I have a love/hate response to Anthony Bourdain. While I appreciate his desire to look past the tourist traps of the towns he visits in “No Reservations,” I hate the general opinion he seems to have that nothing anywhere is nearly as cool as he perceives himself to be. Which is why this moment from his visit to Australia is one of my favorites.

Not that I wish harm on the guy, of course.

Bourdain’s blog post about his San Francisco visit didn’t exactly change my opinion of him, but I went into last night’s episode of “No Reservations” with as much of an open mind as a politically correct, part-time vegan, child of hippies could muster.

The episode begins with Bourdain pretending to race through the streets Bullitt-style, in a new black Mustang. He rants a bit about San Francisco’s supposed insistence on eating local and organic, and includes shots of Chez Panisse to illustrate the point. Except that Chez Panisse is in Berkeley, and Berkeley is not San Francisco. He reminds us he is averse to vegans, and makes his first stop Pirate Cat Radio, a cafe with both vegan fare, and a maple bacon latte, which Bourdain deems “delightful…evil and good.”

His next stop is the Tadich Grill, where he meets Oscar Villalon for martinis and some hangtown fry: eggs, bacon and oysters. But let’s be honest here. The Tadich Grill is a really cool, old-school place, but the food is just not very good. Which is probably why they ate eggs and not a fish dish.

After a commercial break, it’s off to Haight Street, and frankly, all the jokes that can be made about Haight Street have already been made. Bourdain meets August Kleinzahler at Aub Zam Zam, where they lament the loss of Bruno. Then they walk down Haight Street and talk about how cool they both are. Eventually they end up at the House of Prime Rib, and I know that place isn’t the fanciest joint in town, but it deserves more than torn jeans and a sweatshirt, ANTHONY. On the menu: prime rib. Duh.

The next segment is a visit to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building. And you can see some of that here:

After the farmer’s market, he drives his rented Mustang to Oakland, so he can sample some taco truck fare. Huh? The taco trucks in Oakland are no better than the trucks in S.F., so it seems like a wasted trip to me. There’s got to be a better reason to go to Oakland during a show that’s supposed to be about San Francisco.

Back in the City, he meets Chris Cosentino at Sebo where they eat fish head, sperm sacs, and…sushi. And it all looks very good. Even the sperm sacs. The next day, Oscar is his dining partner again, and they head to That’s It Market, a liquor store in the Mission that also serves huge sandwiches. Bourdain gets a torta that includes…everything. If there was ever a sure fire cure for a hangover, that sandwich looks like it would fit the bill.

A police officer on his night off gives Bourdain a tour of Chinatown in a quest for dungeness crab. They end up at the R & G Lounge for their salt and pepper crab, which appears to be deep fried. That is to say, the crab, shell and all, is deep fried. Which….OK. I’m sure it’s delicious. Just seems like a waste of some good frying batter.

Next up is Noe Valley, and a visit to Chris Cosentino’s Incanto for an offal feast. Oscar is back, along with his wife Mary Ladd, and a few other guests. Once again, Bourdain refers to San Francisco as “two-fisted drinking town,” and with that out of they way, they get down to devouring every part of the animal I have never eaten.

Finally, he ends up at Red’s Java House, and relishes the fact that the beef at Red’s is anything but organic or grassfed; he deems his burger the “antidote to Alice Waters.” *sigh*

His final thoughts on San Francisco are positive. He calls it a great food town, and a great chef town. He appreciates the senses of humor of the locals he poked fun at. And he admits that he “always, always, has a very good time here.” Of course he does. I mean, has he ever ended an episode of this show saying “the place sucked and I never want to go there again as long as a live”?

So, I’ll say of this episode that he didn’t piss me off as much as I feared he might, but he still managed to annoy in his usual too-cool-for-school way. And at least he stayed out of Fisherman’s Wharf. That’s a rant I don’t need to hear from anyone ever again.

the author

Rain Jokinen watches a lot of television and movies and then writes things about them on the Internet. She's a San Francisco native, and yeah, she'll rub that fact in your face any chance she gets.

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  • Greg Dewar

    It’s so cute when tourists like Anthony come out here expecting a hippy dippy disneyland with crazy crap on every corner and every single person a carbon copy of the other, all marching in lock-step to Stalin or Jerry Garcia, and then realize zomg! There’s diversity here! There’s different kinds of people and things to do! There’s variety!

    Bourdain is ultimately a guy who is stuck up for no reason, because at the core, there’s no there, there, just a reflexive contrarianism that ultimately is nihilistic and useless.

  • eugenia

    Well, too-cool-for-school is his schtick, so I don’t mind that. I actually really liked the episode because he hit some of the spots that are my personal favorite (R&G for salt and pepper crab, Aub Zam Zam for old school bar). I thought the show was well-researched. I only wish he hated the Ferry Building just a little more because I find the prices ridiculously prohibitive, which he admits. I wish he didn’t keept on calling San Franciscans crunchy, though. I only have one vegetarian friend, the rest are truly two-fisted drinkers who likes bloody cuisine.

  • appliedluck

    I agree with Eugenia. I tune in (occasionally) to Bourdain for the snark and that’s his schtick.

    I don’t blame him for heading to Oakland. For all of its holes-in-the-wall and hidden gems, Anthony Bourdain is the only way that city will ever show up on television except for a horrific crime story.

    However, regardless of where Alice Waters resides, I get his point that her fingerprints are all over San Francisco. I don’t really get his hatred of Waters and I view it as a slightly (or maybe even overtly) hypocritical overreaction. I mean, is it all that more distasteful to eat at Chez Panisse than Incanto? It sounds like his real issue is with smugness, which is bountiful in the bay area. However, if he wants to target smugness, he should look in the mirror.

    But I guess that’s his learning process. The theme of the show was how he discovered the dichotomy of eating in SF with it’s vegan hippies and raw beef noshing foodies. Perhaps he doesn’t get that without Waters and her extreme Slow Food, Vegan and Locavore fans, a cheap Red’s Java House burger wouldn’t taste as good.

  • Eve Batey

    “However, if he wants to target smugness, he should look in the mirror.” HA! Seriously, when I read that, I yelled “HA!” It scared the guys in the office across the hall.

  • Jackson West

    Can I just say that, whatever his flaws, he’s still more compellingly self-aware than 90 percent of teevee foodies? Which I admit says less about Bourdain and more about the beast that created him.

  • pumamermaid

    Does anyone know the name of the Sushi resturant he visited in Oakland? The one without the Japanese sushi chef’s. The chef had tattoooed sleeves, and the other chef told Anthony that 95% of the fish was flown in from Japan. I thought he said Sushi Stable or Sushi Shack. It’s not mentioned in Rain Jokinen’s article. The food looked amazing! Would love to check it out next time I’m in town.

  • Rain Jokinen

    The sushi restaurant wasn’t in Oakland, it’s in San Francisco and it’s called Sebo. And I do mention it in the review. It’s where they eat the sperm sacs.

  • periqueblend

    Bourdain customarily goes the surrounding areas of the Cities that he profiles. I think its for simplicity’s sake that it’s not called DC metro area, but Washington DC. likewise with his travels in other parts of the world, so i’m not surprised he would include things outside the City limits.

  • Babe Scanlon

    I didn’t watch the episode because I’m so tired of every out of towner focusing on the hippie crap. It’s been done and it’s no longer relevant. Glad he hit some normal places and it is funny (and smart) that he skipped the fish at Tadich Grill.

  • Babe Scanlon

    Someone has to keep them on their toes.

    Once I dissed someone for being a wine snob and then made fun of them for liking white zinfandel. Cuz I’m super self aware.