With a visit to Cheers this episode, “Top Chef” checks another box on its list of Boston-landmarks-for-tourists. When she realizes that is where they are headed, native Boston contestant Stacy is plainly thinking: “Oh no, Cheers, please don’t make me.” (She then confesses she got kicked out once with some Irish friends.)
They all have to make bar snacks for actor George Wendt, a.k.a. Norm. (”Boston is a bar town,” Padma Lakshmi declares perceptively.) Turns out he likes raw fish and jalapeno spice better than wings and burgers: He chooses Katsuji’s mahi mahi and tuna ceviche (which turns out to be highly lucky for Katsuji down the line). Stacy makes a fancy BLT, which at the end of the day is still going to be a BLT at heart: boring choice. James continues to serve weird, tone-deaf dishes with little appeal. (”You’re feeding Norm from cheers crudités?,” Adam asks incredulously.)
Then Michael Schlow appears and everyone divides into teams and repairs to Via Matta to make a three-course Italian meal. Emmy Rossum is here, and there’s a twist: She doesn’t eat gluten, which makes the pasta course interesting. This challenge reveals menu writing to be a skill completely separate from making delicious food. “When you’re writing a successful menu, it’s no easy task,” Schlow says. Spoken like a survivor of Happy’s Bar + Kitchen.
The purple team wins, despite Katsuji’s pea and goat cheese raviolo, the pasta so bad Tom wishes he’d gotten the gluten-free version, which seems pretty terrible itself. That immunity comes in handy. Thanks, Norm. Aaron makes an elegant seared scallop dish with peaches, ramps, and speck, and Gregory a killer strip loin with sweet onion compote. (We get a shot of Schlow eating the steak, and the look on his face says: “I want to poach this guy.”)
The orange team offers a good-enough radicchio salad from Doug, a spicy scallop linguine that reminds everyone of old-school New York Italian joints, and a lovely branzino with lemon jam from Mei, who reveals that at work she is known as “the fish bitch.” The gray team serves a lame shrimp salad (James) that looks like something you’d throw together on a summer night when you were too tired and hot to cook, better pea ravioli (Melissa), and seared halibut with olive oil-potato puree (Keriann). The blue team turns in seared scallops with fennel and orange (Rebecca), pappardelle with basil-walnut pesto (Katie making pasta boring again), and grilled rib eye (Stacy).
Stacy winds up on the chopping block for mysteriously deciding to slice her meat super-thin and overcooking her vegetables. There she refuses to admit her dish was bad. Joining her: Rebecca, for food that tastes like bad room service, and James. It’s the Boston girl who lives to fight another day.
As for the gluten-free options, everyone but Katsuji does pretty well by Emmy. Her favorite seems to be Katie’s nearly calorie-free zucchini “pasta” — in other words, salad.
Aaron is revealed to be incredibly messy, another reason for the chefs to dislike him.
Schlow expedites rustily but charmingly and with Zen tranquillity.
And next week we head to the Watertown Arsenal for some sort of military-themed thing. Can’t we just, like, go to Chinatown or the Cape or something?