day. Richard's "Black Sunday" took the win.