We Tried The Winning Top Chef: World All-Stars Restaurant Wars Menu. Here Are Our Thoughts

We're huge "Top Chef" fans over here. We've watched all the seasons and have been to a few of the past contestants' restaurants. We've even tried to recreate some of the winning recipes at home and wondered what the judges would have thought of our versions. So, when we were invited to not only meet the winning Restaurant Wars team from this season's World All-Stars but to sample their menu as well, we jumped.

Held at the head judge, Tom Colicchio's, Los Angeles Craft restaurant, we got to meet and talk to Buddha Lo, Sara Bradley, Amar Santana, Ali Ghzawi, Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and several members of the Bravo team. While it was wonderful to meet and talk to each and every member of the "Top Chef" family, we were there for the food. We can't tell you how many times we've drooled over the recipes the chefs have put together over the course of Chef's 20 seasons, and now to actually get to taste and savor one of those menus? No words can describe our excitement. So, buckle your seatbelts, sit back, and read on as we don our own judges' hats to tell you what we liked and what was under-seasoned on the United Kitchen menu.

Full English breakfast

We started with Buddha Lo's spin on a full English Breakfast, which included truffle toast with an English split pea hummus and a 25-year-old-aged vinegar Parma ham, the coddled egg with a browned butter hollandaise, black pudding, and pickled mushrooms. And since every breakfast needs to have coffee or tea, Lo recreated his surprising tomato tea.

While none of us could wait to dig into his coddled egg, we were all dying to taste the tea because it was the tea that had all the judges talking when Restaurant Wars originally aired. See, in a classic English Breakfast, roasted or grilled tomatoes are always part of the plate. Since this is "Top Chef" where thinking outside the box is often praised (and sometimes criticized), Lo chose to serve the tomato as a tea and it was just as delicious as the judges had implied. It was sweet and warm and put the perfect finishing touch on a delectable dish. We finished the whole glass and wanted seconds.

The coddled egg, which is an egg that's poached in the dish it's served in, was creamy and the yolk had a wonderful jamminess. But it was that browned butter hollandaise that made this the decadent dish it was. By the time we were done with our plate, we all felt as though we had eaten an entire English breakfast in just a few bites. All the parts were there and they were all absolutely delicious.

Scallop tartare

This scallop tartare was the talk of Restaurant Wars and it was all because of that bright yellow vadouvan. This was "the cold tartare with the hot sauce" from the self-proclaimed "California guy," Amar Santana. While the sauce, a French vadouvan, wasn't piping hot, it was a nice room temperature that was full of bright acidity which made the whole dish pop in both color and flavor.

Santana said he came up with the idea thanks to the Thomas Keller dish, Oysters and Pearls, which is an oyster poached in a beurre blanc served with caviar. "The scallop was so fresh in London, like in the shell it was so sweet, I was like, 'you know what, if I cook the scallop it's going to be like, oh, it's another piece of seared scallop,'" says Santana. "I didn't even want to touch it. That's how good they were," he explains.

The Dominican-born chef says his original plan was to serve the dish on a bed of dry ice to get that smoking effect. Unfortunately, the dry ice froze the sauce forcing him to change course and go with the warm vadouvan. We're happy the dry ice didn't work out because the final dish was unlike anything we've ever had before. The scallops were super fresh, iced cold, and so sweet. That sweetness coupled with the acidity of the pickled vegetables and succulent sauce made for one bite that was a delightful follow-up to the previous breakfast course.

Cullen skink

We're not normally cod fans. But Kentucky chef Sara Bradley changed our minds. Her secret? She used black cod instead of the more common Lingcod in her Cullen Skink, which, according to Bradley, is a traditional smoked seafood stew. The fish in this dish was so buttery and was cooked so perfectly, it literally melted in our mouths. As a matter of fact, the only complaint we have with this course is that there just wasn't enough of it. We only got two pieces the size of quarters. Now, we understand that this is a tasting menu and each course is only a mouthful or two so that we don't fill up, but we really wish there had been one or two more quarters on that plate.

The leek-wrapped fish wasn't the only thing on the plate that got our tongues wagging, though. The sauce absolutely tied the whole skink together. Bradley made the sauce with tons of leeks, potatoes, and smoked fish bones. But if those smoked bones weren't enough, Bradley actually blended whole smoked fish into the sauce as well. The end result is a rich, creamy sauce that has a ton of flavor and a nice subtle smokiness that pairs well with the crisp potatoes and bacon.


The main course of this wonderful tasting menu was Ali Ghzawi's lamb, and surprisingly this was our least favorite bite on the menu. That's not to say it was bad, it was fine. It just didn't stand out in comparison with the other dishes. The lamb was sous vide and pan-seared and even had "extra jus on the plate for Chef Tom." But even though Ghzawi made sure there was extra jus this time around, the lamb was still bland. We just felt it was severely under-seasoned. While the fat had a nice bit of smoke, that smoke didn't carry over to the meat, unfortunately.

It was actually the freekeh and apricot gel that were the showstoppers of this plate. The freekeh, which is similar to bulgar wheat or farro, had a great texture to compliment the tender lamb, and a nice smoky flavor because Ali said it was cooked with the lamb neck. But for us, it was all about that apricot gel. That gel was sweet and tart and tasted just like fresh apricots that had recently been plucked off the tree. It was absolutely amazing. We wish Ghzawi bottled it up so we could take it home and spread it all over our morning muffins. We were sad there wasn't more of it on the plate because it was just so darn good.

Strawberries & crème

The final dish of the evening was Buddha Lo's Strawberries & Crème: a stunning dessert that was absolutely worth the wait. This dessert had everything we want in a sweet finishing touch. Fresh, sweet strawberries surrounded a simple vanilla cake that was marinated in basil syrup. That was topped with a small scoop of basil ice cream which the Australian chef finished off with a few pieces of meringue, milk, and strawberry gel.

The strawberries were definitely the highlight for us. They were firm and sweet and had the perfect amount of acidity which is no surprise considering that Lo used Harry's Berries strawberries. The meringue had a nice sweet crunch and that gel... it was like velvet on the tongue.

The only issue we had with Lo's dessert was with that basil ice cream. While it was a stunning shade of green, it left us wanting. And we weren't the only ones. We felt it lacked a sweetness that should automatically come with ice cream, but there were a few guests at our table who believed that it was seriously short on basil flavor. That said, the ice cream didn't take away from the dessert as a whole. As a matter of fact, we thought it was a wonderful way to end what ended up being an amazing dinner. 

Final thoughts

All in all, this was an amazing evening with some really spectacular food. But the best part of the night was not that we got to spend a couple of hours wining and dining with Tom Colicchio (yes, he was sitting right across from us), it was finally being able to sample and savor some amazing dishes from chefs we've been watching and admiring for years. Buddha Lo, Sara Bradley, Ali Ghzawi, and Amar Santana all deserved to be part of Restaurant Wars as each clearly understands their craft while bringing their own knowledge and personality to each of their dishes. We were honored to be included in the night and can't wait to visit each of their restaurants in the future.

But as with the show itself, there can only be one winner, and just as Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Padma Lakshmi suggested when Restaurant Wars originally aired a few weeks ago, Lo was the clear winner of the night. He was the only chef with two dishes on the menu and we were hard-pressed to find fault with either of them. While we did enjoy all five courses, the Full English Breakfast and Strawberries & Crème were definitely the highlights of the evening. Whether or not Lo's win is a precursor to the finale, well, we'll just have to wait until June 8th to find out.