Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dinner of Champions: Cornflake Chicken

My sister gave me a cookbook for Christmas called "What Hawaii Likes to Eat." It listed all the standard dishes we ate growing up in the islands, from the traditional like kalua pig to the offbeat like spam musubi. But as I was flipping through the pages and going down memory lane, there was one recipe that I had never heard of or seen, and apparently it’s one of the new classics that only became popular in Hawaii in the last few years (after I already got off the rock, you might say).

That dish is Cornflake Chicken. It apparently was made popular by the people behind Side Street Inn, which is a popular diner spot in Honolulu. What I liked about the concept of Cornflake Chicken is that you make chicken that looks like fried chicken but isn’t! And you know how I avoid deep-fried food so I was excited about making this recipe.

Since I’ve gotten this cookbook, I’ve made this dish twice! It’s really simple to make (like most Hawaii foods are) and I love the taste. My only gripe is that the cornflakes don’t really stick to the chicken very well, so it can be a mess eating. (But that’s a sure sign something’s good when you don’t care how you look eating it, right?)

Below I’ve reprinted the recipe from the book in case you want to try it. For those of you who are in the anti-mayonnaise camp (I know who you are!), you can substitute it with mustard or something else to help the cornflakes adhere to the chicken. The key, in my opinion, is not to skimp on the parmesan cheese because I think the saltiness of the cheese is what makes the chicken so ono-licious! Enjoy!

Cornflake Chicken
(excerpted from "What Hawaii Likes to Eat")

Yields 4 servings

8 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), skin removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 cups cornflakes, crushed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt, pepper and cheese. Coat with mayonnaise, then roll in cornflakes. Bake for 45 minutes, until juices run clear.

Tips from Chef Ben: Like I said, the above recipe was easy to make, but I did some variations. You can just use six chicken thighs, which I found was the common number used by grocery stores. Get the ones with bone still in so you have something to hold onto, but definitely lose the skin.

Also, I coated the chicken with mayonnaise before adding the cheese because I didn't think the cheese would stick to the chicken without the mayonnaise first. Be generous with the cheese, you may need more than the recipe calls for. You might also smear on the mayonnaise with your hands because it can get clumpy.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan. If possible, place them on a rack so that it'll have air circulating around it. It did take about 45 minutes to cook (thighs take longer to cook) but you can also use an instant read thermometer and cook until 140 degrees internally.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 10

No Illegal Passing; No One Scores

Previously: Leah and Hosea are sitting on a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Elsewhere, it’s restaurant wars and the freezer’s not working, all the life force gets sucked out of one team, and the judges get all huffy and leave. Also leaving? Radhika.

Opening shots of more product placement of Glad storage bags. What exactly are these cheftestants eating all the time that they need so many storage bags? Geesh. Carla Top talks about dodging a bullet and how she is a classically trained chef but once she got on the show something happened. Blame it on the universe, girl. Leah talks about mixing alcohol and kissing, but now she just wants to “cook good food.” I like how she aims high.

Quickfire challenge. The remaining seven cheftestants enter the Top Chef kitchen and some of them look a bit puzzled about who’s this week’s guest judge standing next to Padma. We find out he’s Scott Conant, an Italian chef whose new New York restaurant Scarpetta got a three-star review from the New York Times, which apparently is a big deal. All we get from Chef Conant is a “hey guys” as he stands there like a linebacker listening to Padma talk about the challenge, which is, you guessed it, related to the Super Bowl.

Padma makes each cheftestant come up and write their names on a chalkboard. The column on the left lists a category like vegetables or meats, but it’s hidden right now. On the top row is supposedly a secret ingredient, also hidden. Picking the right square apparently will determine what odd combo you might get. And while this concept sounds intriguing in the “what weird combination do they have to cook next,” this is really just a poor, sad mind game on the producers part to build suspense to camouflage the fact that what comes next is just one stupid big fuck of a product placement.

Welcome to the Quaker Oats quickfire. Every secret ingredient is painfully revealed to be oats, Quaker Oats to be more specific.

EU Fabio quote for the segment: “Dere es no reason to eat vegetables when dere es meat and fish around.”

The cheftestants scramble to make something out of oaks. Carla Top gets the “nuts and grains” category and I just think that so apropro because she’s so nutty.

BTW, I’m changing Fabio’s nickname from EU Fabio to Monkey Ass Fabio because he uses that phrase a lot in the last two episodes. Anywho, Monkey Ass gets vegetables (as the quote above alludes to) and he gets these strips of eggplants and encrusts them with oats. They look like tall towers of cereal. Jamie does her usual dissing of the dish, saying it’s way too much oats.

Jeff the Hair is pounding away at chicken, and we know that probably means a paillard (um, pounded chicken). Carla Top says Jeff “can’t quiet the creative monkeys.” What’s with the monkey references with these guys? It’s like they all went to the zoo during a school field trip when they were kids and they all fell in love with the monkeys, except me because I was in the group of kids who was standing there wondering why monkeys would throw their own poop around.

The tasting:

Stefan (I forgot his category) makes a banana mouse with oatmeal and oat-almond petit fours. They look pretty and small, and I don’t get the rose for a garnish, but Padma gives the rose to Chef Conant.

Monkey Ass Fabio (category: vegetables) makes his eggplant dish. Chef Conant says something weird about the dish and jokes with Fabio, who later says to himself “don’t make-a fun of my food, eh?”

Carla Top (category: nuts and grains) makes some kind of pecan thing. Gosh, I need to pay better attention during these recaps.

Jamie (category: fruits) cooked up three mini dishes, including a coconut shrimp, and salsa of nectarines and avocado.

Big Ho Hosea (category: meat) makes a weiner schnitzel. You know, Chef Conant doesn’t really say much so far; he’s very polite.

Lazy Leah (category: seafood) did something with mussels and fish. It looks generic.

Jeff the Hair (category: poultry) makes fried chicken paillard with grits and fried zucchini. Even Jeff calls his dish “a little crazy.”

In the end, Chef Conant says he didn’t like Lazy Leah’s fish that was overcooked, Monkey Ass’s vegetables that tasted mostly of oats, and Jeff’s plate of brown junk.

He did like Carla Top, Jamie and EU Stefan, who ultimately is named the winner of the challenge. But no immunity for him since they’re getting close to the end. (Finally!) What’s weird is Stefan looks kind of shocked by his win, or maybe he’s just pretending because he won so many and doesn’t want a backlash from the rest of the gang. Did he just say “whoopsy”? Big Ho is busy measuring Stefan’s head.

For their elimination challenge, Padma says they have a surprise for them in the stew room. When the cheftestants head back, they find new chef’s coats hanging with their names and the No. 5 on the back. Lazy Leah is all like, “oh, what’s the 5 for?” And Big Ho tells her that, duh, it’s for Top Chef Season 5, and in his head he’s going “I kissed this girl? What a mistake.”

When they return to the kitchen, Padma says they’re going to take part in the first ever “Top Chef Bowl.” (How many producers do you think had to sit around to come up with that nifty name?) Then she introduces their competitors, and out crashing through a paper sign (just like at the beginning of a football game, but without the cheerleaders) are cheftestants from seasons’ past. That’s right, it’s a Top Chef All-Star team, although I wouldn’t necessarily call some of these cheftestants “all-stars.” They include: Spike (still wearing his hat), my fave Andrew (“I have a culinary boner”), Josie (“it’s pronounced fuh not pho”), Andrea (the vegetarian), Camille (huh? Which season is she from?), Nikki (the pasta queen) and Miguel (“You’re a snake. Hissss.”)

Commercials. You know, for a Super Bowl episode, you’d think the commercials would be good tonight but they’re so boring and repetitive, I’m going to skip them in this recap. For your amusement, though, you should check out the E*Trade baby commercials because I love them and I can’t wait to see what they do during the Super Bowl.

So the teams of Top Chef 5 vs. The All-Stars will go head to head and each will cook a regional dish inspired by football teams like the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers. Since Stefan won the quickfire, he not only gets to pick the football team for his inspiration, but he gets to choose who he’ll challenge. Stefan picks the Dallas Cowboys and he’ll cook against Andrea, who got eliminated early in her season. I don’t really remember but everyone thinks Stefan’s a shoo-in to win.

The rest huddle up to determine who will cook for which football team theme, and it all falls where you think it would except Monkey Ass Fabio, who probably wanted some Italian soccer team. Instead, he gets the Green Bay Packers.

The cheftestants look over the ingredients that came with their football team theme, and Jamie of course is doing the San Francisco 49ers, since she’s from the Bay Area. But she looks a bit confused about what to make. The cheftestants from Season 5 do some smack talk with the All-Stars, like Andrew who says something about peeing (the rest was all bleeped out) and Miguel who says they’re the grandfather of Top Chef. OK, they have to work on their trash talk.

There’s this little clip during the commercial break of Spike and Andrew playing, and then Spike calling Fabio “Fabian,” which is priceless only because it sparks a really genuine smile from Fabio, who really does have a nice smile. Spike says Top Chef should have just ended with Season 4 because they were so good. Spike, there will be just as many Top Chefs as there are Jeff Probst and Survivors, you can count on that.

The next morning, everyone’s waking up and feeling a bit nervous. Carla is sitting there meditating and clueless Stefan goes, “what are you doing? Meditating?” Um, yeah. If people are meditating, Stefan, that means they don’t want to be talking. What a tool.

Fabio quote of the segment: “I’m 30 years old and I have to sleep in the bunky bed.”

They head off to the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan and get prepped for their cook off with the All-Stars. In the kitchen set, what looks like a bunch of students are cheering in the audience, along with the previously kicked off cheftestants so far this season.

Padma (wearing a referees’ outfit) and the judges arrive and she explains the scoring: the judges will choose the winner for each round, awarding 7 points (touchdown) to the winner, then five fans in the audience get to taste the food and vote, and whoever they choose gets 3 points (field goal for extra points). Why is Padma talking in such a low voice? Is she trying to sound butch?

First off are Nikki and Lazy Leah for the New York Giants. Leah does a seared strip steak with cream corn and snap peas (boring) and Nikki does sautéed chicken livers with onions, goat cheese and arugula (that doesn’t sound very New York like). Padma, Chef Conant and Tom Colicchio go for Leah while Toby Young is the lone vote for Nikki (they like their chicken livers in Britain). Then only two of the five fans vote for Leah, giving the extra points to Nikki. Score: Season 5: 7; All-Stars: 3

Next is Miguel vs. Big Ho doing Seattle Seahawks. Miguel does a sweet-and-sour onion with cedar plank salmon. Hosea says that’s too much going on, and he jokes that he wants Miguel to like him so it won’t hurt so bad when he wins. (Really, guys, you really have to work on your trash talk.) Big Ho is making a deep-fried salmon roll with ginger-blackberry sauce. Padma, Toby and Chef Conant go for Big Ho’s salmon roll while Colicchio picks Miguel. Four of the five fans vote for Big Ho, giving him a slamdunk. Score: Season 5: 17; All-Stars: 3

In the back, everyone’s playing with the live crawfish in the back. I love crawfish, but they really do give so little meat and I’m not into the sucking of the guts. But enough about dinner.

My fave Andrew goes up against Carla Top with the New Orleans Saints. (Gotta love that Drew Brees.) Andrew is making a crawfish crudo, and he gives a little primer for crudo (raw fish) and says the crawfish may still be alive when they eat it. Carla Top says football games are great to watch with the family eating spicy food, so she’s making a crawfish and andouille sausage gumbo with grits. All four judges go with Carla Top’s gumbo (Tom says Andrew’s crudo was too sweet) but only one fan vote for the gumbo. Score: Season 5: 24; All-Stars: 6

Next are Andrea and Stefan, who kisses her before they start and I think he has a crush on her because he’s always blushing. They have the Dallas Cowboys and Stefan is making a duo of salads with pork and cole slaw while Andrea is making a Tex-Mex chili, which she says is “spicy like how I like my men.” Stefan is totally going to be looking Andrea up when they return to Los Angeles. Padma and Toby vote for Andrea, but Chefs Conant and Colicchio choose Stefan. So it’s a tie, which means it goes to the fans and all five votes for Andrea. Score: Season 5: 24; All-Stars: 16

Back in the kitchen, everyone’s shocked that Stefan lost, and he’s swearing a lot but in some ways I almost feel like he purposely took a dive so that he can get on Andrea’s good side.

Camille (really, who is she?) vs. Jamie and the San Francisco 49ers. Jamie is making a quick-and-easy cioppino, but mostly with crab instead of a mix of seafood. Camille is making a sweet potato and miso mash with crab meat with butter and mustard sauce. Jamie puts in another diss at the combination of flavors in Camille’s plans. Padma and Toby go with Jamie, and Chef Conant and Colicchio go with Camille. So it’s another split. They go to the fans and all five choose Jamie, so she gets all 10 points. Score: Season 5: 34; All-Stars: 16.

Josie goes head to head with Jeff the Hair, who starts a huge fire in his pot doing Miami Dolphins (and amazingly not burning his hair). He’s burning some rum for a ceviche, which is also what Josie is doing too, although she’s doing a warm ceviche. They use rock shrimp for their ceviche, and Jeff adds a scoop of sangria sorbet (I bet he’d put sorbet on his oatmeal if he could). Padma goes with Jeff but the remaining three judges side with Josie. (Tom liked Jeff’s sorbet but felt Josie’s flavors were more Miami-like.) Jeff is shocked. Three of the fans vote for Josie so she gets all 10 points, which give new life to the All-Stars. Score: Season 5: 34; All-Stars: 26

Monkey Ass puts on his Green Bay helmet and heads out for the competition. I’m just surprised he was able to fit in it. Fabio goes against Spike for the Green Bay Packers. Fabio is making venison with a salad with cheddar cheese. Spike makes a five-spice venison with a port wine reduction. He finishes before Monkey Ass and asks if he needs help.

Fabio quote of the segment: “If your food is big as your mout, you’ll win for sure.”

Toby goes with Fabio because Spike’s sauce was too sweet, but the other three go with Spike. Four fans vote for Monkey Ass, however. Final score: Season 5: 37; All-Stars: 33 (wow, pretty close game after all)

Back in the stew room, Lazy Leah is still talking about how surprised she is that Stefan lost to Andrea. Padma comes in and asks for Big Ho, Carla Top, Lazy Leah and Jamie. BTW, what is up with the headbands the girls are wearing, especially Jamie? This isn’t Xanadu, OK?

Everyone walks to the judges’ table with huge smiles and the judges talk about how good the food was and it’s all very irrelevant to me. But I do think guest judge Chef Conant has a crush on Jamie because he went on and on about how he loved watching how she cooked and how she develops her dishes and yada yada yada. I guess since Stefan is now crushing on Andrea, they needed to find someone else to crush on Jamie. What part of the word “lesbian” do these guys don’t get?

Despite his Jamie Love, Chef Conant chooses Carla Top as the surprise winner for her gumbo. She wins two tickets to this Sunday’s Super Bowl (I wonder if they’ll show her in the stands?) and she’s all crazy jumpy and happy, of course.

Jeff the Hair, Monkey Ass and Stefan go in to face the judges. Fabio says he knew his venison was overcook, but then he goes into how it was pink when he sliced it but as it rested on the hot cabbage, that cooked it more. But you can tell the judges weren’t buying any of that, especially guest judge Chef Conant who for some reason gets his testosterones in a twit and gets into this tense exchange with Monkey Ass. In my mind, it went something like this:

Chef Conant: “It doesn’t matter what you intended to do. If it sucks at the end, I won’t eat it.”

Monkey Ass: “I cook Italian. You cook Italian. You can understand; the meat rested too much.”

Chef Conant: “Un momento, Fabio. Take it easy. I’m the judge, relax. You fucked up. Your dish was a failure. It’s all your fault.”

Monkey Ass: “Your mama.”

Then they spend some time talking about Stefan’s uninspiring steak and Jeff the Hair’s unflavorful dish. Tom calls Jeff’s dish a “watered down version of ceviche.”

When the three leave, the judges deliberate more with Tom acknowledging that the three cheftestants had been among the strongest up to that point. Toby was being a bit sympathetic with Monkey Ass, saying how Fabio could not relate with Green Bay. Tom didn’t like Jeff the Hair’s ceviche, and then the clincher was when he said Jeff had cooked the shrimp beforehand and even though it was served cold vs. Josie’s hot ceviche, he can’t really call it ceviche if the shrimp was cooked and the other judges nod in agreement. I can see who’s booking a ticket to Miami right now.

When the three return, I guessed right and Padma sends Jeff the Hair packin’. What’s unusual is how these eliminated cheftestants sometimes ask permission to shake the judges’ hands, like they’re royalty and can’t be approached within 6 feet. But that’s what Jeff does and they say OK, come past the velvet rope, and he shakes the judges hands, and the judges do seem sincerely sad to see him go and a couple of them say “I’ll see you in Miami.” Hey, is there a pool party that I didn’t get invited to?

Jeff the Hair feels pretty beat up and disappointed with himself. But I have to observe that his low-key persona has been around for much of the season, and I’ve wondered before whether his heart was really in the game because he always seemed a bit exhausted or dejected. Definitely tired sounding. As he leaves, he says this is a life disappointment that will last at least a decade. Wow, that’s disappointment with a sentence. At least he’s having a good hair day.

Next: The noted Eric Ripert shows up with fresh water eel (YUM!) and Carla Top is shaking, everyone dresses up for dinner, and something goes very wrong (because I hear that weird thumping sound and because Tom says that out loud).

“Top Chef: New York” airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV’s Web site.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dish on Dining: Aunt Mary’s Café

Homey Brunch Spot with a Nawlins Twist
4307 Telegraph Ave. (near 43rd St.), Oakland
Temescal neighborhood
PH: 510.601.9227
Open Tues.–Fri., 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 8 a.m.–3 p.m.

The number of new eateries opening in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood is stretching farther out along Telegraph Avenue with new hot spots like Aunt Mary’s Café.

Opened a month before Thanksgiving last year, this spacious and cutesy restaurant (next door to a Korean restaurant) has turned into a popular brunch spot on the weekends. The crowds can get pretty heavy as people wait for a seat at the many tables in the big dining area or along the counter facing the line cooks in the back.

I visited Aunt Mary’s after Thanksgiving and was excited about its eclectic menu that is a cross between fresh, seasonal ingredients meet New Orleans with a few sprinkling of Asian comfort food for good measure. It all translated to a fun, unique experience.

Of course, that was also the time that my tiny digital camera decided to break down, causing me to loose all the photos I took of the red flannel hash (yes, this was where I ate this dish for the first time) and the beautifully plated dishes my friends ordered, including an enticing Hangtown Fritatta and a towering Pain Perdue (kind of like French toast on steroids).

I’ve been meaning to go back to give Aunt Mary’s its proper review (with photos), so this past weekend I took my nephew from Chicago, who was in town visiting his girlfriend. The three of us arrived and ended up waiting for 20 minutes for a table. There wasn’t a big crowd waiting, but it just took awhile to get the right configuration for a table of three. The staff, however, was gracious and apologetic, offering up coffee while we waited in the kid-friendly front area.

When we were seated, we looked over the menu. I noticed a few New Orleans-influenced dishes still on the menu, including the Hangtown frittata and po-boys sandwich (both dishes are made up of fried oysters). My nephew went with another Southern classic, the Biscuits with Gravy and Sausage ($6) and his girlfriend ordered La Strata ($11) served with a beet salad. I went with a special, the Champagne Seafood Gumbo ($12.50).

Both my nephew and his girlfriend’s dishes demonstrated the excellence of Aunt Mary’s as a place for baked goods. Just like the Pain Perdue I had on my first visit, the biscuits and the huge La Strata were airy and tasty. Their dishes were also beautifully plated, showing the sophisticated level of the preparations beyond your typical brunch fare.

My seafood gumbo was also very beautiful when it arrived at the table, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. But despite having fresh ingredients in good-size bites, the gumbo seemed to need more seasoning. It wasn’t bland, but it just needed that extra pinch of salt to take it to a more satisfying level. The gumbo was served over either couscous or polenta, I wasn’t really sure.

Because my gumbo didn’t really fill me up, I ordered the special dessert of the day, which was a Chocolate Berry Parfait ($5). This totally made up for the less-than-satisfying gumbo because the dessert was sooo delicious. Again, Aunt Mary’s is perfect for baked goods as the light cake layers tasted great with the layers of strawberries and custard blending with the cream and chocolate. It was a classic strawberry shortcake, but with fresh, quality ingredients.

Side note: Aunt Mary’s is so popular that the cooks behind the counter really looked like they were juggling a lot of orders. In fact, it took nearly 25 minutes for us to get our orders from the time we placed it with our friendly waitress. I saw other tables who came after us getting their orders before our table. It didn’t bother me, though, because I was busy catching up with my nephew and his friend, but on another day by myself I might make more of a note on the wait.

Still, Aunt Mary’s has been warmly welcomed into the neighborhood and offers a fun spot for brunch. With a friendly staff and spacious environment, you don’t have to go into the city to find a fresh spot for brunch or lunch. It’s right here in Oakland.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (Baking some brunch)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Aunt Mary's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2009

Make Way for the Ox

Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year, which ushers in the year of the Ox. I thought I'd post a picture of oxtail soup, and then I realized that, yeah, I don't usually eat that. So instead, to get into the new year festivities, I went to the Flower Fair at San Francisco's Chinatown this past weekend.

A few blocks are closed down in Chinatown and people swarm the streets, shopping for flowers. In the new year, it's good luck to have blooming flowers in your home. The sign of blossoming represents prosperity (the Chinese will look for any reason for good fortune) as well as the approaching spring. Red, orange and green are popular colors because red is an auspicious color, orange resembles gold and green is associated with dinero.

The traditional Chinese new year cake is called nien gou. It's not your regular cake made of flour but instead it's made with sticky rice flour. This creates a pudding-like cake that's sweetened with brown sugar and sticky when eaten fresh. At this stand, they were selling a variety of flavors, including coconut. My mom used to make these really huge ones that we'd carve out and eat for days.

I spotted this truck selling lots of citrus, which is again representative of prosperity and spring. They had it bunched up that you can hang as wall ornaments.

This is the pomelo, or a really huge grapefruit. It's another popular fruit for the new year, again because the gold color looks like money. My mom liked this fruit so much that she made us take baths with the leaves from the pomelo tree so that we'd be all cleansed for the new year.

Hope you're all having a big celebration for the new year! Here's to continued prosperity and good food in the coming year!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Price of Labor and Love for Dulce de Leche Chocolates

So my friend April has got me hooked on making my own chocolate candies after I spent a Saturday making holiday chocolates with her last month. A few weeks ago, I was staring at a canister of dulce de leche I bought on my trip to Buenos Aires and wondered what to make with the milk caramel, and that’s when I decided to make dulce de leche-filled chocolate candy.

The process of making the chocolates is pretty simple, but like I realized when I was making the holiday candies with April, it’s tedious work. Making these dulce de leche-filled chocolates were even more tedious, and now I understand why artisan chocolates are so expensive. Those poor chocolatiers have to do a lot of work just to squeeze out those few morsels of chocolate gems, so of course they’re going to charge a lot just to make up for their hard work!

Below is a photo essay of the simple but arduous steps in making the chocolates. Maybe it might inspire you to make your own chocolate creations!

I started off by creating chocolate “shells” that I would fill with the dulce de leche. I used semi-sweet chocolate from E. Guittard, the family-owned chocolate makers that started in San Francisco and is now based in Burlingame. Their chocolates are very rich and not super sweet, which is more my tastes. To create the shells, I used candy molds I bought at Sur La Table and melted the chocolate in the fancy process called “tempering.”

I’m still not really clear about all the reasons for tempering, but that’s what all the chocolate people do, so I figure why break with tradition? First you melt the chocolate until it’s above 100 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Most traditionalists would say melt the chocolate in a double boiler, but April simply melts it in the microwave, and I even saw the Barefoot Contessa do that too, so that’s what I did. I threw about half a pound of chocolate in a bowl, and zapped it in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. If you want them to melt faster, chop your chocolate chips into smaller pieces.

After your chocolate is melted, you then have to wait for it to drop to about the mid-90s. To do this, you can stir your chocolate to get some air in it to help the cooling process. When your instant-read thermometer gets in the neighborhood of the mid-90s, throw in a few pieces of chocolate. This is called “seeding.” April explained that this helps remind the chocolate what it should be like when solid. It also helps reduce the heat of your chocolate because you want it to reach about 86 degrees so you can start playing with it, either dipping things in it like truffles or strawberries, or in my case, pouring them into the molds to create shells.

So once my bowl of chocolate reached 86 degrees (you might need to fish out any of the “seeding” chocolates that didn’t fully melt), I carefully spooned a little into each chocolate mold, then used the side of the spoon to push the chocolate up the edges to make sure I had a complete shell with all sides. If there were too much chocolate in one hole, I’d just tip the whole mold by the side to let them drip out. Then I waited until the chocolate hardened. (A nice thing about making chocolates in the winter is that chocolate sets up nicely in cold temperatures. So my chocolate shells were ready in minutes. Note: Chocolate is not easy to make in humid or rainy weather. Cold or air-conditioned environments are best.)

Then I ever-so-carefully spooned my dulce de leche in each of my chocolate shell. (BTW, the dulce de leche was soooo good I could have just eaten it out of the jar, but I know that would have been so bad for me.)

Once I filled my shells with the dulce de leche (I had two molds and each mold created a dozen chocolate pieces), it was time to seal it by adding the final layer of chocolate. So I tempered another batch of chocolates (not that much since it was just for a thin bottom layer) and spooned a bit on top of the dulce de leche, making sure I had enough to seal in the caramel.

To make sure I had a nice even bottom, I used the back of a knife and just scraped it across the bottom of the mold. It makes everything look messy, but it also looks like some abstract painting, don’t you think? Then I just let the chocolate harden up, which again, didn’t take that long in the cold weather. (If you want it to set up faster, you could place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes.)

I loved my new molds from Sur La Table because all I had to do was just pop my chocolates out. They didn’t stick or anything. I used a knife to clean up the edges of the chocolate so it’ll look more presentable and then, voila!, I was all done.

I made 24 pieces and it really felt like a lot of work. Not all of them turned out perfectly because some didn’t have a good seal on the bottom or a part of the shell was too thin, so I could see little bits of caramel oozing out. Those were the ones I HAD to eat right away. ;P

I tried to take a picture of the caramel-filled inside, but it was hard to cut or bite into the chocolate piece without the shell crumbling into little pieces. I guess the shell was too thin, but I liked the thin shell for eating purposes. But you get the idea; it was just this chocolate piece of creamy goodness. Yum.

Now, I could give you some of these, but I would probably charge you $8 for each ONE because of the time and labor involved. But they were all made with love.

Early Bird Chocolate Salon Registration

Speaking of chocolates, the Third Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon at Fort Mason takes place on March 21, 2009. This is a popular event that I’ve gone for the last two years and it draws crazy crowds of people moshing for a sample of the chocolates. (Vendors pass out free samples of their chocolates, which I guess is covered by the admission cost, and some offer discounts to boxes sold that day.)

I’m letting you guys all know that I’m going to sit out this year’s Chocolate Salon, taking a break from the crowds. So if you want to check it out for yourself, they’re doing early bird registration right now, and you have to register before Jan. 31 to get the $17.50 ticket (compared to regular price of $20). Click here for more info.

My advice is to go early and bring a small packed lunch to avoid getting overdosed by chocolates. And please don’t be one of those people who horde chocolates by bringing Tupperware and grabbing chocolates for later. That’s so uncool. Just go to enjoy the experience of trying different chocolates and please take time to chat with the chocolatiers and thank them for doing the show. I hope to read people’s posts about this year’s salon since I won’t be there!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mini Dish: La Baguette

Warm Your Tummy with a Toasted Creation
170 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto
Near Stanford University
PH: 650.321.0535
Lunch, 7 days a week

Always get it warm. Always get it warm.

That’s my advice whenever the woman behind the counter at La Baguette French Bakery asks whether you want your sandwich order warmed or not. Because when it comes to you fresh and heated, it’s heaven.

I generally don’t blog about shopping mall food, because you get your typical fast food or food court fare. But a few weeks ago when I was at Stanford University for an event, I made a stop first at the nearby Stanford Shopping Center for a bite at La Baguette Boulangerie and Patisserie. And I can’t stop thinking about their toasted sandwiches.

Stanford Shopping Center, ironically, does not have a food court so your eating options are limited to some casual spots and a few fancy restaurants that are a bit much to spend for lunch.

La Baguette has a prime spot at the heart of the mall, so it’s often crowded as people line up for either their baguettes and sandwiches or a beautifully decorated French creation from its patisserie.

For lunch, they have the typical baguettes with ham and cheese and such, but I always go for the special sandwiches. They’re typically more expensive (about $7-plus), but worth it. And again, get it warmed.

A couple of months ago (when I wasn’t snapping pictures), I got the Florentine, which is grilled chicken with roasted tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and pesto on a warmed Ciabatta bread. Once I bit into it, I was mesmerized by the tender chicken and gooey cheese, blending nicely with the tomatoes and pesto sauce. And the bread was so perfectly baked and fresh that it reinforced why I’m such a fan of panini and any grilled or toasted sandwich.

In my most recent visit, I ordered the Tuscan, which is also grilled chicken but with roasted tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and a balsamic vinaigrette on a panini roll. The bread was perfect as usual, but I have to say the sandwich lacked color with only the red of the tomatoes and the darkness of the balsamic vinegar. It really needed some greens. Still, it was nice and comforting with the warmed bread (although I’d say the Florentine is my favorite).

Because of the lines, some people have complained about the sometimes snarky service from the ladies behind the counter (who did look kind of suspiciously at me as I snapped away at the patisserie). But I didn’t have any issues with the service as they promptly took my order. And it only took a few minutes to warm up my sandwich and have me out the door.

La Baguette is a tiny shop, so there’s no seating inside but you can grab your sandwich and eat at any of the outdoor tables. I didn’t try the pastries or desserts, but they were plentiful and all looked very enticing. It definitely looked like a place where you could find a special treat to take to a party or when visiting friends, or when you feel like treating yourself to something special.

Since this is a mini review, there’s no rating. Some people might be turned off by the slightly high prices, but this is Palo Alto, people. I definitely recommend any of their specialty sandwiches, especially the Florentine, as long as you get them toasted!

La Baguette French Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 9

“Keep the Love in the Kitchen; Send Out Good Desserts”

Previously: The cheftestants head out to the farm, and Ariane butchers a lamb, and not in a good way. For that, she and her butcher’s knife are sent packin’.

We’re at the half-way point, and I don’t realize that just on my own as I look at myself and think how did I condemn my Wednesday nights to late hours of recapping for a season that feels more like a Tuesday in a very long work week when it should really be TGIF. I get confirmation because several cheftestants are talking about being at the half-way point as they wake and prepare for their day. There are eight left, and Carla Top says they’re all good so now it’s just psychological warfare, which I really didn’t know what that meant until I listened to her comments near the end of the show and understood. Yes, you need a psychologist to understand what she’s saying.

Quickfire challenge. Padma greets the cheftestants with Stephen Starr, a New York restaurateur behind such popular spots like Morimoto and Buddakan. I don’t know the guy, nor have I been on the A-list to go to any of his restaurants. But all I can say is the guy needs to wipe his glasses. What’s up with the foggy lens? So if you haven’t guessed (and missed the 1001 promos by Bravo), this is the restaurant wars episode. You can tell all the cheftestants are excited (well, except Jamie, of course).

Padma says part of the process of opening a restaurant is doing a tasting for potential investors. So they have to come up with a tasting dish for Starr and the dish needs to reflect what would be their concept for their new restaurant. Starr will pick two winners, and each of the winners will be the chef/owner of the two teams.

Fabio quote for the segment (he has some real winners this episode): “Dees is going to be a hot, bloody, nasty war. En love and war, you’re allowed to do EN-NEE-thing.”

They rush off to the refrigerator to grab their protein, and already you hear someone asking for the scallops. What? This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop, people! Stefan is swearing up a storm, as usual, and Fabio is having difficulties for some reason opening up the refrigerator door.

Everyone’s cooking and talking about their concept. Lazy Leah (that’s my new nickname for her after she didn’t do shit in the last episode) grabs a red snapper and I’m pretty sure her exactly quote is “it smells like ass.” Can you say “ass” on cable? I wouldn’t put it past her. But, you know, I know what she means. I’ve had some red snappers that can really smell fishy faster than other fish. Did it smell like ass? I can’t say.

Jamie, yawn, is doing seasonal, local, sustainable dishes for her restaurant concept. And while I love that type of food, it’s all over the place here in the Bay Area. People grab some weeds from their garden, plop it on a salad and call it sustainable cooking. Then Jamie tell us that she doesn’t want to win the challenge because she doesn’t want to be team leader because she’s opened a restaurant and it took forever so she can’t imagine having to open one in 24 hours. What a winning attitude, Jamie.


Carla Top is pushing home-made, rustic food aka “new American.” Huh? She makes a cod seared in tomato oil with Italian salsa and a green salad. Starr says it needs more salt.

Big Ho Hosea (also my new nickname for him after what happens later in the episode) is going for a seafood restaurant with Mediterranean flavors aka “world cuisine.” He makes shrimp with a morel mushroom cream sauce, and I think cream sauce sounds heavy for a Mediterranean-style restaurant.

Lazy Leah is going for an Asian-inspired concept since her mom is from the Philippines (I didn’t know that). She makes a poussin with dashi broth. Starr says it’s tasty. When they leave, Lazy Leah whispers to Big Ho Hosea that Starr didn’t like it but Big Ho tells her to relax and that she did all right. Then she gives him a big ol bear hug.

EU Stefan is doing a Euro-American concept because he says, condescendingly, that there are some redeeming factors about the culinary scene in America. He makes a trio of asparagus with trout, asparagus salad and asparagus soup. (BTW, if I don’t note what Starr says, then he probably said “very good,” which seems to be his judgment for everyone.)

Jeff the Hair makes salmon grilled with sun choke puree and grilled corn. I forgot what his restaurant concept is. Starr says it was a little mushy. (At least he didn’t call it “old people’s food.”)

Radhika’s restaurant would be a global influenced one with tastes from India and the Middle East. She made a pan-seared cod with braised corn, spinach and chorizo. Starr says it was well seasoned.

Jamie does her seasonal cooking spiel and cooks up Chilean sea bass with creamed corn, bacon and peas. Starr says he appreciates the simplicity of the dish, which really means “I could have made this at home and throw a sprig of parsley for garnish and you’re set to charge $26 a plate.”

EU Fabio talks about his concept for a restaurant specializing in lunch. And I’m not sure if that means his restaurant would only be open for lunch, or if he plans to sell lunch-type food at night? Anywho, he made a “complete” lunch meal consisting of swordfish and tuna carpaccio, salad and a French baguette sandwich, which Starr calls a cheese steak. That, of course, offends Fabio who thinks his sandwich is a filet mignon sandwich and not just a cheese steak. I guess it all depends on whether you say it with an accent.

Starr says he’s not investing in the restaurants of Jeff the Hair or Fabio. But he really liked Radhika, who he says has her finger on the pulse of what’s hot today with her global cuisine, and Lazy Leah, who he says had clean, forward-thinking food.

Commercials. Hey, Michelob, I really doubt I would look that hot and run from my office cubicle to the gym after drinking one of your beers.

Radhika and Lazy Leah pick their teams, and it’s all very schoolyard like as Radhika goes with Jamie first and Leah picks, surprise, the Big Ho. Then it’s Jeff the Hair and Carla Top for Radhika and Fabio for Leah. EU Stefan is last and I’m starting to think nobody wants to play with him. So Leah gets him by default. (You know, Stefan says he doesn’t care, but you know a part of him is probably hurt just an eensy, tiny bit.)

They break into their teams and start planning. Radhika’s team come up with the name Sahana, which we learn is sanskrit for “I’m not very creative so I’m going to make up a word and make it sound like Savannah.” Just kidding. According to Radhika, it’s supposed to mean strength and power.

On Team Lazy Leah, everyone’s harping on Big Ho and Lazy’s sexual tension, even though the two keep declaring “I have a boyfriend,” “I have a girlfriend” like there’s no tomorrow. Fabio volunteers for the front of the house, saying he mostly cooks Italian and doesn’t do much Asian. Eh, probably better since it’s best to front an Asian restaurant with a man with an Italian accent.

They shop at Pier 1, which is actually really good for the restaurant themes. I notice this year Top Chef isn’t offering any “professional designer” help in starting the restaurant. The cheftestants really have to do it all. EU Stefan shows he’s seen Top Chef restaurant wars before as he goes around getting “unscented” candles.

Back at the apartment the teams are planning their menus and Stefan continues to assert his ideas while Big Ho is sending him evil mental thoughts on behalf of Leah. Lazy Leah is too lazy to do anything about Stefan and just walks away at one point.

Big Ho and Lazy whisper about Stefan, who is naturally on the balcony smoking, and then that sets up their bond for what happens next.

I assume it’s later that evening because there’s no one else around and the camera shoots Big Ho laying on a chaise lounge with Lazy Leah on top as they snuggle and talk about how they want to go to sleep but are too lazy to get up and go to their beds. The editors get excited like this is a scene from “The Real World” except without all the swearing and the drinking, and they turn up the sexy mood music and I hear kissing. And then we learn that when you’re making out, your language skills are the first to go as we get a captioned quote from Leah saying: “I like, want to sleep right here.”

Commercials. Slumdog Millionaire. I didn’t want to buy into the hype, but I LOVE this movie. I predict it’ll win the Oscar for Best Movie. That’s right, you heard it here first. (I’m not just a pretty food blogger; I’m also a movie critic. LOL)

It’s the next morning and there’s that uncomfortable tension in the air of like when you sleep with someone and then you have to decide if you should talk it out or just pretend someone just conveniently “fell” into the bed. And while I’m pretty sure Big Ho and Lazy didn’t sleep together, they are awkward to the Nth power because they did kiss and thus crossed the lines of flirty friends to dirty little sneaks.

Big Ho interviews that “I have a girlfriend” and he regrets kissing Leah, while Leah interviews that “I have a boyfriend, but probably not when I get home.” Stefan and Fabio don’t know what to do because they’re mad that their bromance hasn’t been getting as much air time this episode compared to Big Ho and Lazy. So they go and do their food shopping.

What I don’t understand is the teams break into pairs of two and one pair goes to Whole Foods and one goes to the Restaurant Depot. Both places sell food, albeit one at a more lower discount. So I’m wondering why didn’t they just buy all their food at Restaurant Depot? It’s never really explained, and the only mini drama is Jamie not finding lamb shanks but Jeff the Hair being industrious and going to the freezer and finding a box by himself.

In the car, Stefan and Big Ho talk about the restaurant and Stefan suggests the name “Sunset Lounge” and they both scream like it’s the Best. Name. Ever. While I think it’s more an indication of their careers going down like the sun.

The cheftestants arrive at New York’s Bridgewater Restaurant and they have six hours to open their restaurants on the top floor. They start prepping their food and Radhika and Fabio work on setting up the look of their respective dining room.

In the kitchen, Lazy Leah is feeling stressed and then her pieces of fish have too many bones. And she can’t just pull them out with a tweezer. So she decides to slice down the middle and just cut out the bone. Just like how she wants to cut out her tongue for kissing Big Ho and just wishing that scene never happened. Except this isn’t the Taliban and we don’t do things like that in this country. Well, not since Obama became president.

Carla Top is making dessert—a spiced chocolate cake and frozen yogurt. But the freezer isn’t really working so her yogurt isn’t setting up. Stefan also has the same problem since he’s doing dessert and making a panna cotta. But he gets a tub of ice and sets the panna cotta in there and that seems to work. But you know, he’s Swiss so I’m sure ice runs through his veins. He could have just blown on it and it would have hardened up.

There’s one hour left and Jamie is freaking out and I’m getting bored with her freaking out about cooking. Radhika tastes Carla Top’s chocolate cake and Carla Top wants some direction but Radhika doesn’t have an opinion because it’s not her dish and she doesn’t know how to be a team leader and delegate. So instead, she hides. Jeff the Hair is moving so fast he says he feels “like a humming bird on cocaine.”

But really the best quote comes from Fabio, who walks in dressed in a suit ready to greet guests.

Fabio quote for the segment: “Wee can serve monkeeey ass and empty clam shells and still win.”

The guests start arriving and Radhika and Fabio seem pretty pleasant in greeting them. But of course in the kitchen there’s some confusion among the wait staff and Jamie is bitch bitch bitching about how Radhika needs to take the lead and talk some sense into the waiters. I am getting so tired of Jamie.

The judges arrive first to Sahana, and Radhika brings out some flat bread or naan and I’m really surprised to hear restaurateur Starr sound so surprised at the sight of them. He didn’t really know what they were, and I’m thinking, this guy dined all around the world? Anywho, Padma debates whether she loves the naan because they’re good or because she’s sooo hungry. Which gets me wondering about how far along the judges have to starve themselves before taping. And really, if they are going to really test their interest in food, it probably should be after they’ve eaten regular meals during the day. But this is Hollywood so we know how taping can last hours and you’re just sitting on set waiting. Or at least that’s how I imagine it, having not been invited to a set for filming.

Radhika brings out the first course of curried carrot soup with raita and chickpea cake with seared scallops and masala tomato sauce. I have to say, the curried carrot soup really has an odd, fake-like coloring to it. Tom makes a weird face when he tastes the soup, but he says he likes it, as do most of the other judges.

Next course is a white lentil tabouli with seared snapper and fresh pea shoots and a cinnamon and saffron braised lamb shank. The judges feel the lamb is cooked well but Toby Young says the couscous tastes like dish water. Starr says this odd comment about how he doesn’t like fish sitting in a lot of liquid because that reminds him of where the fish comes from. Which is totally weird because it’s like he’s eating fish and thinking, “oh, how lovely the fish must have been roaming the green, luxurious grassy knolls.” Come on! Fish swim, get over it!

Then they bring out a “hot mess” of desserts from Carla Top and everyone realizes the frozen yogurt is runny, and even Chef Tom asks for a spoon. Toby Young does one of his long-winded metaphors of how the tasting menu and dessert at the end are sort of like Elvis Pressley’s career where it starts off great but ends with a bloated Pressley slumped over in his toilet. I’m not really digging this British judge. I bet his food essays run on like a book that you read in the toilet and then you fall asleep and slump over. What?

Radhika is running around and even one of the waiters is sweet and asks if she’s OK, and of course she says no. Some of the guests comment on how Radhika seems intense and the judges questioned whether she was the best choice to be the front of the house. Grumpy Tom puts on a pissy fit and says that he bets they could leave without getting a goodbye, and Padma encourages him and they all walk up and leave. Radhika, of course, is no where to be seen. I bet she’s making out with that sweet waiter.

The judges hit Sunset Lounge, with the fabulous Fabio pouring out the charm like one continuous string of spaghetti. After seating the judges, he brings out an amuse bouche—a vegetable roll. Chef Tom says he’s had better frozen egg rolls and Starr says it was second-rate. Ouch.

Then comes the courses of two-way sashimi with radish salad and yuzu vinaigrette and a coconut curry bisque. Most of the judges seem to think the soup was OK, although Toby Young called it “too shocking.” And Chef Tom wanted more salt on the sashimi. (Maybe they should have used soy sauce in the vinaigrette instead of just yuzu.)

For the main course, the judges love the braised short ribs that are cooked perfectly, but nobody likes the seared cod from lazy Leah, which is a bit undercooked. Starr says the vegetables under the fish were really pickled too, which made it difficult to eat. Fabio comes over to check on the judges, and they tell him the fish was undercooked. I have to say, Fabio does a great job of offering to bring them out another plate of fish, but the judges decline.

When Fabio reports back to the rest of the team about the fish, Lazy Leah is already packing her knives to go home. Big Ho Hosea says it was like watching all the life force in the team go out the window, except they’re in a high rise and I’m pretty sure all the windows are glued shut.

For desserts, they bring out Stefan’s chocolate rice parfait with grapefruit jelly and pineapple and a lemongrass panna cotta. The judges are really digging the desserts, with grumpy Tom even saying that it’s the best part of the meal from BOTH restaurants. To top it off, Stefan has Fabio bring out a palate cleanser of frozen mango and bitter chocolate on little skewers. They did look really yummy. Fabio cinches the deal by giving the judges a warm send off, unlike Radhika’s hiding in the kitchen.

Who will win Restaurant Wars? We’ll find out …. AFTER the break. (Hey, have you guys been watching Idol? I’m glad the audition phase is showing more talented people but they’re really going heavy with the sob stories in the pimp spot near the end of the hour.)

Commercials. For this week’s mini, nonsensical clip, the cheftestants are in the stew room and Jeff the Hair does this magic trick where he lays out a square of items, in this case a bunch of crumpled up paper balls, and he tells them to touch just one of the balls while he covers his eyes and then he can guess which ball was touched. This is how they entertain themselves while they wait. I’m sure it’s a lot more funny after a few beers.

Back to the real episodes, the cheftestants are talking about how crappy the appliances were at the Bridgewater kitchen when Padma comes in and asks for the Sunset Lounge team.

At the judges’ table, Padma asks Lazy Leah how she thinks things went, and of course she doesn’t say how she was a frickin’ mess because she kissed Big Ho and was racked with guilt and couldn’t deal with the bones in her fish so she undercooked it. Instead she says overall they did ok. Chef Tom informs them that it was a close call but the guest comment cards gave the edge to their restaurant by a “slight margin” thanks to Stefan’s dessert and Fabio’s charm. Even cranky Toby Young says he was won over by Fabio.

Then Tom says Leah’s cod was the worst thing they ate all evening, and if her restaurant was on the losing end, she was sure to go home to her ex-boyfriend. Instead, guest judge Starr names Stefan the winner of the challenge because of his desserts, and Padma says he wins an entire line of GE appliances. Wow, now that’s a win.

Afterwards, Stefan says he can go home happy now even if he’s eliminated because he’s won the Restaurant Wars. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have the $100,000 prize money. What is up with all the pimping of this restaurant war challenge? Geez, it’s just a make believe restaurant people! My niece can set up a restaurant in one day with her Easy Bake oven too, and I don’t see her strutting her stuff after I pay my bill and tip!

Team Sahana goes in and Carla Top is a wee bit too excited, like she knows she’s going to be eliminated so she’s going to go out even more crazy than crazy does.

Padma asks Radhika what she thinks went wrong, and Radhika says she doesn’t know because she’s the woman of no opinions. The best part, hands down, is the few minutes with Carla Top, who gets all wacky and holds an honest and weird conversation with Tom.

She tells Tom that she was trying to do too many things and that others did ask her if she needed help but they were already “in the weeds” themselves so she tried to tough it out. And then there was this (paraphrased a bit, but you get the gist):

Carla: “I wasn’t happy with how (the desserts) turned out, but I had a good time.”

Tom makes that typical quizzical face that you know if he was a cartoon, it would be like Scooby Doo going, woohuh?

Carla: “I know my dish is going south. So I’m just going to send out some love that I’m giving you. So when you’re out there eating my food that looks like crap, I’ll be in the kitchen sending out the happy vibes so you’ll feel like it’s still good.”

I. LOVE. HER. She is totally cracking me up and I just wish she stays another week just so I can hear more crazy-is-like-crazy-does comments from her during the judges’ table.

After Padma pushes up Tom’s lower jaw that dropped in shocked, he says that they should have just owned up to their problems in the kitchen and call the frozen yogurt, yogurt soup instead. Then he says Radhika’s front of the house service sucked big time and as the chef/owner, she should have made more unilateral decisions about how things were cooked and handled. Tom says Radhika was never really in the game and doesn’t have follow through.

They’re excused while the judges deliberate more. Carla Top thinks it’s her leaving while Radhika says she’ll be going home. The judges say a lot of the comment cards were about Radhika’s poor service. Toby says he typically skips the desserts at an Asian-influenced restaurant and now he remembers why. Starr says he wanted to fire her on the spot, except he’s not the owner of Sahana. He had the most funny quote of the night when he says Carla’s comments totally didn’t make sense about sending out the love. “Keep the love in the kitchen, send out good desserts,” he says.

Commercials. Oh my gaawd. This is another extended Top Chef episode. We’re getting another 15 minutes of agony.

Chef Tom says restaurant war is the most popular and highly touted by Bravo challenge on Top Chef. He says Jamie and Jeff the Hair must feel frustrated that they’re on the sucky team. He says Radhika as chef-owner needs to have her hands on every aspect of the restaurant, and he tells Carla Top that desserts leave a lasting impression of the dinner and she didn’t make a good impression.

He turns to Padma, and she sends Radhika packing. Radhika holds back tears and thanks them for the opportunity. She’s mad that she’s going home because of her front of the restaurant service and not her cooking. Then says the typical exit speech about how her family will be proud she got this far, and that she learned a lot. The only way this episode would be saved now is if they cranked up the Bollywood music and Radhika and her family busts out some dance moves to end this episode. No? Not in the budget? Darn.

Next week: It’s an all-star team of seasons pasts, including my favorite bromance duo—Spike and Andrew. Spike calls Fabio “Fabian” and it’s on! Carla Top says Jamie looks crazed, and I think she looks like she always does.

“Top Chef: New York” airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV’s Web site.