Friday, January 30, 2009

Top Chef Poll

Oat Girls and Oat Boys Everywhere...

...DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A TOP CHEF?

Enter the Quaker Oats Viewer Quickfire Challenge to find out. You could be flown to New York where you'll compete against other Top Chef fans. The winner will have the chance to attend a future Top Chef episode. For a chance to win, visit bravotv.com/quickfire and submit an original recipe featuring Quaker Oats. Prize restrictions apply. Log on now to find out more.

Separated at Birth?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Top Chef New York Episode Ten

Before heading out for the day's culinary adventures, Carla laments her poor performance in the last challenge.

She did "dodge a bullet," so someone must have been looking out for her. Or looking to shoot her. Radhika, on the other hand, didn't fare as well, while a certain someone's neck narrowly escaped the chopping block. Perhaps she was distracted by her indiscretions?

Skank.

Nah, I like it. Plus, once a skank, always a skank.

Later, at the Studio/Kitchen of the Corporately Sponsored, the cheftestants meet today's guest judge, Scott Conant and his training beard. There's something very smug and smarmy about him.

The only reason Hosea got that bit of information correct is because Padma said it first.

This week, we have yet another untimely challenge.

They're going to play a game Padma calls "football squares," which is like Hollywood Squares but not, and sadly, there's no Paul Lynde. She has the chefs each come to the board and write his or her name in a square on a giant grid. The column and row labels are blacked out so they have no idea what they're signing up for.

We see that when Fabio's column and row are uncovered, he gets to work with vegetables and oats.

I'd start watching out for PETA fanatics now, Fabio.

So what's the challenge, Stefan?

"Origional," huh? Bravo really should hire a spell checker or two.

Carla is excited about the challenge.

Everyone rushes around in a panic to prepare something oatilicious. Some seem to panic more than others.

Finally, time is called and Padma and Smug Smarmy Scott have a taste of each chef's preparation. SSS was visibly amused by a certain Italian chef's oatmeal-crusted eggplant rolls, which peesed-offa da Fabio.

Leah, Fabio, and Jeff are the least favorites. Smug Smarmy Scott likes Oat Girl's and Jamie's dishes, but chooses Stefan as the winner. This is his fifth consecutive win, and everyone knows it.

Which one?

Padma then suggests the chefs visit the Glad Family of Products Storage-n-Stew room to check out the "present" that has been left for them. An announcement like that would probably make me too afraid to look. It turns out to be relatively un-scary chef coats with football-style numbering on the back. Woo hoo.

But he's got Gisele. Surely he wouldn't want you. (Leah has a type, doesn't she? Beefy dumb-looking guys.)

Padma then announces the Elimination Challenge - the first Top Chef Bowl!

The not-so-lovely graphic is then shattered by seven loser cheftestants from previous seasons, led by Andrew D'Ambrosi. With him are his boyfriend Spike and Nikki from season 4, plus Andrea and Miguel from season 1, Josie from season 2, and Camille from season 3.

The rules are somewhat complicated. Each season five chef chooses a competitor from among the "All-Star Losers" and an NFL team from among the following: Cowboys, 49ers, Packers, Dolphins, Seahawks, Giants, and Saints. Each pair of chefs will go head-to head, creating dishes based on the regional cuisine of their chosen team. Anyone who loses the head-to-head is eligible for elimination.

Because Stefan won the Quickfire, he gets to choose his opponent and team first. That is his only advantage; there is no more immunity from this point out.

Here's how the pairing broke down:
Stefan v. Andrea, Cowboys
Fabio v. Spike, Packers
Jeff v. Josie, Dolphins
Hosea v. Miguel, Seahawks
Leah v. Nikki, Giants
Jamie v. Camille, 49ers
Carla v. Andrew, Saints

The chefs then have two hours to look over the ingredients they are required to use for each dish and to plan their strategy.

Andrew offers sage advice to Team Season 5.

The next morning, Carla meditates to quiet the demons who threaten to push her eyeballs out of their sockets/borrowed monkeys in her mind. She's determined to win this challenge to make up for her recent near-elimination.

The chefs then head to the venue for the First Hopefully-Not-Annual Top Chef Bowl, the Institute for Culinary Education (soon to be re-named, in true NFL fashion, the Wells Fargo M&T SunTrust Bank Institute). There we find the previously-eliminated and now sequestered chefs have been let out of the house in order to pretend to cheer for their former competition.

There will be a two-phased judging. Toby, Smug Smarmy Scott, Tom, and Padma are round one. Their majority vote scores a touchdown, or 7 points, for the winning chef. Then five audience tasters are asked to rate the same dish; the majority vote scores a field goal, or 3 points, for the winning chef. A running score is kept for each team.

The pairs of chefs have 20 minutes to create their dishes for the judges. The results:

Leah scores 7 points to Nikki's 3. (Anyone else think Nikki has had some work done in the off-season? She looks...weirder than usual.) Hosea gets all 10 possible points from Miguel.

Carla, who I thought was absolutely insane for attempting to make gumbo in 20 minutes (one can't even make a properly dark roux in that amount of time), scores 7 points to Andrew's 3.

Then comes the Stefan and Andrea matchup.

Unfortunately, Stefan goes down, hard. And not on Andrea, who gets all 10 points.

This loss is obviously a crushing blow to the once-Superior European.

Jamie, who thought this might be the challenge she loses, wins all 10 points from Camille.

Jeff faces Josie and loses all 10 points with his overly-complicated dish.

And Fabio goes down to Spike, 3 - 7.

After all the points are tabulated, Season 5 wins by a score of 37 to 33.

At Judges Table, the big winners are called forth: Hosea, Leah, Carla, and Jamie.

Maybe so, but Smug Smarmy Scott choses Carla as the big winner for her amazing 20-minute gumbo. Unlike last week, this time the judges tasted the love. In addition to the EC win, Carla gets a pair of Super Bowl tickets. I hope she likes Pittsburgh (Roethlisberger is a douche) or Arizona! Go Cards!

The big losers are then called out: Stefan, Jeff, and Fabio. Personally, I thought these guys would be the final three, but obviously one of them goes home early.

Smug Smarmy Scott was really harsh and nasty in his comments to Fabio, making the Italian very defensive.

Sorry! Oh wait, you meant Scott.

Although Padma pronounced Stefan's salad "abominable" and Fabio was told that he "failed," Jeff's non-raw ceviche was deemed the biggest failure of all, and he was sent packing. Back to Dildo Beach Club for him!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Better Crabcake

Last night we stopped off at the Double T Diner on Joppa Road for a bite to eat before grocery shopping. While Mr Minx opted for the meatloaf sandwich (chewy meatloaf, weird gravy) I ordered a single broiled "jumbo lump" crabcake. What I got was about 4" across, 1" thick, and filled with huge lumps of crab. There was also a substantial amount of mushy breading. Personally, I'd dump the breading and serve a mostly meat cake 2/3 the size. It at least tasted good.

About 10 years ago, when this particular Double T opened, it was owned by a different family than the one who owns it now. The menu was different, and their specials could be truly special. My favorite was the crab balls. For about $11, one got three small round crab cakes in a lemon butter sauce, plus soup, salad, veg, and potato. The crab cakes were absolutely scrumptious. And probably a loss leader. Eventually things changed, prices went up, and quality went down.

I've never been impressed by the Double Ts. I think the Nautilus in Timonium and the Broadway on Eastern Ave do a much better job of food.

David Chang is Character Approved


USA Network announced this week the winners of the first-ever Character Approved Awards, a new program created to honor individuals from a cross-section of creative disciplines who are positively influencing American culture. In its inaugural year, USA Network selected seven visionary characters based on their cultural impact, legacy and persona. While each honoree is at a different stage in his or her career, they are all cultural trailblazers who are influencing our opinions, style and view of the world.

The full list of honorees is:
Patrick Robinson, Head Designer for Gap, Inc. (Fashion)
Shepard Fairey, Artist and Street Art Sensation (Art)
Lupe Fiasco, Hip-Hop Superstar (Music)
David Chang, Renowned Restaurateur and Owner of Momofuku Restaurants (Food)
Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia (New Media/Technology)
Charles Best, Founder of DonorsChoose.org (Giving)
Jennifer Siegal, Celebrated West Coast Designer (Architecture)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baltimore Winter Restaurant Week- RA Sushi

Our first choice for Restaurant Week eats was RA Sushi, on Lancaster Street in that odd neverland between Harbor East and Fells Point. After hearing that the place didn't take reservations and that it could get crowded, we opted to go early. Lucky for us, we arrived during happy hour, when they offer half price appetizers and sushi; the restaurant week menu didn't take effect until 7pm. As it was, we ended up eating exactly what we wanted for about $10 less than if we had chosen the restaurant week menu, plus beverages.

We started with two half-price appetizers, both also offered on the RW menu. On the far right are the coconut shrimp tempura. This consisted of four small shrimp that had been tortured onto skewers, breaded and fried. They tasted of fried breading. The dipping sauce, billed as "roasted pineapple" tasted of boiled-down pineapple juice with a vague bell pepper flavor. Ick.

The blue claw crab cakes were an abomination. Three mushy, bready, pucks were served with an odd mixture of broken Chinese fried noodle snack thingys and chopped bell pepper with a touch of vinegary sauce, and dollops of mayo on small purple cabbage leaves. The mayo was quite tasty; it had a minty quality that may have been shiso. But I have an active imagination.

This is the Viva Las Vegas, which the menu describes as "kani kama and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed lightly tempura battered and topped with spicy tuna crab mix and sliced lotus root finished with eel sauce and spinach tempura flakes."  What it was: crunchy on the bottom, mushy on the top. The topping was like a seafood salad of sorts, although entirely too smooth-textured. I have no idea where the lotus root was - I suspect the fried wonton garnish stood in for that more esoteric ingredient.

A couple varieties of nigiri were half price as well. We choose our usual tuna, yellowtail, and salmon. The pieces were appropriately small, and the fish was nice and fresh. Used to the largesse of other sushi restaurants, I was surprised at the tiny amounts of wasabi and pickled ginger (two slices) served at RA.

We also tried the crispy calamari roll (right), with tempura calamari, crab mix (whatever that is) and cream cheese rolled in the usual nori and rice and topped with spinach tempura flakes, then drizzled with eel sauce. The calamari was tender, and the roll tasted fine, even if there might have been just a bit too much cream cheese.

On the left is the best dish of the night, so good we ordered it twice: crispy spicy tuna. It was a tuna tartare of sorts with soy chili sauce, served on top of crisp-fried sesame rice balls, garnished with a cilantro leaf and a sliver of jalapeno. It was a marvel of textures and temperatures - the warm crispy rice reminded me of the crust at the bottom of dolsot bibimbap, all chewy and crunchy. The tuna was chilled and tender, lightly spiced, and delicious. I could have eaten another two orders of this and skipped the whole rest of the meal and been very happy.

With two $4 saketinis (mine) and one $3 Sapporo (Mr Minx's), our bill came to $51 + change. RA's happy hour runs from 4 until 7pm, and I can't imagine coming here at another time to pay full price. RA isn't far from where I work, so I can see us dropping by for an early sushi dinner on a regular basis.

RA Sushi
1390 Lancaster St
Baltimore, MD
(410) 522-3200
RA Sushi Bar Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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