The devil on my left shoulder and the angel on my right one both had reasons to cheer during last night’s “Restaurant Wars” installment of Top Chef All-Stars. I can’t lie and say I didn’t delight in the bloody, five-chef pileup that occurred when the members of Team Etch got called to the judges’ table to defend their wayward creations, but if I could only order one item off last night’s menu, it’d have to be the adorable friendship that’s developed between Fabio and Richard.
Seriously, the pie-eating grin that the cocksure Italian planted on the pessimistic mad scientist after getting word of Team Bodega’s Restaurant Wars victory was sweeter than the former’s amaretto cheesecake and Carla’s blueberry pie combined. Individually, the two guys are among the season’s most charming chefs: I liked Richard’s tale of serving avant-garde Filet-o-Fishes (sans top bun!) when he was a kid working at McDonald’s; and I loved the way Fabio defended his servers from crabby Dale while also finding time to flirt with every receptive guest who entered his dining room. Put these fellas together, however, and it’s like combining the forces of peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff on the same slice of Wonder Bread. (Apologies to both chefs for such a low-rent food metaphor.)
Some other observations about last night’s telecast:
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* Who knew how many delights could be whipped up from a tub full of fish skins and guts, or if you want to get technical about it, “heads, racks, wings, and collars”? And, while we’re on the subject, who knew fish had collars? (Right now I’m envisioning a four-star eatery staffed by a dozen or so anthropomorphized cod in crisp white shirts and bow ties.)
* You could tell Marcel was in hot water as early as the menu-planning stage, or to be precise, the moment where he started whining like a petulant teenager: “Nobody’s doing anything till I write it down!” (Be sure to check out Marcel’s exit interview with my colleague Megan Masters here.)
* Who else is rooting for Carla to make the finale? She certainly has karma on her side, the way she blew kisses to the opposing team and wished them a good service.
* Was I hallucinating, or did I hear Tiffany say she was leaving Angelo in charge of her dish while she tackled front-of-house duties? Angelo, the guy she’s repeatedly suggested is just as likely to sabotage his teammates as he is to help them? (Not that her sad frisée-over-egg dish was ever going to take home top prize, but still…)
* If I could’ve tried only one dish tonight, it probably would’ve been Richard’s tuna in a can (raw tuna belly with fried chicken skins, chilies, and lime), but I still would’ve awarded the $10,000 top prize to Fabio, whose took a risk with his front-of-house position that paid dividends for his entire team.
* After learning that one man (Le Bernardin’s Justo Thomas) can butcher up to 1,000 pounds of fish in just five hours, I’ve realized that maybe I shouldn’t whine about the perils of trying to recap American Idol and Top Chef between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
* And what about Marcel’s parting words that “the only mistake I made was picking the wrong team”? Was he not listening when Tom and Tony thumbed their noses at the phlegm-like dollop of parsley he’d slapped on his monkfish? (“Why foam? Why now?” wondered Mr. Bourdain.) And his dessert — “a perfect storm of f***ing awfulness,” gasped Tony — looked downright inedible. But don’t take my word for it: Check out the depressing screengrab below (barf bag not included).
What did you think of last night’s Top Chef All Stars? Did the right contestant go home? Did Tiffany dodge a bullet? And who are you predicting for the final three? (I’m going with Richard, Dale, and Carla.) Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, interviews and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!