'Top Chef: Las Vegas': Casino tour

Welcome back, readers. Justine and Liz are back and glad to see you survived last week's boring reunion snoozefest (we sat through it so you didn't have to). Our hopes are high for this week's episode since the previews showed Padma in a bathrobe, and we're hoping to see the last of Robin this week. But nothing's ever a guarantee on Top Chef.

Enough bashing the reunion show. On to the cooking! 


(Photo of Padma relaxing in a fluffy bathrobe from bravotv.com)

We open with Bryan missing his son – his 22-month-old Thatcher (how'd he come up with that name?) called him by his first name. Justine thought kids didn't start doing that till they were teenagers. We hope Bryan stays strong and doesn't let missing his family make his cooking flounder as so many in the past have.

A fashion moment: Eli wears ripped undershirts. (Liz, of course, swoons)


The chefs go to the Venetian and they get a phone call from Padma who wants room service. They get half an hour and whatever they can find in the kitchen, and they have to serve the food in the suite to Padma and guest judge Nigella Lawson. Eli calls Nigella "legit," so you know it's somebody you should've heard of (also, she's hot).


Eli says he's not up early and makes a "great hangover breakfast" with his reuben benedict, Nigella says.

Michael is in the second pair of cheftestants to cook in the small kitchen, and he's stuck using Robin's station. Robin left the place a mess, so Michael says he spent 5 min. cleaning and then had only 20 min. left to actually cook.

Liz is most impressed that Michael can break an egg with one hand. Robin and Michael have a little tiff because he's trying to hurry and plate and she's in the way. Despite his distractions in the kitchen, Michael's huevos cubano seems to go over well.

Kevin the Bearded One makes steak and eggs. We're impressed that he has a coffee powder on the beef. He never ceases to amaze us, with his beard or his cooking.

Jen is making cream-chipped beef, or s**t on a shingle as she grew up knowing it. Bryan is making an 4-minute egg with polenta. What is with him and polenta? He's made it for several challenges. Nigella isn't too impressed with Jen's chipped beef. The vanilla is too strong in Bryan's dish, Nigella says. Darn.

On the bottom: Bryan and Robin

On the top: Kevin and Eli (the rueben had "wit"! Liz cheered)

The winner was Eli! ("Weeee!" says Liz)

Eli gets his recipe in the Top Chef Quickfire cookbook (the only one from this season). We figure the cookbook will be out just in time for holiday shoppers. Crafty product placement, Bravo.


The cheftestants get to go on a field trip somewhere other than Whole Foods -- they have to create a dish inspired by a casino. They draw knives with the names of casinos on them, and they have to cater for 175 elite guests. (Eli has the crappiest casino of all time: Circus Circus – does that mean he has to make a dish inspired by really crappy hotel rooms?)

It surprises us that Bravo has taken this long to really incorporate Vegas into the show (and no, the actual showgirls at the beginning don't count because they were on the screen about 12.3 seconds).

Michael V. gets New York, New York casino, and he wants to give a tribute to the firefighters of the city. Liz, a New York State native, is upset when he says he wants to make chicken wings as a tribute to New York City firefighters. Chicken wings were originated in Buffalo, which is super far away from NYC. Liz doesn't doubt a NYC firefighter wouldn't appreciate a good wing, but there are many iconic New York City foods that would have fit the challenge better.

Jen wears a camo tank top and goes to what looks like Medieval Times (except it's called Tournament of Kings). She has at least two rows to herself (Justine thinks the patrons were afraid of her camo tanktop). It seems like she's had a few too many giant beers to really get any inspiration by the Excalibur casino.

Bryan goes to Mandalay Bay and notices the shark reef and aquarium. There's a sign about sustainable fishing and gets inspired. On his way out, he gets a little shark for his son. Totally adorable. 

Robin considers herself an artist and loves the glass exhibits at the Bellagio. (Also, after she draws the Bellagio knife, she says she doesn't know anything about the casino. Hello! It's only one of the most expensive and iconic places on the strip! You knew it was Top Chef: Las Vegas. Do some research before you leave home.)

Bearded Kevin goes to the Mirage and mentioned how it seems like a tropical oasis. HE PETS A DOLPHIN! He says he's committed to slow foods … but we're not sure what that means. He doesn't believe in flashy food, but then he watches fire over the water. You can't escape flashy in Vegas, David the Gnome.

Eli enters Circus Circus and it's definitely the crappiest casino. Eli syas he didn't see one restaurant in the whole place, but Michael V. says they weren't supposed to go to the casinos to be inspired by the food served there. It seems Michael V. is jealous because he thinks Eli's casino has a clear theme that would be fun.

Did you catch the moment in the kitchen where Jen asks Michael V. to be her prince charming?!

Michael V. tries Robin's panna cotta and says it tastes like PB&J. Eli thinks that's "groovy groovy groovy." Is that going to be your new catch phrase, because it'll be ours.

Judges' table

On the top: Kevin, Michael and Bryan

Kevin made sockeye salmon and there were many "mmms." The tomato water was "stunning," says Tom. The compressed vegetables were bright and flavorful.  

Michael's boneless chicken wing worried Liz for a while, but the judges liked it (except for Toby, but nobody cares about him). Michael made chicken wings that Tom said were "better than what we're used to." Toby called his food "effeminate." Get a life, Toby. 

Bryan made halibut, and the judges said the dish has "fantastic balance" and even Toby likes it (OK, so Justine appreciates his opinion when it benefits her TV husband). Nigella said his dish was "quiet and elegant."

The winner is Michael. He wins a giant bottle of wine and a trip to the Terlato vineyard. (They zoomed in dramatically on the wine as the winners walked back into the stew room. Take that product placement, losing cheftestants!)

On the bottom: Jen, Robin and Eli (so few cheftestants left that everyone goes to judges' table) 

Jen's "sword in the stone" beef didn't go over well – the meat was tough. She says she didn't have a clear vision of what she wanted to do. Tom suggested that she use more spices, and Nigella says it was too tough that she couldn't saw through it. (In the stew room Jen says she's ready to go. She's been defeatist for weeks now. Judges, grant her her wish.)

Robin's stained glass panna cotta had "glass" sugar that didn't work, but she talked to the judges about it while she was first serving the dish and even showed it to them (but didn't put it on the plate). That was kinda weird. Random comparison of panna cotta to a 17th-century courtesan's thigh from that minx Nigella. That was also weird. The judges agreed that panna cotta is easy to make and she couldn't make it.

Eli made a caramel apple and peanut soup with popcorn on top. Padma didn't like it at all, and the texture didn't quite work. Toby's canned line of the night is "Like most people who've come to Vegas, he gambled and lost." (Liz bets that when they told him the season was to be set in Vegas, he spent a week crafting one-liners that we'd all groan at.) The textures ruined the dish, Tom said. Padma didn't like the flavors and said she'd never like to eat it again. (Was the soup hot, or was it chilled? We couldn't tell, not that it would have been much more palatable one way or the other.)

AND ROBIN IS DONE! (Insert cheers of glee that could only be matched by the week Jerkface Mike packed his knives.)

Both Eli and Jen breathe a sigh of relief. Robin cries and says she deserves to be on the show. Robin has somewhat redeemed herself in Liz's eyes though because her poor showing saved Eli from an elimination.


Who's going home next: Liz and Justine are in agreement that Jen may be the next to go. The competition is not going well for her, and a few times she's said she wants to go home. Top chefs don't have that kind of defeatest attitude, even though we're not saying the pressure of being on a national cable show wouldn't get to us. Liz thinks Jen may even get to the point where she asks to be sent home.


Favorites: Our loyalties have not wavered. Justine backs Bryan; Liz wants Bearded Kevin to take it all.

As a special treat for our loyal commenters, check out the contest we posted earlier this week where you could win DVDs of Top Chef Season 5 or Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, or a special treat from The Baltimore Sun cookbook library. All you've got to do is share with us a creative idea for an original quickfire challenge (we promise we didn't know Bravo was going to be putting out a cookbook compiling the best QF recipes!). To read the rules and enter, click here. 



What souvenirs would you get from Vegas for a 22-month-old? What's your favorite Las Vegas casino, and what dish would you make that was inspired by it? Which judge (guest or regular) would you like to share room service and fluffy bathrobes with?

(P.S. Did you see that Padma's a guest on 30 Rock this week? So excited!)