Last night was the part of the “Top Chef” season that everyone looks forward to–contestants, judges and viewers. But it was especially cool for “Top Chef All-Stars,” and the show began last night with Antonia mentioning how she seems to be bad luck to fellow teammates, who kept getting eliminated around her. Anthony Bourdain hosted the quick fire challenge at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin restaurant, and this dude, Justo Thomas, was butchering fish like a madman. This guy is amazing…he can cut perfect portions of fish while leaving a carcass and skin, and do it in like 8 minutes. The challenge was to do this in 10 minutes, butchering portions of cod and fluke. The top four would compete for immunity by making a dish or dishes using all parts of the discarded fish–head, bones, skin, etc. (BLECH!!!!!) in the elimination challenge. In the bottom were Fabio, Tiffany, Carla and Antonia, and the best were Dale, Richard, Mike and Marcel. Dale won with his Fluke backfin sashimi with fluke liver sauce, and he had immunity for the main challenge.

Guest judge Ludo Lefebvre was on hand with host Padma Lakshmi, and his concept of a “pop-up” restaurant in which the menu of small bites constantly changes was the theme for restaurant wars. Dale won the quick fire, so he would head up the first team, and he would pick the head of the other team. He went with Marcel, who he doesn’t get along with, and it was a brilliant move. Marcel then had the first pick and went with Angelo while Dale snagged Richard. Marcel also wound up with Mike, Tiffany and Antonia; while Dale had Fabio, Carla and Tre. He called Fabio the “steal of the draft” because Dale knew Fabio was the best front of house guy in the history of the show. Also a brilliant move.

The challenge would take place at the Foundry Restaurant, and right from the start you could tell that Dale’s team was going to kick ass, while Marcel’s had no leadership and a bunch of bickering. Dale’s was called “Bodega” while Marcel’s was called “Etch.” The diners would be voting, not the judges, though the judges would be among the diners and so would folks like Food & Wine’s Dana Cowan.

As suspected, this was a blowout. Dale’s team was totally in synch, had a great menu and executed it nicely. Marcel’s team was just a mess, put out some bad food and offered horrible service with Tiffany running front of house.

Some of Bodega’s dishes included a play on bacon, egg & cheese; tuna in a “can” with fried chicken skin; pork shoulder with grits; and a play on blueberry pie with dry ice cream. Etch made dishes such as crudo of fluke; asparagus and egg salad; slow cooked lamb chops and a duo of peaches. The service with Fabio for Bodega was light years better, and the Bodega restaurant team won with 59 of 76 votes.

Richard was the overall winner, and his dish was a chicken fried cod with “Brussels kraut” and ginger beer. I don’t like seafood and it looked amazing. So up on the chopping block were Marcel, Angelo, Mike, Tiffany and Antonia. Of course Antonia was on the losing team! And of course she wasn’t going home. That distinction went to Marcel, who couldn’t lead and made some mediocre dishes. Even during the chopping block scene, Mike blurted out that Marcel was a “time bomb.” Ouch. But he was right,and Marcel went home. Dale had a positively brilliant strategy because he knew Marcel would shoot himself in the foot and be sent home.

So now we’re down to nine–Dale, Richard, Fabio, Carla, Tre, Angelo, Mike, Tiffany and Antonia. I’m going with Dale, Richard, Angelo and Carla as my final four. What do you think? Or is it still too early to think about that? Thanks for reading and see you next week…