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Live-blogging 'Top Chef: Las Vegas': That's one 'sad velvet painting' of a dish

November 11, 2009 |  9:21 pm

Tonight's "Top Chef" redux is being written as a running commentary. So away we go:

The episode starts with Bryan missing his kid. Jennifer's missing last week's Mike I. Cabin fever is at an all-time high. But Jennifer, at least, gives us this hopeful line: "I should just stop worrying about everybody else and really just start worrying about myself." Is she finally going to pull it together and go back to making boys cry in the kitchen? Fingers crossed!

The Quickfire takes the remaining chefs to the Venetian, where they get a call from Padma, who is in a robe, and in bed. She wants some room service, and fast! So does her bedmate Nigella Lawson. (Eli offers that Nigella's a "legit" cook. Yes, thank you, Eli, and might I add she can also cook the pants off of you. Now go take a shower.)

Of course, the clashing Eli and Robin are put together to cook in the kitchen first. Eli's doing a corn beef reuben and a thousand island hollandaise. Nigella seems to be a fan of this, dubbing it perfect hangover food. Robin, as usual, takes on too much (well, too much for Robin). "Too much" being a blintz with goat cheese, pineapple and blueberries. No immediate comment from the ladies.

Next comes Kevin and Mike V., who is first pissed that Robin left the station he has to use a mess, so when she comes in, they butt heads. Because in every episode, someone has to butt heads with her. Me? I'm tired of seeing it. We get it, producers: No one likes Robin! Enough already! Mike V.'s Huevos Cubana seems to go over well with the Padma and Nigella. Kevin, who we didn't see at all because we had to watch Mike V. and Robin go at each other, cooked steak and eggs with various beautiful components. 

Next up, Jennifer and Bryan. Jennifer reveals she works in a hotel and she's going to serve up something called S.O.S. -- S.O.S. standing for something I can't write on this family paper's blog -- a.k.a. creamed chipped beef with toast, potatoes and tomatoes. Nigella, she notices, looks likes she's going to hurl at the sight of the messy-looking plate, but there's not indication -- yet -- that she didn't enjoy it. Bryan offers up a four-minute egg, crab, asparagus spears and polenta. It all smells like vanilla, and that turns off Nigella.

Bad news first: Nigella calls out Bryan and says she didn't particularly enjoy "breathing in dessert" for breakfast. Also on the bottom? Robin's one-note blintz. Robin says "I wasn't proud of what I did today." Nigella did like Kevin and Eli's dishes. Eli! That's a genuine surprise. And he wins! (For the record, I still say the Top Four will be Kevin, Jennifer and the Brothers Voltaggio.)

For the elimination challenge, each chef needs to create a dish inspired by one of the hotels on the Vegas Strip. And they need to cook it for 175 guests. Kevin freaks out a bit about the volume of food they need to produce, but we all know he'll be brilliant because he always is.

Mike V. pulls New York, New York and gets excited and patriotic. Jennifer gets Excalibur, watches a cheesy medieval show, accompanied by a meal befitting the dark ages (no utensils included) -- and, understandably, finds it hard to be inspired.

Bryan V. has Mandalay Bay, and sees a shark exhibition that makes him think of sustainable fish and food. He also buys his kid a toy from the gift shop because he misses him so darn much. Robin draws the ultra-extravagant Bellagio, which says to her that she needs to combine art and food.

Kevin pulls up to the Mirage, where he gets to pet some dolphins and decides to stick with simplicity (whatever that has to do with the Mirage). And Eli goes to Circus Circus and comes back with a surprisingly (yes, I'm constantly surprised with Eli tonight) lucid picture of the aging place: (As told to Kevin) "It's as if you're in an art gallery and staring at a really sad velvet painting." That's about right! There's no circus, no big top. It's just old and pink.

At this point, I fear that Bryan is going home. All that missing his son? It worries me!

And they're off: Kevin's making salmon. Mike V. is doing a chicken wing, which he tells us is an N.Y. staple. (OK, if he says so!) Robin's doing a panna cotta with a sugar-stained glass effect. Jennifer, who is nerve-racked again, has become inspired by "The Sword and the Stone," which initially means three red wine sauces that she's not sure will come together. Oh boy, Jennifer.

Eli's got soup with popcorn going on and something with raspberry for the pinkness of Circus Circus. I don't think he's going for a sad-velvet-painting-style dish on purpose, but something tells me he's going to get it. Bryan's doing some sort of fish slow-cooked in olive oil, presumably because he saw those sharks.

With 30 minutes to go, Robin's stained-glass thing isn't happening. The sugar didn't set. Mike V. tastes some of whatever Eli's making and declares it "peanut butter and jelly." That makes Eli questionable but happy.

Jennifer presents the judges with rather large "stones" of N.Y. strip with beets, stabbed through with a toothpick "sword," and a red wine reduction. Jennifer warns that they are bigger bites because, after all, Excalibur is all about medieval times. Nigella decides she needs the casino's titular sword to cut through it. *zing!* She takes a bite and says, "This is a stone ... I felt ready to be in wench mode." *zing! zing!*

Kevin's wild salmon sockeye with Napa cabbage and cucumber is declared, wait for it, delicious. Tom especially likes the tomato water it's sitting in. Everyone also likes Mike V.'s boneless chicken wing confit with curry and blue cheese disc. He explains that he thought chicken wings were something he thought N.Y. firefighters would enjoy. Padma loves it, but Toby doesn't like the cold disc of blue cheese.

Robin...older, sweet Robin, makes "panna cotta." That's all her title card read. She shows the judges the sugar stained glass that might have been, which leads Tom to make a "Why is she showing us that?" face. The judges say her panna cotta's got too much gelatin in it, making it rather solid. They feel sorry for her, though, and Padma says the idea of the stained glass would have been nice -- before Tom cuts her off with the obvious: "But she didn't serve it!"

Bryan made escabeche of halibut with bouillabaisse consomme, parsley coulis and garlic chips. Everyone says it's a winner -- what do I know? He's safe!

Then we come to Eli, who made a caramel, apple, peanut soup with pulverized popcorn on top and raspberry. The judges look puzzled, and I see visions of sad velvet paintings dancing in their heads. Nigella is frightened and makes everyone go first. "I don't like it at all," Padma said. Toby admires Eli's gamble, but says he lost. Could Robin actually outlast yet another chef?

The cheftestants are now pouring themselves Korbel champagne -- oh wait, this is just an ad, er, stupid vignette, for Korbel. I hate that this practice has become de rigueur on "Top Chef."

Back in the stew room, everyone but Kevin looks like they think they screwed up. But Kevin and the Brothers Voltaggio go in and get props. Nigella picks Mike V. as her favorite, and he gets a humongous bottle of wine, and a trip to the Napa vineyard where it was produced. I think he and Kevin had won the most times overall. It's gonna be a good finale, folks!

That means Jennifer, Eli and Robin are on the bottom. Jennifer says she never had a clear vision of what to do and said her dish was boring. Tom offers some medieval food advice: Heavy spicing is key. Well, why would Jennifer know that? Why would anyone? Still, he's right -- she could have gone further. Nigella brings up needing Excalibur again. Toby echoes Nigella, and adds "it was more Spamalot than Camelot." (Sigh, Toby. Just, sigh.)

Robin calls herself a "jerk" for choosing a dish she hasn't done for a while (or ever). Tom thinks she's too intimidated by her fellow chefs. Duh. 

No one has anything good to say about Eli's circus soup, but he demands props for his high concept! Tom says nay, and Padma says she'd never want to eat it again.

So who goes home? In the stew room, Jennifer whines that she's ready to go. I'll say it again: Pull it together, woman! If only she knew that the judges, meanwhile, are really hating on Eli's dish. He deserves to go. 

But the judges send home Robin, making up for not having done it weeks back. Eli, your day will come. Probably next week.

-- Denise Martin