The Restaurant Wars episode is easily the most anticipated challenge of Top Chef. The judges said that this season was the best they’ve seen in TC history. I don’t think the caliber of the cheftestants has ever been higher. And, having said that, I was so glad they didn’t have to bother with the whole decor planning part this go round.
Here’s a much too lengthy recap (but it was such a good ep):
- The Quickfire Challenge was a tag-team relay/cook-off (which may become the most anticipated Quickfire Challenge). It was super fun. The chefs were separated in teams of two, blindfolded, and had to cook one dish total — with each of them cooking for 10 minutes, one right after the other, not allowed to talk, and obviously not able to see what the chef ahead of them was doing. Yes, this is confusingly written, I know — let’s just say, it was much better watched.
- The Blue Team (with Jennifer, Kevin, Mike Isabella and Laurine) won with Sablefish, Sauteed Mushrooms, Shitake Broth and Radish Salad. I thought the Read Team (with the Voltaggio Brothers, Eli and Robin) made a tactical error in having the two weakest chefs (Eli and Robin) start off. As opposed to the Blue Team, where perfect-planner-Jennifer started and perfect-closer-Kevin finished.
- The Blue Team’s tactical mistakes came when their overconfidence let their $10,000 prize ride, and they chose not to make a dessert for the Restaurant Wars (RW) Elimination Challenge.
- For the RW, the cheftestants took over guest judge, Chef Rick Moonen‘s restaurant, rm Seafood. The Blue Team became “Mission,” (think clean, San Francisco-style), and took over the white tablecloth section of rm. The Read Team became “REVolt,” (think rebellious and play on initials, rather than revolting and disgusting), and took over the more rustic-looking section.
- REVolt won convincingly, and Michael Voltaggio won $10,000, for his Pressed Chicken with Calamari Noodles, Tomato Confit and Fennel Salad. He shared his earnings with his teammates.
- I was shaking in my boots, thinking Jennifer would be sent home for her fish dishes. Instead, Laurine was given the boot, for her poor front-of-the-house performance, and not stepping in when Kevin didn’t properly cook her lamb.
Robin’s Pear Pithivier with Vanilla Ice Cream and Elderflower Syrup
For the drink pairing, it was hard not to use Robin’s pear pithivier dessert for inspiration, particularly because of the elderberry syrup. I found the Gigi, a pear elderberry cocktail over on Chow.com, which sounds just about perfect (and slightly reminiscent of the S&C celebratory Elderberry Spritz). According to Chow, Jackie Patterson, former mixologist at Le Colonial in San Francisco, created this stiff cocktail, combining three French spirits. When I try at home, I will likely cut back on the liquor portions, and possibly substitute the pear vodka for pear simple syrup. Or, just find a way to add more pear.
Courtesy of Jackie Patterson, from Chow.com
- 2 parts Lillet Blanc
- 1 1/2 parts St-Germain elderflower liqueur
- 1 part Grey Goose La Poire vodka (or other pear-flavored vodka, if available)
- 1 part brut rosé champagne
- 1 pear slice, for garnish
Combine Lillet, St-Germain, and Grey Goose in a cocktail shaker and top with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Float champagne on top of Lillet mixture. Garnish with pear slice and serve.
posted by Ms. S&C
Top Chef has begun! Season 5 brings the culinary contestants to New York City, which should make for some awesome challenges. The first episode starts with 17 contestants, so I can hardly remember who’s who. I know there’s a group of three two that call themselves “Team Rainbow.” I think I’ll start calling the German and Italian dudes “Team Europe;” its clear they’ve bonded pretty well. Then, there’s a faceboy I’ve named “Mr. Hair.” And, other than our Washington, DC gal, I think everyone else is pretty much from New York or California.
The Quick Fire Challenge has the contestants peeling apples, chopping apples, and cooking with apples. And then, just like that, we’re down to 16. Lauren-with-the-overbearing-personality has to hop right back on the boat and head home. Now, its time for the Elimination Challenge. The remaining 16 go head-to-head and chose one of eight New York City ethnic neighborhoods to find inspiration for their next dish. The neighborhoods include:
- Astoria (Greek)
- Brighton Beach (Russian)
- Little Italy
- Little India
- Long Island City (Middle Eastern)
- Queens (Jamaican)
- Ozone Park (Latin)
Stefan of “Team Europe” wins with his classic Middle Eastern fare, and Patrick of “Team Rainbow” loses with his clichéd Chinese dish. Stefan served up a lamb chop with tabouli and beef skewers with caramelized onions and hummus. Guest judge, Jean George Vongerichten, kept commenting on the great lemon flavor found in the dish. While I would likely be drinking red wine with this meal, here’s a cocktail that may complement nicely. Given that I love Lillet and lemon these days, and thyme being a natural accompaniment, I think it would pair well, or at least serve as a pretty good aperitif.
This drink is a Shoes & Cocktails exclusive!
- 1 part Gin
- 1 part Lillet blanc
- 1 part Lemon Juice
- 1 part Thyme-Infused Simple Syrup
For the simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/3 cup sugar, and a teaspoon of thyme in a saucepan. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Strain spices from syrup. Combine all ingredients and shake well. Serve over ice. Garnish with lemon twist and sprig of fresh thyme.
Your Halloween Cocktails are here!
After drinking Lillet during my NYC bar hop, I picked up a bottle at Whole Foods. Then, I ran across the Corpse Reviver, No. 2 recipe – just in time for Halloween. Other than a fitting name, the cocktail itself has no association with the holiday.
Lillet is a wine, blended with a secret recipe of herbs and fruits. It pairs perfectly with citrus. So, the combination of the sweet orange liqueur with the sour lemon juice is scary good. You can hardly taste the gin, and the dash of Pernod gives a hint of star anise flavoring that really makes the cocktail. Don’t let the unusual spirits discourage you, this is a very good cocktail. My new book, The Savoy Cocktail Book, has a funny quote which reads, “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.” Trick or treat!
Corpse Reviver, No. 2
(makes about two cocktails)
- 1 part Gin
- 1 part Lillet
- 1 part Cointreau (or another orange liqueur)
- 1 part Lemon Juice
- Dash Absinthe (or Pernod)
Combine all ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel.
It’s been a long time since I went to four bars in one night. But, when I was in New York City, over the Columbus Day weekend, I felt compelled to try some of New York Magazine’s top-rated bars. I also asked my good friend, Sesolf, for recommendations, and we embarked on the classic bar hop.
(Here’s part one of a two-part post on the night.)
First up, was PDT, or Please Don’t Tell, a speakeasy-style lounge in the East Village. PDT has everything you’d expect – intimate ambience, superb cocktails, and the obligatory secret entrance (you enter through a vintage phone booth located within Crif Dog, a hot dog joint). It was my favorite place of the night. Not only is the place quite civilized (see etiquette rules), the cocktails were inventive and down-right good.
Referred to on the menu as a “Caipirinha Collins,” and it was. Light and refreshing, it was the perfect cocktail to start the night.
Served over ice in a collins glass
This drink has a thicker consistency and interesting herbal flavors.
Strained and served in a martini glass
- Jose Cuervo Tequila
- Lemon Juice
- Strega (bittersweet herbal liqueur)
- Red Jacket Orchard Apple Jack Butter
The glass is filled with perfect crushed ice and garnished with mint. One trick we learned – flick the mint leaves to release the sweet aroma right before serving.
- Tanqueray Gin
- Krogstad Aquavit
- Pineapple Juice
- Lemon Juice
- Muddled Blackberries
(Next up: a basement bar akin to a rabbit hole, a faux speakeasy.)