Image Entertainment // 2008 // 698 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 22nd, 2009
"It looks like the tall stranger has drawn a bit of a crowd. They think we're from MTV." -- Anthony Bourdain
In Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4, the chef and author continues his global nosh. He's spending a little more time with molecular gastronomy, but still finds time for his first patty melt, Spam sushi, and fast food chicken.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4 puts sixteen episodes on three discs:
Tony's back in town to visit The Three Amigos, three chef friends. While he's there, he gets into a video game and a Uwe Boll movie, Far Cry. Staffer Nari Kye gets into the act, learning snowboarding and going ziplining with Tony. Japanese-style hot dogs are also on the menu.
* "New Orleans"
In 2007, two years after Katrina, authorities' "hieroglyphs" are still seen on houses and once-full restaurants struggle. Tony makes peace with rival chef Emeril Lagasse, visits volunteers who are rebuilding homes, and talks with a comedian and a Times-Picayune columnist about the city's spirit.
Tony visits London's Smithfield Market to have a pint and a butcher's breakfast, has blood cake with fried egg made by a "nose to tail" cuisine advocate, enjoys deep fried haggis and a "king rib" at an Edinburgh chip shop, meets a chef who's reinventing Scottish cuisine, and talks with author Ian Rankin.
* "Greek Islands"
Slaughter's on the menu as Tony witnesses the slaying of a lamb and the chasing of a rabbit for stew. A backyard's bounty becomes lunch, a fisherman harvests sea urchins, a party involves firearms and dancing, and a picnic is complete with fisherman's stew and an accordion.
Network policies won't let Tony near certain "agricultural products," but he is allowed to visit coffee growers, try Rastafarian organic food, and sample beef patties and drum pan chicken. He also goes caving, investigates the dance hall scene, and has Sunday dinner with a Jamaican family.
Tony says aloha to three grand at a shop that sells vintage Hawaiian shirts, rides a Jet-ski, learns the history of tiki drinks, and meets a man who runs a bed-and-breakfast in a lava field. He also samples Hawaiian cuisine, including lots of Spam dishes and the fruit flavors of the Puka Dog.
* "Into the Fire"
"I'm the cook with special needs tonight," Tony says as he returns to Brasserie Les Halles to do a double-shift as a line cook and finds things busier than when he left.
In this fast-food-free land, Tony looks at the aftermath of Vietnam-era bombing by the United States, including unexploded bombs that litter fields. He also dines on swallows, rides an elephant, and tries some moonshine.
Tony tries his hand at ikebana (flower arranging) and plays drinking games with a geisha. Foods investigated include soba noodles, an artistically made cocktail, monkfish, and yakitori.
Tony brings cameras along for brother Chris' journey to learn about their great-great-great-granddad's life in Uruguay. A deserted train station, the mercado, a street festival, and a ranch with ondu stew and armadillo on the menu are among their stops.
Endangered turtle's on the menu, along with a huge breakfast and a huge lunch, as Tony explores a more peaceful Colombia. He rides one of Medellin's colorfully painted buses and meets a band that's found a musical solution to gang rivalries.
It's all about food as Tony snacks on high-end canned seafood tapas, visits the brothers Adria, admires chocolate artistry, has some onions in Catalonia, and stops at a restaurant that's "the next big thing."
Tony skips the pyramids, but goes to market, has breakfast from a cart, sits in lots of Cairo traffic, enjoys an ancient fast-food favorite, and has a boating mishap.
* "Saudi Arabia"
"And I can't drink at all, like, no kidding," Tony says, but he nonetheless accepts a fan's invite to tour Saudi Arabia. Meals include an offal breakfast, lizard, camel, and -- gasp -- fast-food chicken and fries. There's also diving, some wild driving in the desert, and a trip to the Red Sea Mall.
* "Washington D.C."
Vietnamese sandwiches, Ethiopian raw meat, and Peruvian chicken are on the menu. Tony also stops for half-smokes, learns the secrets of dead drops, swaps stories about "deconstructed" dining, and helps out at a food kitchen.
* "U.S. Southwest (Roadshow)"
Tony hops in a BMW for a tour of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Tony visits the Salton Sea to try his first patty melt, has a date shake, visits a Cold War cold storage site, tries whitewater rafting, and meets Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent.
This set includes what has, over frequent reruns, grown to be my least favorite No Reservations episode ever: Anthony Bourdain's trip to Spain. What I don't like about it is that it's almost all about food, which takes away from the cultural insights that are usually a part of Bourdain's journeys, and it's nearly all "new Spanish cuisine." I realize that Bourdain, a chef himself, is very excited about molecular gastronomy, but replacing his normal jaded outlook with wide-eyed excitement backfires. Even excellent $250-a-can tapas deserve some snark.
Bourdain's food-centric viewpoint proves invaluable elsewhere, though. Most notably, his look at New Orleans' recovery shows the larger picture more clearly through his discussions with restaurant people who moved in to feed hungry cleanup teams, keep full staffs while their dining rooms remain largely empty, train new chefs and crews, and open new places despite the rough conditions. Emeril Lagasse, talking about locating and finding jobs for his employees, adds to that picture. From its opening, with a silent scene of a devastated, deserted residential street giving way to the sight and sound of a lone man on riding mower, "New Orleans" handles the serious business of recovery with artistry. While Bourdain's trip to Washington D.C. is full of the usual goofiness, it takes a dramatic turn as he visits with an ex-con whose present revolves around his role in running D.C. Central Kitchen and a son he hopes will have a better life. The past that Bourdain often jokes about (see his book, Kitchen Confidential) seems to fuel his rooting interest for people rebuilding their lives, helping him bring viewers into these lives as well.
Two other episodes work excellently because of their personal touches. "Into the Fire" finds Tony poking fun at his out-of-practice stuff as he struggles to read order slips and find ingredients in the fridge, but it's mostly a re-creation of the chapter on kitchen life in Kitchen Confidential. It moves fast, with images and lists such as the menu items Tony must be able to prepare seeming like a blur. Since it is so fast, you'll enjoy it more if you've already read the book. "Uruguay" doesn't actually find the answers to the genealogical riddle it poses, but it shows Tony on a roadtrip with his straight-laced kid brother. "I don't know of him ever committing an evil act," Tony says. The best scene finds Tony explaining to Chris that there's a method to pigging out.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4 also includes some favorite examples of irreverent goofiness, included lots of fun with retro footage. The "U.S. Southwest" episode is a joyous ramble through Americana, with interesting sights (a now-deserted resort, that leftover Cold War facility, a date palm farm, a steakhouse serving up giant slabs of meat) that play to Bourdain's cynical attitude, new experiences (whitewater rafting and a patty melt), and a surprising encounter with Alice Cooper, who turns out to be -- gasp -- normal. Ted Nugent turns out to be quite a character, but we expected that. Do I even need to tell you how much fun Bourdain has with Hawaiian shirts, tiki drinks, and Spam in "Hawaii"? Just catch it sometime.
With allowances for locations such as a dank, dark cave full of bats and cockroaches in Jamaica, picture and sound quality are good. Captions are absent.
When I wrote about Collection 3, I asked for extras. While we don't get commentaries, there are a few short bonus pieces. "Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes" feature Bourdain and executive producer Chris Collins talking about hot dogs, creative differences, outtakes, and other subjects. Four "Tony & Friends" podcasts include extended conversations with Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. Although a couple of the pieces are nice, no one really needed to hear Tony and the Nuge grumble at length about obesity; Bourdain even advocates a "fat tax," which should make anyone who likes food as much as he does nervous. Still, the Travel Channel's heart is in the right place, I guess. Maybe next time they'll actually give us the stuff we really want with a Bourdain collection: a list of everything he ate, with a few recipes for good measure.
As always, if you're a regular Bourdain viewer, you know that you're never very far from a No Reservations rerun on the Travel Channel. If you don't get the Travel Channel or really want to have any of these episodes at your fingertips, it's a good buy.
While a previous collection I reviewed took out the bumpers at commercial breaks, this season leaves in the animated parental guidance advisory bumpers. I liked the absence of bumpers on the last disc; it made the show flow better. Still, if you do that expensive animation, you gotta use it over and over again, right?
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations: Collection 4, with one notable exception, remains one of the easiest shows for repeat and marathon viewing I've encountered. I watched four in a row on three occasions during my personal reviewing Bourdain-a-Thon. If you're looking for something inexpensive you can watch a few times -- or more likely, a few million times -- till the bugs are worked out of digital TV, I can't think of much better. While "Spain" didn't impress me, I'd put several of these episodes among the series' best.
Not guilty, even if I have reservations about Bourdain hanging out with
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 698 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site