When it comes to watching television I consider myself kind of picky. If I'm sitting in front of the boob tube and not using a DVD it's something of a rarity. I find that most programs now-a-days are tired, cliché, and aimed at an audience that I'm not a part of. Because of that, stations such as Travel Channel and Food Network are probably two of my most watched. I consider myself a foodie, I love to travel, and I have a strong desire to see the world. I suppose it's only natural that Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is in my regular viewing rotation.
In case you are unfamiliar with Anthony Bourdain he's a lanky line cook who worked his way up to Executive Chef status. Unlike some of the other pirates in the kitchen, Bourdain is a finely educated and talented writer who is also a good showman. His book Kitchen Confidential is something most people have heard of but in my opinion it's his skewed view of the world that has elevated his status as travel guru and food junky. Bourdain traverses the world eating his way from country to country and divulging in ethnic cuisine that would make most American's palettes wretch. In many ways No Reservations is much like Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern but it's not quite as disgusting. I think Bourdain has some standards regarding what goes into his stomach.
If you have never seen No Reservations before and are wondering what it's all about then basically think of Great Hotels with Samantha Brown but with more of a focus on the culture and food. The chef in Bourdain watches fascinatingly as people prepare ethnic foods for him. It is, but it isn't a cooking show and if you were hoping to get a recipe for bull testicles I'm sorry to say that you're going to be left wanting. Still the show premiered in 2005 it quickly became a staple for the Travel Channel and it allowed Bourdain to continue his trek around the globe. Well into its fifth year No Reservations has enjoyed success on TV and DVD as well and today we're looking at the third season.
This year's episodes were quite good and some of them stood out as the best that No Reservations has to offer. With locations such as Brazil, Russia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Berlin, and Tuscany there's quite a lot of worldly ground covered here. I've always felt that Bourdain seemed more at home taking trips abroad rather than touring America but even then there is still a sense of familiarity and he still finds niche places to eat and interesting people. All told, wherever Bourdain goes you can bet it's going to be interesting to watch.
The collection starts out with Russia where Bourdain meets up with his friend Zamir and he spends the episode trying to get even with him. It's an amusing side story that lingers throughout the episode and works its way into the narration. When he's done tormenting Zamir he heads back to L.A. but by comparison this episode was a little bland. There's just nothing that stands out with his Los Angeles adventure but thankfully the touristy, culinary hip city of New York changes that. In NYC Bourdain bumps into Andrew Zimmern (that other guy who will eat anything) and they try to outdo each other's gastrointestinal prowess.
From there Bourdain heads out to China for a stop by Shanghai and Hong Kong. While searching for Shangri-la Bourdain practices some kung fu and works his way through China's diverse cultures and cuisine. Skipping ahead a few episodes the Brazil trip offered quite a few highlights with Bourdain drinking caipirinha with some girls and following his stomach through Sao Paolo. After Brazil the season continues with entertaining episodes including Singapore, Berlin, and Tuscany. All told there 13 episodes in this season and only a few are below the bar that Bourdain and his crew have set for themselves.
If you're a fan of No Reservations then I suppose I don't have to tell you that this season is worth picking up. The episodes are fun as always and Bourdain's sometimes pessimistic societal view allows for many amusing moments and commentary. The foods and cultures of the world are presented here in ways that no one else could do and because of that No Reservations is unique in a rather populated television genre.
Once again No Reservations hits DVD with some very good quality considering these adventures were shot abroad without high definition cameras or studio. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image includes a fair amount of grain and the overall picture is on the softer side of the spectrum. The contrast is handled well and the natural colors of the environment are presented nicely though some focusing issues and edge enhancement can be spotted as well. This DVD set doesn't appear to have been touched up in any way so if you've seen the show on TV you can expect it to look like the broadcast. It's not a bad presentation but it's not one that's going to leave your jaw agape.
Just like the video quality, the audio is presented strictly in the manner of its broadcast. That means you can expect a 2.0 stereo English track to be the only method of listening to No Reservations. The quality is very good for what it is though the way that the program was recorded leaves some static or hiss in a few spots. The volume can also be a little pitchy at times but again that seems to be a byproduct of the recording rather than the mastering of this DVD. The presence on the soundstage is like you'd expect and offers little to no immersion.
No bonus features are available here. This show is just crying for a commentary with the crew but alas we're left wanting.
When you look at the myriad of travel programs out there No Reservations stands out among the crowd. Anthony Bourdain brings his unique vision and twisted charm to the show and it's his passion for all things food and culture that really draw out personality in each episode. This collection of episodes is fantastic but even so there are a couple of duds scattered throughout so it's not a rock-solid experience. If you've never seen the series then you're definitely mission out on a fun time. Unfortunately the handling of the show on DVD is rather confounding considering we don't have complete seasons, but rather collections. Even so its still worth picking up and is easily recommended.