As one gets older it's funny how their tastes change. Ten years ago if you strapped me down to make me watch a documentary, travel program, or something dealing with food I undoubtedly would have gnawed an arm off just to get away. Nowadays I can't get enough. Travel Channel and Food Network are easily the most watched channels in my household because, after all, my wife and I love to travel and eat. With that in mind it should also be no surprise that Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is one of our staple TV shows.
As far as TV hosts are concerned Tony is something of an enigma. He's a rough around the edges ex-line cook who made it big time due in large part to his book, Kitchen Confidential. He smokes, he drinks to excess, and he's willing to put anything into his stomach for the sake of gastrointestinal superiority. Yes, he's not your typical television personality, but if you ask me it's his wit, charm, and penchant for not giving a damn that make him so entertaining. He's the bad boy of the Travel Channel and it's obvious that works for him because his show is well into its fifth season.
As far as the DVDs of the show are concerned the Travel Channel has been releasing them as "Collections" rather than complete seasons. This means that the episodes are not presented in their broadcast order and you won't get the "complete" season. For instance with this fourth collection the Singapore and Berlin episodes are missing, but they were included in the third DVD collection. If you're a fan you really won't care. The show is entertaining as ever and it's worth being on any travel/food junkies DVD shelf.
Sixteen episodes and some bonus features make their way onto this three disc collection. The first disc covers Vancouver, New Orleans, London/Edinburgh, the Greek Islands, Jamaica, and Hawaii. The second features Into the Fire, Laos, Tokyo, Uruguay, and Columbia. The third disc houses Spain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Washington D.C., U.S. Southwest, and the bonus features (more on those in the Extras section).
Of these episodes there are several that stand out as being the cream of the crop. Ironically I felt that "Into the Fire" was one of the more interesting episodes on this set. I say it's ironic because Tony doesn't really go anywhere. He heads back to his old stomping ground and into the kitchen where he used to work, Brasserie Les Halles. It's been a while since he's done the line cook gig, and he works the grill which is one of the harder positions. Trust me, I've done my stint on the line and I know what Tony was going through. At any rate he signs up for a double shift and ropes a colleague from a higher end restaurant in on it as well. Ultimately this makes for a very entertaining episode and one that sheds some light on Tony's past.
Another episode that stand out are Hawaii, where Tony savors the delicious looking Puka Dog (oh God I want one of those!), spends a ridiculous amount of money on a shirt, and eats SPAM like it's nobody's business. And what trip to Hawaii is complete without standing on the edge of a volcano? Tokyo was another great episode, made especially so by the fact that Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto joins him for traditional Japanese cuisine. Saudi Arabia was another highlight since it features a woman named Danya Alhamrani who won a contest and got to show Tony her hometown of Jeddah.
The other episodes on this set are all quite solid as well and are definitely worth sitting through. Granted some of the episodes will undoubtedly make you a little squeamish as Tony eats stuff no person should and various animals are harmed in the making of this film. By harmed I mean "it's what's for dinner." I personally have never been a big fan of these bits, but hey, Tony is sampling the local food and culture through traditional ethnic means. It's really only natural that some critter is going to buy the farm in order to make entertaining television.
Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations is a fantastic show that entertains and educates you. In each episode Tony does a solid job of getting to the heart of the culture and with an open mind he shows no fear in earning the respect of the natives. Whether it's in America's south or half-way around the world, No Reservations will make you jealous of Tony. Actually I suppose that's what all travel hosts are supposed to do. They entertain you while making you want their job. Who knows, I'm a restaurateur, writer, and reviewer, perhaps someday I'll be able to eat sushi with Morimoto in Tokyo? Until then I'll stick with No Reservations and will give this DVD set a strong recommendation.
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 also worth mentioning that there's some noticeable interlacing here as well.
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.
Other sets in the No Reservations line have been relatively light on what one would consider bonus features. The lightest feature is a collection of the "On Air Promos", which is just what you think it is. It's those commercials Travel Channel airs for the show with clips of a particular episode. Clocking in at about two and a half minutes is a behind the scenes featurette with Tony talking to his executive producer, Chris Collins. They chat about a variety of topics from the world's weird hotdogs, Tony riding a pony, their theory on outtakes, and buying shoes. The other feature available on this release is "Tony and Friends". This bit is broken up into sections with Tony talking to Alice Cooper (4:36), China Matt (4:06), Erin Ripert (5:49), and Ted Nugent (4:25). These were apparently put online as a podcast of some variety, but in all honesty they aren't too interesting. The show is much more entertaining than these diversions.
No Reservations is a unique beasts in the world of travel TV programs. Tony brings a great deal of dark charisma to the show and it's the synergy between he and his crew that make the series pop. The show is funny, witty, and thought-provoking all at the same time. This collection of episodes is no different than some of the previous ones in terms of quality. It's a great little show that definitely deserves to be checked out. Recommended