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October 24, 2014

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Counter Intelligence: Sofia Vergara + Buca di Beppo; Shirley Chung + ‘Top Chef’; The Commissary

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Buca di Beppo

Sofia Vergara is peddling Buca di Beppo and its many meatballs.

Hot off the grill!

It’s a “make it or break it” night on “Top Chef” New Orleans for our Las Vegas cheftestant Shirley Chung. If she makes it on the last episode filmed in Louisiana, Shirley will continue onto the next two weeks of the finale in Hawaii. If she breaks it, her journey over 15 episodes comes to an end, and she’ll be sent home with her kitchen knives.

Shirley, who in her decade on the Strip has worked for star chefs Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy and Jose Andres, is now among the four finalists from 19 who started out more than three months ago.

Tonight in a fight to win a new car, the last two men and two women are asked how their stay in New Orleans affected their cooking and food knowledge. It’s the final service, and they are shocked to learn they must make New Orleans-inspired dishes for renowned and revered “Top Chef Masters” Grant Achatz, Andrew Carmellini and Douglas Keane.

Our Venetian and Palazzo star chef Emeril Lagasse tells them: “Leave your mark on the city. The winning dish will be featured in all my restaurants there. This is a big deal, your last push, and it’s really time to kick it up a notch — or face elimination.”

Co-hosts and judges Tom Colicchio (MGM and Mirage) and Gail Simmons have their own Quickfire Challenge where the chefs tangle to win a car. Shirley warns herself: “You could get too tied up in the complexity of the dish, so you mustn’t overthink it too much.”

If Shirley moves forward tonight, she flies to Maui for the extended Season 11’s two final episodes. My friend chef Sam Choy awaits to judge the three finalists, although viewers will be distracted by host Padma Lakshmi in a sexy red-hot bikini striding from the water a la Ursula Andress and Bo Derek.

Check back Thursday for a report and on Twitter @robin_leach at 11 tonight for the instant results.

2013 Miss USA Pageant: Buca di Beppo

2013 Miss USA Pageant contestants dine at Buca di Beppo on Flamingo on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. Actor Jason Statham, journalist Robin Leach, Planet Hollywood head honcho Robert Earl and Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart also were in attendance. Launch slideshow »

MEATBALLS CHARITY: Emmy-nominated actress Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”) has joined forces with Planet Hollywood founder Robert Earl in a fundraising campaign to stamp out children’s cancer and other deadly diseases.

Robert, who runs the 97 nationwide family-style Italian restaurants Buca di Beppo, with three here in Las Vegas, has created the “Meatballs 4 Ninos” campaign to raise money and awareness for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Starting today, he’ll donate $1 to the hospital for every meatball appetizer, entree and side dish served in the restaurants.

“It means so much to me that one of my favorite restaurants is supporting a cause so dear to me,” said Sofia. “Thanks to programs like this, families never receive a bill from St. Jude for anything — not for treatments, travel, housing or food.”

Robert added: “We’re honored to partner with Sofia. The children’s research hospital does everything possible to save the lives of children fighting cancer, and they share their research breakthroughs with doctors around the world helping save kids with illnesses in communities everywhere.”

The Commissary Latin Kitchen

Different kitchens specialize in different menu items during the grand opening party for The Commissary Latin Kitchen at the Downtown Grand Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. Launch slideshow »

NEW COMMISSARY: Celebrity chef Richard Sandoval opened his The Commissary Latin Kitchen on Tuesday night at the Downtown Grand.

It’s his 41st Latin restaurant, and he’s hoping soon to open another on the Strip. His original Isla at Treasure Island closed after billionaire Phil Ruffin purchased the casino hotel from MGM Mirage, but Richard is still involved with the Tacos & Tequila concept he developed at Luxor, which just renewed its lease there for another five years.

The Commissary is a price-point-conscious, do-it-yourself restaurant. “I set out to provide high-quality food at an affordable price in a fun, relaxed, approachable neighborhood hotspot, and we’ve succeeded,” he told me. The 115-seat restaurant also has a 140-seat patio in the heart of downtown. Three kitchen counters offer three cuisine concepts, twists on Latin-inspired sandwiches, burgers and milkshakes.

Although there are no servers to take tray of breakfast, lunch and dinner to the table, there are bussers. His trademark 12-hour-cured spice rub rotisserie chicken takes center stage. For now, it’s 7 a.m. for crepe breakfasts to 11 p.m. dinners, but soon Rick will extend it to a Commissary After Dark nightlife hangout till 3 a.m. with a nightclub curtain sliding over the three kitchen counters to feature the 18-seat tequila and beer bar with 40 taps and a midnight menu.

We’ll have more Counter Intelligence on Thursday with new looks and menu items for Wing Lei, Bartolotta and N9NE Steakhouse.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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