What makes a city cool? Anthony Bourdain puts that question out there in this week’s installment of No Reservations: Is it the size, the location, the natural resources, the infrastructure? While our favorite irreverent tourist never tried to give an objective answer to that question, he gave us a glimpse into what makes Vancouver, one of his favorite hangouts, cool to him.
And, of course, the tour of British Columbia’s biggest town started and ended with food. Because, as Bourdain said, "It's a foodie town, a chef town, a multicultural city... a proverbial melting pot where the elements don't melt too much and lose distinct flavors."
First stop: JapaDog, the city’s ultimate street food cart because, as Bourdain pointed out, every town has their hot dog variation. JapaDog's take on mystery-meat-on-a-stick is decidedly Japanese: wasabi mayo, seaweed relish, daikon sprouts, and teriyaki sauce are just some of the Asian ingredients to meet the dogs. These strange East-meets-West combinations are determined delicious by our host. Teriyaki on a hot dog? Well, this comes from a man who has no fear with food (luckily we didn't have to watch Bourdain swallow something horrifying like seal eyes or a cobra's beating heart this week).
Next we were introduced to Pino Posteraro, Hidekazu Tojo, and Vikram Vij, the troika of badass chefs who specialize in Italian, Japanese, and Indian cuisines, respectively, and who play our their culinary pursuits of perfection in their Vancouver restaurants. As a buddy to all these gourmet boys, Bourdain visited each chef in his restaurant during mealtime. He was treated like an old friend and we viewers were able to fantasize about the flavors within the meals laid before him.
The works of art whipped up in Tojo’s Restaurant, which some say is the best Japanese restaurant in all of Canada, included a precious $50 piece of perfect Toro sushi rubbed in wasabi, baby Dungeness crab with mustard miso dressing and daikon salad, and tender halibut cheek and morel mushrooms stuffed with local white fish.
We got to peek inside the casual café, Rangoli, which Bourdain's buddy, chef Vikram Vij, opened up next to his upscale restaurant, Vij’s. There you can buy take-out/ready-to-go Indian meals made in the chef’s kitchen – even the yogurt and spice mixtures are homemade. How cool! I live in New York and don't know of such a place here. Bourdain noted that Bollywood films play in the bathroom (this is probably useful as that strong Indian spice surely sends some patrons to the bathroom for a while).
This season of No Reservations seems to have a heavier dose of cultural outings than in seasons past, which makes the show more well rounded and hilarious, as these are the moments that test the New Yorker's patience. Case in point:
Bourdain attempted to ski at Whistler mountain, which is 77 miles north of Vancouver and is the 2010 locale for the Winter Olympics, only because his sidekick and new producer, Nari, booked the outing. Since it was a rainy July day (yes, you can ski at Whistler all summer long!), the mountain-top ended up losing its allure after a matter of moments: Bourdain jokingly claimed he was having a minor cardiac incident, and threatened that he would make his new producer hose out the network's executive bathrooms for life after this excursion.
Bourdain also visited a videogame production company, zoomed down a zip-line cable through the rainforest, and then explored “North Hollywood,” aka, one of Vancouver’s film sets. Did you know Vancouver is the third most popular location for movie productions after New York and LA? There Bourdain made it onto the set of Uwe Boll’s Far Cry as an extra. True to his usual character, Boll looked pissy and tired that he had to deal with Bourdain during his direction of yet another feature-length bloodbath, and he aptly rejected Bourdain's suggestion that his character have some lines before being massacred by machine guns.
Finally, Bourdain brought us to Sooke Harbor House on Vancouver Island where chef Edward Tuson believes in the “philosophy that all you need to cook is in your backyard." As Bourdain also put it, he's a chef who takes the “local seasonal credo to what some might say is obsessive seriousness.” Ninety-five percent of the ingredients are from the restaurant's garden, farm, or from within a 30-mile radius, and between 50 and 100 varieties of edible flowers are grown on the premises, if that gives you an idea of the obsessiveness. The multi-course meal these chefs served to Bourdain looked stunningly delicious.
Ultimately, as the episode wrapped with a food-filled night at one of the chef’s houses, it became apparent that Bourdain’s friendships with his three amigo chefs is what brings him back to Vancouver again and again. What makes a city cool? That’s a complicated question to answer, but frequent visits and an endorsement from Anthony Bourdain will certainly help any city to be a bit cooler.
Next week on No Reservations: Anthony Bourdain travels to the Greek Islands. We'll get to find out if waiters really say, "Opa!" and light cheese on fire over there.