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From Wedding Wars To First Dates

Gail Simmons shares her favorite first-date spots.

By Gail Simmons

As someone who is planning her own wedding (this summer), I was pretty fired up for last night's Wedding Wars episode, which I thought it was one of the most grueling and difficult challenges of the season. To plan, cook, and serve food for 125 wedding guests in less than 24 hours is, quite frankly, madness.

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

But they did it, and I was impressed with their fortitude and with the fact that no one killed anyone after all that sleep deprivation. I actually thought Lisa was going to fall asleep standing at Judges' Table. She looked like a zombie. Can't say that I blame her, or any of them. That's an incredible amount of work to get done in 14 hours and then to have to stay up through service and the stew room and Judge's Table, my lord, I am ready to fall down into a deep sleep just thinking about it.

As the judges pointed out, I think the main issue with the losing Groom's Team was lack of leadership and a sort of bad attitude and absence of teamwork by the group as a whole. I didn't feel like they had a collective vision or a real team spirit, and their menu suffered for it.

In contrast, the Bride's Team was more focused and had better energy, which goes a long way in the kitchen. The Bride's Team's menu was more appealing and better tasting. (I'd have loved to have that food at my wedding. It was fun and spirited but refined as well.)

So I was not surprised that the Groom's Team was the losing team, and I agree with the judges' decision to send Nikki packing.

Not only was her tortellini dry and too sweet (and Italian food is supposedly her thing), but her leadership was also lacking. She seemed to take control initially with her ideas in sync with the groom's vision for the wedding menu, but then she dropped the ball and eschewed responsibility, and that was not what was needed for that team. As Tom said at Judges' Table, "The only way to win is to step up and do the job."

Sure, that makes you more vulnerable to losing, but that risk is gotta be taken in order to come out on top, which is sort of the point of this competition. In any case, I thought the competition was particularly heated and intense this week and that the contestants did a truly impressive job of serving 125 guests in an absurdly short amount of time.

I think it goes without saying that I will award Quote of the Episode to Andrew, for this gem: "I have a culinary boner right now knowing that I have to work all night, because I am an animal." Andrew, you are priceless. In the beginning of the season, I sort of was annoyed by him and now, honestly, I love the guy. He's fierce, funny, and talented (though I do think he's gotta be done with fried chicken fingers), and I just find his way of expressing himself to be priceless. He is who he is, no apologies, and I kinda dig that.

I want to send a shout out to Steph for that amazing wedding cake. She did a killer job of making it look like a real professional wedding cake with her fondant, and I was so impressed with that, especially since it was something she'd never done before. Wow. She can do my cake if she wants ('cause we certainly can't afford to pay $5000 for one.)

It was also very sweet of Richard to give his win to Steph, and for them to agree to split that $2000 Crate and Barrel gift certificate. But I am so sure Richard's wife was watching going, "Honey, are you crazy? I want a new sofa and some ceramic dishes and you're giving away our Crate and Barrel booty?!?!" Oh, he probably got an earful.

I also have to say how impressed I was with the wedding couple, who seemed quite calm even though they'd agreed to have their wedding filmed for national television and to have it catered by the contestants on Top Chef.

While it worked out well, and I am sure all the guests were really excited to be a part of the show, I'm not sure I'd be up for that added stress. It's tough enough just planning a wedding without the added pressure of being televised and potentially having the food turn out to be an utter and complete disaster. Luckily it worked out quite well.

By the way, here's a question that has little to do with the competition, but I was just curious: Did the bride change dresses between the ceremony and the reception? I think she did, which I thought was pretty over-the-top. One dress is expensive enough and she's got two? Jeez. That's a bit much, no?

Speaking of weddings though, in order to get to the big day, you've gotta start somewhere, as in a first date. Here are three of my favorite places for the first date, including Flatiron Lounge, the place I had my first date with the guy I'm marrying in August. Cheers!

First dates are not always fun. (This is the understatement of the year, I know.) And even when they turn out well, the anticipation alone can be quite stressful. Some would say even more stressful than an actual wedding. You're nervous about where to go, what to where, what to say, how to behave, and god knows what else. So I think the best place for a first date is a spot that's gonna take the nervous edge off fast (read: the place should make a good cocktail), and one that doesn't add to the pressure of the evening with the necessity of a formal dinner (read: go to a bar).

But you don't wanna a first date to your local pub where the game's gonna be on full blast and your buddies are gonna be hazing you for bringing a skirt. You want the place to be some place you don't usually spend hours drinking pints. You want it to be different and special, because hopefully this is a first date that will lead to a second date and maybe even (gasp!) a third. So the point is save the Blarney Stone for another night and instead head to a cocktail bar that's conducive to conversation and coziness.

PDT, Flatiron and Pegu Club are three fantastic bars that meet all of those first date requirements.

First off, they're known for their serious and meticulous old-fashioned approach to cocktails, and that's really impressive. (You can get mesmerized just watching these bartenders muddle fruit and mix drinks.) All the cocktails are made from fresh seasonal ingredients and top-notch artisan spirits and are served with pride and care, and they taste great. (Just be careful, more than two will have you both passed out cold, drooling on each other.)

Second, the settings possess that sexy old-world loungey vibe, with vintage accents, low lighting, comfortable cozy seating (in case you feel the need to get a little closer ...), and funky and classic jazz standards playing overhead that lend a general sense of civility. While Flatiron Lounge doesn't serve food (they do offer a very nice Chex Mix at the bar), Pegu does have a great menu of small plates in case you get hungry, and PDT offers a selection of nice and messy hot dogs from Crif Dogs, located next door.

Oh, speaking of Crif Dogs, PDT is a speakeasy in the true sense of the word. It has no street entrance. You enter PDT (which stands for Please Don't Tell) through a secret pocket door reached through a phone booth in Crif Dogs, which makes it really unique. Plus, huddling close in a phone booth waiting to be let in is a lot of fun.

PDT is located at 113 St. Marks Place, enter through Crif Dogs, 212-614-0386 The Flatiron Lounge is located at 37 West 19th Street, 212-727-7741 Pegu Club is located at 77 West Houston, Second Floor, 212-473-PEGU

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