“This is not classic food,” says Mike Isabella, pointing to a draft of the Bandolero menu. “The tradition is there, but then it’s the Mike Isabella touch.”
A few days before Living Social announced a new pop-up project that will preview the menu at Isabella’s forthcoming Mexican restaurant in Georgetown, the Graffiato chef had just returned from an eating trip to San Francisco—the final leg of a three-city tour designed to familiarize himself with the offerings at the best Mexican eateries around the country. In between these jaunts, he’s been poring over the Mexican cookbook canon, “from Diana Kennedy, the classic, to Rick Bayless and some of the modern stuff.” The Bandolero menu has yet to be finalized—Isabella says he’ll likely make tweaks up until two weeks from the opening—but the chef seems to have nailed down the lion’s share of the dishes.
Here’s the scoop on what to expect:
Bryan Voltaggio’s time on Top Chef turned him into a household name, attracting foodies far and wide to the tasting menu at Volt, his restaurant in Frederick, Maryland. But on the outskirts of town, Voltaggio observed a different dining need. "I noticed chain restaurants packed full of families," he says. "People want something easy, where they can throw their family in the car, park outside, and have a quick meal."
So he decided to open a diner. Rumors of the project started circulating a few weeks back, but Voltaggio confirmed to us yesterday that the yet-to-be-named eatery will be housed in a former car dealership just outside downtown Frederick. The chef will retrofit the auto showroom into a classic American diner—albeit with a distinct Voltaggio touch. It will be "simple fare done really well at a moderate price,” he says. While the menu isn’t set, dinner options could include meatloaf, lasagna, and crispy fried chicken. And yes, there will be breakfast: Voltaggio is planning egg sandwiches, platters, and pancakes (his son's favorite).
Mike Isabella's paella stuffing brings new flavors to the feast. Photograph by Erik Uecke
This vibrant stuffing from chef Mike Isabella may look familiar: The Graffiato chef-owner conceived the dish during a quick-fire challenge on Top Chef All-Stars, where the cheftestants scrambled to create stuffing after cutlery and utensils were removed from the kitchen. Tre Wilcox took the prize, but Isabella’s bright riff on paella with saffron, piquillo peppers, and chorizo is a winner on the toque’s home table. Isabella likes to use it with a turkey for Thanksgiving, but even if you’re not cooking the big bird, it’ll make a zesty filling for wild game, peppers, and even whole roast fish.
Check out Washingtonian.com’s recap of last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars finale and a conversation with the runner-up here.
The final showdown was a nail biter, with the judges finding lots to love about both Mike’s and Richard’s dishes. But in the end, there could only be one Top Chef . .
While prepping for the elimination challenge—to create “the restaurant of your dreams”—on last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars finale, Richard Blais said he was planning to make Cap’n Crunch ice cream for his dessert course. As someone who could happily eat both ice cream and cereal at every meal, I was instantly salivating. But then Richard changed his mind, deciding instead to make fois gras ice cream. That’s right. He decided to swap out Cap’n Crunch for fattened goose liver. He might as well have reached through the screen and punched me in the face. And yet . . . I was still rooting for him. How could you not? He’s won more challenges than any other competitor on the show and somehow he’s not a jerk. In fact, he seems like an incredibly nice guy.
The tension between the three remaining contestants was palpable on last night’s Top Chef: All-Stars. Mike strutted around the chefs’ Atlantis suite, saying things like, “Hey Richard, Wolfgang called to ask how the goulash is coming,” causing us to worry that Richard may finally snap. For most of the hour, Richard appeared to be somewhere between puking and crying. Though he avoided doing either, he did continually remind us that he—and not Mike, damn it!—has won the most Top Chef challenges of any contestant in the show’s history. Someone needs to give that poor guy a drink. Or a Xanax.
On last night’s Top Chef: All Stars, there was a kitchen fire that derailed the Elimination Challenge and required real live firemen to put it out. And somehow, the episode was still one of the most boring of the season.
The five remaining chefs arrived in the Bahamas for the finals. For the Quickfire Challenge, they cooked against the chefs who won each of their seasons. Carla was clearly off her game early on. She undercooked the rice with her lamb dish and lost to returning chef Hosea.
The contestants were told they’d be cooking for Bahamian royalty for the Elimination Challenge. They got to work planning upscale fare to fit the occasion. Richard quipped that he had been preparing so hard for the finals he was willing to hunt down a goat if he had to. We wished he would, just to liven things up a little. Turned out the chefs would be cooking for the King of Junkanoo—a festival sort of like Mardi Gras—and not for actual royalty. Oh yeah, and they wouldn’t be working in a palace, but a small, divey restaurant with apparently faulty kitchen equipment. Basically, then, the challenge was to cook a meal in a regular restaurant for regular diners. Yawn.
We started to get a little suspicious about where last night’s episode of Top Chef: All-Stars was headed when, seated around the dining table with family members of all the contestants, the judges apparently couldn’t find anything to critique about anyone’s dish. Gail loved Carla’s grits. Tom raved that Tiffany had done the impossible and prepared okra that he actually enjoyed. Mike teared up when presenting the gnocchi he made using his grandma’s recipe. It was a love fest all around. And sure enough, when it was elimination time, the judges decided they just couldn’t bear to send anyone home. All five remaining chefs are now headed to the Bahamas for the final round.
But come on, this is a competition. If all you have to do is bring your mom to dinner to keep yourself from going home, what’s the fun in that? We found the whole thing pretty lame. What do you think? Should the judges have sent someone packing? Let us know in our poll. And tell us in the comments which contestant the chefs should have sent packing.
Last night’s Top Chef: All Stars featured a kitchen scandal and fried mayonnaise.
Paula Deen, queen of all things fatty, judged the Quickfire Challenge, which was—shocking!—to create a deep-fried dish. Paula listed some things she likes to deep fry, including “balls of butter.” Richard did her one better and crisped up balls of mayonnaise in duck fat. Paula loved the fried mayo but not as much as she adored Mike’s winning dish: fried “chicken oysters”—the piece of meat that connects a chicken’s thighs to its body—served in oyster shells. Richard accused Mike of stealing the idea from his notebook, which apparently included a sketch of the exact dish. Carla proclaimed Mike had broken “chef law.” Mike, showing no remorse, pocketed $5,000 for the win and thanked Richard for the idea.
Last night's episode of Top Chef: All Stars was just downright weird. The Quickfire Challenge featured the toughest of critics, a trio of Muppets, including Cookie Monster and Elmo. Maybe because a bunch of the contestants have kids? Could Sesame Street have paid to get itself on there? Can't you only get on Top Chef these days if you pay a boat load of money? The better question is how much Target paid to sponsor the Elimination Challenge—the chefs had to cook for 100 people at a super Target in the middle of the night, and they could use only what they found in the store, including peelers, knives, and fresh produce. Did you know Target has fresh produce? And meat! And fish! So there was that sponsorship, plus a massive $25,000 for the winner. It was as much a culinary challenge as a fitness test, as the chefs huffed and puffed their way around the store, pushing carts filled to the brim with tools, folding tables, and induction burners.