Top Chef: Season Three, Episode Eight
Episode Overview: It's the team challenge the eight remaining cheftestants are actually happy to see: Restaurant Wars!  It's the Top Chef equivalent of playing house: who can create the best restaurant in 24 hours?  It's not just delicious food prepared well that will win this challenge; it's also a question of menu, decor and service.  But once the thrill of spending a wad of cash on table linens and planning a menu wears off, the chefs realize they might be in over their heads.  After a disappointing service, both teams are in for a very surprising Judges' Table.

Howie Kleinberg's food has become some of the strongest offerings over the past few weeks of Top Chef.  But his personality and inability to play well with others has started to affect the judges' opinions of him...and it certainly isn't impressing his fellow chefs either.  After his nasty take-down of Sara Nguyen last week, Chris Jacobsen (CJ) says they have all had it with him.

For the Quickfire Challenge this week, the chefs meet with Chef Daniel Boulud, and the chefs are awed to be in the presence of this culinary giant.  Although Boulud is a two-Michelin starred chef who was once the executive chef of Le Cirque, he's there to judge the chefs' efforts to put a novel spin on a hamburger.  The challenge is relentlessly  tied into product placer Red Robin restaurants.  It's all a little sad.

But the chefs are game, and get to it.  After reviewing the menu, many of the chefs decide to make a seafood-based burger, but Casey Johnson thinks she better stick to the classics, and makes a regular hamburger with beef.  Dale Levitski takes a breakfast-themed approach, and Howie uses truffle butter to add both flavor and moisture to his burger.

After the tasting, Sara Mair and Tre Wilcox find themselves in the bottom two as neither Sara's lighter fare - a lettuce-wrapped patty - nor Tre's "surf and turf ciabatta burger" are really burger-y enough.

Dale, Howie, CJ and Hung Huynh are named the four best.  Hung's joy at not only escaping the bottom but actually getting called out again is palpable.  But CJ is declared the winner.

At this stage of the competition, he doesn't get immunity for his win, Padma Lakshmi informs him.  However, he gets something that might help keep him safe at Judges'  Table.  He can pick his team for the Elimination Challenge: Restaurant Wars!

He doesn't hesitate much assembling his choices.  Brian Malarkey, Tre, and Casey will make up his team, leaving Howie, Sara, Hung and Dale to work together.  Good luck, folks.

The challenge is to create a menu and stage a restaurant in 24 hours.  Each chef will have to take a different role: executive chef, sous chef, design and front of the house.  CJ continues in his leadership role, assigning each member of his team to a different task.  Tre will handle the executive chef duties, Brian will handle the front of the house, Casey will do the design work and CJ himself will act as sous chef for Tre.

And on the other team...everyone seems to be gritting their teeth and making the best of working with the other individuals who have established themselves as either difficult (Howie, Hung, possibly Sara) or else just not stellar enough of a chef to be anyone's top pick (pretty much everyone but maybe Howie).  Hung and Dale take the design and front of house role, and so Sara nominates herself for executive chef.  This can't please Howie, who has already been in one power struggle with Sara before.  But he seems to realize he has got to be a team player in this case and settles into his sous chef role.

CJ's team picks the name "Restaurant April" and plans to serve contemporary American cuisine.  The "Best of the Rest" as they are later called by Tom Colicchio, choose the name "The Garage" and also aiming for a contemporary American cuisine, with a bistro flair to it.

As the restaurants come together, there are some red flags.  Dale selects scented candles for the tables - bad idea if you want your clients to taste your food.  CJ is a bit slow-going in prep, and this flusters Tre to the point that he burns his potatoes.

As service starts, the bobbles continue.  The chefs make it to Restaurant April first, to find a poor oyster starter and dust on their bread plates.  Brian sweats himself into a tizzy and eventually Casey has to pitch in out front.  Tre's burnt potatoes overpower and essentially run his dish.  The dessert, however, is good, so the judges at least leave on a high note.

They head over to The Garage and are immediately bowled over by the smell of the scented candles. They and another diner ask Dale to remove them from the tables.  The judges like Hung's tuna tartare starter, but after a long wait, are sorely disappointed by Howie's gummy risotto.  They also are perplexed by the heaviness of the risotto and Sara's lamb dish for a Miami restaurant in the summer.

The judges have a tough call when they go back to deliberate: there were some major flaws in both restaurants, and they have the independent comments of a food blogger to support their concerns.  First, they call back Restaurant April, but quickly tell them they are not the winners.  They review the issues, and when they seem to be leaning towards finding Brian's service the weakest link, his teammates don't throw him under the bus, saying there were multiple issues.

The Garage then heads back for their bruising review.  Dale is called out for decor and candles. Hung gets a mild slap on the wrist for some minor flaw in his tuna tartare but it's clear he's one of the few bright spots in the evening.  Sara and Howie defend their heavy dishes.

The judges deliberate again, and ask Dale and Brian to come back to the room.  They call both to the carpet for their flaws but...nobody is going home.

That's right: it's a do-over.  Next week on Top Chef, we'll get to see the second battle in Restaurant Wars.  In the meantime, says Colicchio, consider this a "soft opening," and tighten things up for the real deal in the next challenge.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)