Top Chef, Episode 9: Restaurant Wars Draw Battle Lines

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Editor’s Note: Dining editor and restaurant critic Bill Addison is recovering from a trip to New Orleans and a home purchase, so Rebecca Burns, interactive director and Top Chef obsessive, is filling in with this week’s recap.
 
Restaurant Wars, always the best episode of any Top Chef season, hit dramatic high notes this week as the four strongest contenders matched up—Jenn and Kevin vs. the Voltaggio boys was a battle I couldn’t wait to see. Yeah, yeah, they were four-people teams, with Laurine and Mike backing up the Jenn/Kevin pairing and Robin and Eli helping out the brothers, but really, it was very clear who were the stars of these wars.
 
I fell for the Bravo early episode editing, sure it was going to be a victory for Team Jenn. They won the relay-race quick-fire challenge (that included blindfolds, impromptu miso, and misidentification of sablefish) and, in a show of confidence and camaraderie, opted to pass up the $10K prize for a shot at a $40K payoff for restaurant wars. Last week we saw Robin and Eli as a dueling duo, and this week’s opening moments spotlighted the sibling rivalry of Michael and Bryan V. (as well as their intense breakfast burrito technique). To top it off, their team came up with a restaurant name (RE-Volt, for Robin-Eli-Voltaggio) that was as silly as it was appetite-suppressing.
 
But, here’s a cautionary tale of cockiness: Jenn and Kevin took on too much, Mike cruised on autopilot, and Laurine disintegrated as front-of-the-house person. Meanwhile, despite Michael V.’s bossiness (or maybe because of it), the Re-Volts rebounded to victory. Robin overcame weakest-link status with a killer pear pithivier,
and Michael overcame his surly nature and offered to share the $10K prize forfeited by Team Jenn.
 
Watching Kevin and Jenn—easily my faves this season—melt down on the line was painful. Jenn is the queen of seafood but her decision to steam shellfish to order proved fatal. Kevin held his own with another (surprise!) pork dish, but shockingly screwed up the lamb prepped by Laurine, who was deservingly ousted (though some chatter online suggests otherwise; what do you think?).

I’m sure you’ll see Jenn’s competitive streak go into hyper-drive in the weeks ahead and I’m still rooting for homeboy Kevin. But whoever walks away winner of Top Chef: Las Vegas, it’s clear that the breakout stars are the brothers Voltaggio, whose fraternal feuding has kicked into epic gear. Their blond good looks are rendered edgy by their constant scowls, making them some of the most engaging reality show contestants to come along in a while.

See photos of the episode here.

Next week: Natalie Portman. Vegan!

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