The Much-Feared Restaurant Wars Hit Top Chef: Texas

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Now that Work of Art is over, I've had to find another reality show to haphazardly catch before tuning into Bravo on Wednesday nights. That show is Restaurant Impossible, and it's weirdly addictive. I've even found myself seeking it out on purpose, which is something I never do with Food Network shows. (Except Chopped. LOVE YOU TED ALLEN.)

So what I'm trying to say is, hey, check out Restaurant Impossible because it's actually a kind of good show that's like a kinder and more realistic version of Hell's Kitchen. And also because the show was filming here last night (!) and the episode they filmed will feature Pelican Grill and it's all terribly exciting.

Anyway. Back to this week on Top Chef: Texas, where I'd somehow already forgotten that Chris was sent home last week. I thought I was supposed to care more about these people as the season wore on...

Padma threatens that some of the best chefs on the show in the past have been sent home after the likes of this week's Elimination Challenge. The teams are split by gender and assigned to take over a restaurant for the night.

The boys are up first, and Hughnibrow assigns the groups a three-course menu with at least two courses for 100 people. Some chefs have to handle the front of the house, and every chef has to make a dish. And they have all of five hours to design and execute not only the menu but the entire concept and decor of the restaurant itself.

Fucking hell.

The girls come up with the extraordinarily cutesy name Half-Bushel for their restaurant, while the boys come up with rugged-sounding Canteen. I find it interesting, though, that despite the gender lines both teams are very concerned with making their restaurants into deeply intimate spaces. I think that speaks volumes about the types of restaurants the nation's young chefs are eager to run.

And for the first time, I find myself keenly interested in one of the challenges. It's outlandishly difficult -- beyond the bounds of reason -- but that only heightens my interest. Both teams are doomed to fail, but I want to see which team makes the best lemonade out of these lemons.

As I'm considering this, Ugly Chris warps straight into the dilithium crystals of my Trekkie heart by comparing the situation to the Kobayashi Maru scenario, the unwinnable training exercise that Captain James T. Kirk beat at Starfleet Academy. As the Wikipedia article succinctly states: "The test's name is occasionally used among Star Trek fans or those familiar with the series to describe a no-win scenario, or a solution that involves redefining the problem."

Oh, Ugly Chris. You and I are now friends.

Flash-forward to the first service, which is Canteen. Its premise is, essentially, gussied-up comfort food. The judges think the guys did a good job decorating the place, but it looks more like a pop-up dinner inside a Crate & Barrel outlet store.

The dishes seem to go over as well as can be expected. Pork bellies, ham and egg dishes, desserts named after Almond Joy bars...they're all deemed more or less acceptable. The guys seem excessively hard on themselves afterward though, and I start to think they sense that the judges actually disliked Canteen more than the cameras are letting on.

The next night, the girls are setting up Half-Bushel and bustling around the kitchen, setting up their lines. Beverly seems more hapless with every passing moment of screen time and Lindsey is justifiably concerned about leaving her dish -- a halibut -- in Beverly's hapless, hapless hands. She goes back in to check on Bev in the middle of service...just as the judges arrive, and are left to linger unattended at the hostess stand.

At least the place looks better than the guys' restaurant did. Lindsey's inattention is repeated throughout the night, because her control issues mean that she can't keep herself out of the kitchen. A chef wants to be a chef, not a hostess and not a floor manager. I get that. But dammit, girl -- you signed up for this, and acting this way is going to get you sent home.

Despite all of Lindsey's concerns, the judges deem Half-Bushel's food the best of the two services. What she should be concerned about is the fact that they deem Half-Bushel's service -- her service -- terrible.

In the intervening commercial for Watch What Happens -- the half-hour talk show that comes on after Top Chef: Texas and dissects the evening's events -- the host references the nickname "Hughibrow" while Hugh Acheson is sitting right next to him. Hughnibrow cracks up, as does Rosie Perez (?) seated behind him. It is surreal and wonderful.

Back to the show, the judges end up choosing Half-Bushel as their favorite restaurant and Beverly (!!!) as the winner of Restaurant Wars. I don't know that I feel like she's a real "underdog" as much as I feel like the show manipulates her through editing to look even more hapless than she already is. But that's a tired complaint by now, I suppose.

Except that I feel it again when the judges announce how terrible Canteen was, which wasn't really sold to us earlier on in the episode. The judges went from polite during the service to excoriating here at the end of it all. It's kind of an odd turn, and I feel like maybe the meal at Canteen was far, far worse than the cameras told us, in order to maybe make this elimination seem a little more shocking.

In the end, Tylor is sent packing despite winning the Quickfire round in just the last episode. I'm going to miss his goofy sense of humor, but it's one more chef cut who isn't Paul Qui. I still think he's in this to take the whole thing.

Next week: Charlize Theron demands heads and hearts on platters in an oddly baroque, Dracula's manor-type setting while Ugly Chris makes bloody handprints on plates because I have no fucking idea why.

Quotes of the Night:

"It looks like they are really in the trees right now." - Emeril, redefining the entire concept of being "in the weeds."

"I'm sorry; there's a six-hour wait tonight." - Ed to arriving guests at Canteen, displaying a shockingly droll sense of humor.

See our previous Top Chef recaps here:

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