No Reservations N.O.

As I announced earlier, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show was airing its New Orleans episode this week. I wondered whether it would delve a little deeper than the episode he did in the city with his old show on the Food Network. I’d like to say it didn’t disappoint, but I can’t. It was indeed a better episode, but it spent too much time on, you know, IT. Too much Katrina exposé too late.

He hooks up first with Chris Rose. They talk about the storm, its aftermath, basically Chris plugging his book non-stop. Chris did a great job being the voice of the city in hard times. But I’ve had enough of it. He’s got some good lines, though. In the Katrina aftermath mode of living, he said you would, “Cry in your beer, cry in another beer, next thing you know, you’re crying in your whiskey.”

Rose takes Bourdain to Domilise’s for an “off menu” special: a fried shrimp and swiss cheese poboy with roast beef gravy. Bourdain gets his and asks: “Hot sauce, mayonnaise, cheese?” Yes to everything, except no tomatoes. Rose doesn’t know why they don’t have tomatoes at Domilise’s. They ask the bartender, whose been working there for ages. He doesn’t know. Bourdain thinks the answer lies in the poboy’s structural integrity. Tomatoes would cause, “Layer slide. A techtonic shift in the sandwich.”

Domilise’s was one of my favorite places to have lunch my senior year of high school. Seniors enjoyed and open campus, and the restaurant was around the corner. My favorite then was the trout poboy, followed by the roast beef, all washed down with Dixie beer or Barq’s served in big goldfish bowl glasses.

Tom Fitzmorris took Bourdain to the Lower Ninth and explains how it got hit from levees failing in both directions. Then Tom did what I guess he usually does after a visit to the Lower Ninth–he heads over to Antoine’s. I know I do.

Bourdain observes that Antoine’s is the type of place a foodie travel host would have as his first stop in NOLA, and proceeds to go on a tour of the kitchen and private dining rooms. His voice-over notes that, although the rooms are empty of customers, “A century of Mardi Gras royalty stare quietly at you from the walls, fading ghosts of a restaurant’s past.”

Cut to Bourdain sitting down with Fitzmorris. He does have a pertinent observation, “The weight of all that tradition–it’s for real. It’s not like those Irish pubs where they buy it all out of a warehouse. These are peoples’ real grand-dads and great-grand dads on the walls.” He notes the old-school type of service, that the waiter is a professional, not some actor in-between auditions. They talk to him–he’s from St. Bernard, lost everything in the storm. Fitzmorris talks about staffing problems after the storm. He says, “It is not going to be easy for this restaurant to survive. It’s a problem, really.”

What I didn’t understand was that it seemed they went to great lengths to make it appear Antoine’s is on the brink of bankruptcy. The restaurant was empty, obviously it was not open. Maybe it is hurting, I don’t know.

Bourdain goes on to visit Cafe Reconcile in Central City. It’s a training ground where troubled youth can learn cooking and restaurant management skills, and more importantly, social skills and responsibility. I’d say I should go there one day, and I should, but it is in a pretty rough part of town.

He then has an audience with Emeril. It was kind of touchy–Bourdain had a lot of fun at Emeril’s expense the last time he visited. They buried the hatchet and broke bread together, having a nice meal while Emeril told his Katrina story. Hundreds of employees scattered about the country, and Emeril’s efforts to find work for them all until his New Orleans properties recovered.

He observed that Creole, Cajun and southern dishes have their roots in poor people’s cooking and asked Emeril if that might ever go away. Emeril said he didn’t think there would ever be a chance that the pots and pans filled with red beans, gumbo and jambalaya would ever disappear, and, if they had, they’re back now.

Next, Bourdain visited a bar in the warehouse district that’s frequented by service industry personnel, where he interviewed a guy I’ve actually met, New Orleans comedian Bill Dykes. Again, it’s more Katrina stories.

The final visit was with chef Donald Link of Herbsaint and Cochon. Did I mention Chef Link is foulmouthed? His Katrina tale–getting past blockades to come into the city to clean out his restaurants, the filth-filled walk-in cooler to be cleaned out, etc.–was half bleeped out. Link did treat Bourdain to a combination crab boil and cochon de lait cookout, which the jaded New Yorker tucked into quite nicely.

All in all a pretty good episode. I just think the time has passed for doing such a Katrina-centric show. But I guess the rest of the world needs to know all is not perfect here. Thanks for coming, Tony.

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5 Responses to No Reservations N.O.

  1. Nola on February 10, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I think it is good that NOLA and Katrina remain in the public eye, but I agree with you–for us here we are tired of IT and want to revel in the things that are back or were not effected.

    Sounds like a good awareness piece but one that we NOLA-folks may find not so interesting. Too bad.

    Like the new banner and tag-line!

  2. stacey on February 11, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    I think a lot of the Katrina related items seem to be focused down here, air down here, they hold benefits down here. Things like that. I think benefits need to be held outside the city because, well um hello! I do think Katrina and NOLA need to stay in the public eye because some people think we are still under water to this day. I am not kidding.

  3. mybayouvieux on February 13, 2008 at 12:03 am

    I agree with both Nola and Stacey.
    I too am tired of the beating of the dead horse. Er. Well, dying horse.
    But, it is true. People outside of here think the entire city is still homeless and closed for business.

  4. Stuart on February 14, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Nice review. Very accurate, I think. Just watched it last night (after I had read this, so your comments were in my mind as I watched). It was interesting to watch AB grovel a bit in front of Emeril. Of course, he just HAD to take a swipe at Rachel Ray to make himself feel better… Not that I’m a huge RR fan either…. if I hear E-V-O-O one more time!!
    On a different note, nice blog. I’ve been reading it for a bit now.

  5. Christy on February 27, 2008 at 9:19 am

    I too thought that the show focused too much on Katrina. Of course they had to mention the elephant in the room, but at the end of the day, I would have rather seen the focus more on the food and the businesses that are open, rather than having Chris Rose cry into his beer.

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