| Neil Patrick Harris Photo: Getty Images
NPH, it seems, is a triple threat, as he is also an amateur magician. This accounts at least in part for the sleight-of-hand sadism inflicted upon this week's four competing masters. From the opening challenge -- cook an egg with one arm tied behind your back -- on through to the main course served at Hollywood's kitschy Magic Castle, a theme of mystery permeated the proceedings. It produced some of the most adventurous -- and at times, fussy and over-elaborate -- dishes the show has seen.
The ironically unassuming Anita Lo of New York City's Annisa dominated early with a delicately fluffy slow-cooked egg, served up in a cracked shell with truffle and oyster sauce.
Others couldn't master the one-handed technique: New Orleans' John Besh couldn't get his stoneware-baked egg right, serving up just one greasy, undercooked specimen to three judges (including Los Angeles' Nickel Diner co-owner Monica May, the brunch queen behind the sinful bacon-glazed donut.)
Besh, like many Top Toques before him, also made the mistake of toying with some last-minute liquid nitrogen for a soupy horseradish sorbet, while "Godfather of New Latin Cuisine" Douglas Rodriguez attempted to set some coconut-shell bowls on fire. Ultimately it was the less theatrical Lo who carried the day with her unique, illusory take on surf-n-turf: deliciously bloody steak tartare hiding braised daikon (an Asian radish) looking like a scallop, perched on crushed Rice Krispies resembling sand.
While Lo's food wowed, chef Mark Peel (of Los Angeles' Campanile) provided the best, most acerbic running commentary the series has seen so far. Whether he was half-kiddingly plotting Lo's demise ("I briefly fantasize about over-salting everything Anita does") or propagating a little healthy West Coast versus East Coast culinary competition, Peel's deadpan wit made the hour fly. With any luck, he and Lo will milk their mock feud for at least another season or two.