"Bobby Flay probably lives like this all the time," ponders Anthony Bourdain before chef Guy Savoy personally serves his famed artichoke soup inside a private Caesars Palace villa.
Flush with self-reflections on wealth, crass commercialism and the rise of douchey behavior, the Las Vegas edition of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown airs April 20 at 6 p.m. PDT on CNN.
Warning: Beyond this point, there are spoilers galore.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
"In Vegas there's winners and losers and God knows I've been both," he opines during his quest to make sense of the city as he heads from the Huntridge Tavern, to Marquee, to being schooled on the correct way to order at Lotus of Siam by chef Jet Tila.
The heart of the show is an attempt to avoid the "lords and princelings of douche-dom" on the Strip and see what makes the city tick via a culinary journey. He begins with a hot dog and video poker in a gas station, before frequent cohort and food author Michael Ruhlman whisks him away to the Huntridge Tavern for the pair to hide from the "knuckleheads and "meatheads" of the party scene. Bourdain likes the dive bar haunts of Las Vegas, where the inhabitants nurture a "dim world view, even more than me."
Next, they mull guilt and opulence while ensconced within a high roller villa at Caesars Palace where Guy Savoy wows with a meal fit for a king, or anyone with an eight figure credit line.
Nostalgic for the days when problems could dealt by simply digging a hole in the desert, he travels to The Bootlegger to take in the retro-lounge act, try their meatballs and sensibly wonders why no one has yet "recreated" Las Vegas in Las Vegas. "I'd go there," he mournfully notes. "I'd work there" mournfully agrees the lounge singer.
Bourdain is a Dean Martin man with some apparent issues regarding Frank Sinatra and receives some wisdom on old school nostalgia from Penn Jillette at Raku. Calling the restaurant, "casual but pricey", Bourdain adds, "Every chef I know who knows this town said I should go." Sea urchin, fish collar, fresh river crab from Japan are on the menu as Penn puzzles over the weird romance for bad people and the slow demise of live entertainment.
This cues Bourdain to attempt to understand the Marque nightclub, E.D.M. and the rise of the knuckleheads with money.
Back downtown, he visits Oscars Beef, Booze & Broads at the Plaza to meet with "Mr. Vegas," former mayor Oscar Goodman, who recalls the old school mobsters were very good to his mother and had a knack for eating at the best restaurants in town.
Later at Eat, Bourdain makes no mention of chef Natalie Young to his audience or the redevelopment of Downtown clearly visible across the street while he digs into his sandwich.
The most revealing food segment arrives with chef Jet Tila as the pair dine at Lotus of Siam. Tila calls it the best Thai restaurant in Vegas and one of the best in America. His top tip is to go straight to the the back of the menu featuring Northern specialties, and only order from there. Describing the Asian dining scene in Las Vegas as "funky and awesome," his explanation for the scene's growth can be found in individuals like the visiting gamblers with a $10 million credit line who will happily rush out for a $10 Asian meal in the hope of finding the closest thing to their homegrown menus.
There follows a trip to the "playground" of é by chef José Andrés, who chastises those who say his hidden restaurant is being "cool" for the sake of being cool. "We believe we are increasing the value of the food we are working with," before praising his staff for carrying out his culinary mission when he is not in the kitchen.
With a nod to the perilous eco-system in a city surrounded by a desert, Bourdain and Ruhlman put the top down and drive home, having avoided much of "the full spectrum of human folly" Bourdain tries to avoid on his frequent return trips to Las Vegas.
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