The Greeks say, "The fish stinks from the head," and from the very beginning, from the first moments of menu planning for Restaurant Etch, the enterprise was clearly doomed. The team struggled to even agree on a name. And in what way the resulting menu reflected Marcel's "Mediterranean" concept, I have no idea. The stench of disharmony wafted over the dining room. You could feel, it, smell it. The judges actually stood there at the hosts' stand, waiting like lummoxes to be seated. Tiffany exuded an air of desperation as she cajoled diners into momentarily believing a good time was possible. Look at the contrast with Bodega. A tight, well thought-out, clever, integrated idea. A good (if momentarily hotheaded) leader at the top -- and capo-regimes below. Dale led conceptually. Richard led creatively. Fabio showed extraordinary leadership on the floor. Everybody behaved and played together like adults -- while on the other side, it was like the day care center in Toy Story 3.
"It's about assembling a team," said Marcel, having packed his team with blood enemies. "One voice," said Richard. Before going on to demonstrate that principle in action. Bodega offered tight, well-managed service, a delightful and consistent concept that fit right in with its New York City locale, a riff on stoner food, a high-end run down to the corner bodega: a "bag of chips". A play on the classic hangover breakfast of bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll… pork shoulder and grits… a "can" of tuna. "Chicken fried" codfish. Blueberry pie. And a "coffee" -- an amaretto cake with cappuccino mousse that was thrilling. The food was great. Fabio was quickly everybody's favorite neighborhood maitre d', striking the perfect balance between keeping customers happy, being charming -- and managing any crisis that came his way. He made it look easy while discretely averting a potential blow-up when The Return Of Angry Dale threatened. Bodega was fun. The food tasted good. So good that the judges were able to forget for a few moments that we were even on television.
Etch offered flavorless asparagus with invisible chorizo, a crudo from Angelo (boy, does he love his raw fish!), occasionally undercooked lamb, a potentially great braised pork belly with octopus, and a mushily textured monkfish from Marcel that suicidally included -- yet again- - FOAM (!!!) There was a somewhat salty and over-reduced oxtail ragout with excellent gnuddi from Antonia, and the death blow: the final insult, a "reverse "amuse" dessert from Marcel that (wait for it…) included, yes… more FOAM. Served on a ludicrous bed of smoking dry ice. A "duo of peaches" with coconut "powder" and foam... on dry ice. Has foam ever worked on Top Chef? More to the point, has it ever worked for Marcel? Did it, in any way, make anything better? Marcel seems incapable of asking himself these questions and rushed to the gallows, fiddling with the instrument of his execution to the detriment of service.