Top Chef All-Stars - The Italian food of Top Chef episodes

Strip away all pretense. Remove extraneous ingredients. Simplify preparation.

Italian food, or this episode of Top Chef?

I'm a week overdue, so this is going to be extremely brief. Just basic thoughts. The Quickfire Challenge, one without any tasting and based solely on plating and presentation, was an interesting one but standing in stark contrast to the Elimination Challenge--cook a great Italian dish for a bunch of guys with questionable mob ties.

(Yes, this place really does have a lot to do with organized crime. Recently, in fact.)

Richard totally got the Quickfire's challenge: get outside the normal mode of thought and stop thinking about flavor. I thought his dish was by far the best, and deserving of the win. Dale was inspired by graffiti? Austin Scarlett did it first! Carla's was nice, but not particularly inspiring. How Fabio's hot mess ever made it into Isaak Mizrahi's good graces is beyond me. And dude, by the way, can that bitch cut.

The Rao's crew--Frankie No, Jimmy Wingnuts and Stereotype Jones, or something--dined on the products of the Elimination Challenge with Lorraine Bracco, perhaps most well known for her role in The Sopranos. The chefs were split into the three typical courses of an Italian meal: antipasti, primi, and secondi.

Three Italians in the crop of chefs (Isabella, Antonia, and...um...Dale? No! Fabio.) dominated the conversations in their respective kibbutzes. Isabella wanted to try fresh rigatoni, and even Dale took a shot at fresh pasta. Tre decided that risotto was the way to go, but Antonia gave his efforts the stink eye.

It's hard to look back and say what looked good and what looked either bad or unambitious, since these dishes are ideally fairly simple. Antonia's mussels would have been a snooze in most challenges, but in this one it got her in the top group. Same with Carla's minestrone. Richard's panko-breaded pancetta cutlet blew the table away, but he got overlooked--because he had immunity?

Indeed, Antonia's mussels with fennel and a parsley ciabatta was so gloriously elegant that it took the big prize. The bottom group was the entire primi course: Tre, Dale, and Isabella. Dale didn't incorporate all of his otherwise deliciously promising components. Tre's risotto was undercooked and overwhelmed by huge chunks of vegetables laid over the top. And poor Isabella, who was told that using dry pasta wasn't a sin, soldiered ahead with his fresh pasta and undercooked it woefully. Lucky for him, Tre's risotto was worse; Isabella stays, Tre goes.

Tony couldn't believe Tre had never eaten a good risotto; my first thought was back to Stephen and Tre, dining at Marea in the third episode of the season. Tre refuses Stephen's good natured but pedantic insistence on trying the sea urchin, saying "my palate is my own" to the confessional. That kind of bullish self-assurance couldn't have served Tre very well this week.

So that's about it. Next week (I like to call it "tonight") we'll have to tolerate Jimmy Fallon mugging to the camera for the latter half of the episode. I hope we all make it through without breaking anything.