Wednesday, November 7, 2012

the final "No Reservations"

No Reservations
Tony muses about crossing the river into Brooklyn, where the show started 8 years back, and opens with Tony riding the 85 year-old “The Cyclone” roller coaster at Coney Island, a ride he somehow missed in his youth. He hits different areas in Brooklyn, while riffing on the mix of people, cultures, and food that are found there. It’s a mini-world tour all by itself.  

Crown Heights:
Gloria’s # 3 West Indian Restaurant (the one at 764 Nostrand) with Omar from The Wire (Michael K. Williams, who everyone on the street seemed to know personally): curried goat, oxtails, mac ‘n cheese (which looked like a wedge of cake), callaloo greens. All tasting righteous and sinfully good according to the guys.

Columbia St. Waterfront:
Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok
with Eddie Huang of Baohaus and Fresh Off the Boat blog, set up to mimic a Thai-Isaan cafĂ©, with plastic plates and great service (which is atypical of this sort of spot in Thailand): laab, rotisseried and basted Isaan-style gai yang chicken with properly zippy som tam green papaya salad, grilled pork neck, some greens they never named (or if they did I missed it), and the Thai specialty called “jelly beer” (almost frozen, slushy Bia Singha). Tony says that it’s the best Thai food he’s eaten outside of Thailand, and Tony should know, having traveled to the region frequently. 

Red Hook:
Ralph’s Playhouse Toy Museum, where Ralph Balzano houses a spectacular collection of old toys and classic cars. He and Tony cruise the borough in a convertible ’59 or ’60 Buick Electra with monster tail fins and head for his brother’s bar, Sunny’s, for a drink. It’s owned by Sunny Balzano, the “Grandfather of Red Hook’, and the joint hasn’t changed a lick in eons (family-owned since 1890).

Sheepshead Bay:
Randazzo’s Clam Bar (“The Pride of Sheepshead Bay”) on Emmons St., opened in 1960, but the family worked in the seafood markets since 1916: huge portions of red checkered table cloth Italian food, especially seafood. Blue collar, working man’s meals with a menu straight out of the 60’s, and side orders of pasta. Tony gets a massive platter of Lobster Fra Diavalo (that also has clams, shrimp, mussels, all in a spicy marinara sauce) and he and the Torrisi Brothers (Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, from Torrisi Italian Specialties) split a huge order of calamari marinara. Their plates are equally massive; so big the meal almost looks painful.

Roberta’s Bread (and Pizza) on Moore St., a coop restaurant-performance space. Tony and rapper Kalib Kweli go upstairs to Blanca, a foodie cult favorite where they only book 12 diners a night, on a counter in a huge, very well-equipped kitchen (an unthinkable waste of seating space that would be the death of any other restaurant).  Chef Carlo Mirachi only does what he wants to do, based on what’s fresh that day, and puts out a 25 to 31-course tasting menu four nights a week. Tony looks like he really enjoys each little bite, while Kalib concurs.

Sheepshead Bay again, to go fishing with Dave Pasternak of the famed Italian seafood bistro, Esca.  First they stop off at Roll ‘n Roaster on Emmons for a big stacked beef sandwich (open since 1970). Tony catches fish for the first time in 8 years of fishing on the show (probably because he appears to be a horrible angler, and it’s a wonder the rod wasn’t ripped from his hand; he holds it like an 8 year-old girl, and has no concept of angling the fish, or leverage, or pescatory physics or geometry): 1 bluefish and 3 stripers, which get scaled and grilled dockside, drizzled with olive oil, lemon, sea salt, and garlic, with a bit of rosemary sprinkled on top; declared by all to be perfect.

Brighton Beach with his legendary traveling nemesis Zamir:
Primorski Restaurant on Brighton Beach Ave: half empty, with a horribly cheesy 70’s Russian lounge act onstage, and a sparkling disco ball: blini with caviar, dolmas, lots and lots of vodka, and a fantastic looking whole sucking pig, that they end up offering to the rest of the dining room to finish.

Downtown Brooklyn with Eric Ripert:
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare Kitchen on Schermerhorn St.: 18 seats only, 20 to 26 courses, and Brooklyn’s only 3* Michelin restaurant by Chef Cesar Ramirez. The menu is seafood heavy, much of it flown over daily from the famed Tokyo Tsukiji Fish market; tiny bites of perfect food that Tony and Eric swoon over.

Jewish Deli:
Jay and Lloyd’s Kosher Deli in Sheepshead bay, on Avenue U, a three-generation Kosher deli famed for their pastrami.  Tony has a chopped liver plate, pastrami on rye sandwich, and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda…”the consummate Jewish deli meal.”

Tony’s final words, admonishing the viewers to seek out food adventures and new experiences, and break out of the comfortable status quo: “MOVE…across the oceans, or across the river.” With shots of the Brooklyn Bridge fading out

Denouement: We watch the credits fade on what is supposed to be Tony’s final show on the Travel Channel, only to get a tease that in a couple of weeks, the final episodes of Tony’s travel show, The Layover, will begin its own swan song. Dang if I won’t watch that one also. Bourdain is one of the best, most irreverently entertaining things that has ever happened to food writing and food television, and I can’t wait for his new gigs at CNN and ABC to hit the small screen.

Mick Vann ©

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