On the most recent episode of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Las Vegas for a look inside the extravagance that has become the city's calling card and lifeblood. As Bourdain previously revealed, cookbook writer Michael Ruhlman tagged along for everything from shots in a dive bar to a black tie dinner in a private villa at Caesars Palace served by none other than Guy Savoy. Bourdain also meets up for meals with magician Penn Jillette, chef Jet Tila, the inimitable José Andrés, and a variety of locals for a peek at the city's past and present, where people come to "live like Caesar or make money off those who do." And now, on to the Quotable Bourdain — feel free to add your picks in the comments below.
1. Bourdain on Las Vegas: "If you're talking crass commercialism in the very best sense of the word, this is it. Is this the cultural center of the country? We may not want to think it is, but is it?"
2. Artist Anthony Bondi on Las Vegas: "I can go to the desert, but I'm not going to get there by accident. But that's part of the whole experience of the desert. It ain't friendly, it ain't nice, it ain't good, you know? It doesn't matter if you're a half a mile out or if you're 20 miles out. There's no reason to walk a mile further. You're already in infinite desolation."
3. Bourdain introducing Michael Ruhlman, his Las Vegas companion: "In Vegas, there's winners and losers. And god knows I've been both. In a place like this, where you can lose your shirt on the unlucky turn of a card, you need a friend. And, for my sins, I got Ruhlman. Currently evading prosecution in just about every jurisdiction from his hometown Cleveland to Grand Forks, wanted for bail-jumping, usury, misuse of livestock, assault, grand theft auto, also the respected author of such food-related classics as the French Laundry Cookbook and Soul of a Chef, he washed up in Vegas at just the right time."
4. On the clientele at the Huntridge Tavern: "This is the side of Vegas that I like because people here are like really cynical. They have a dim world view. Even more dim than me."
5. Bourdain, telling Ruhlman the theme of this episode: "This is about people who live here. When all the meatheads come and go, they're still here. These people have seen every variety of horrifying human behavior. The whole business model is to come here and behave really, really badly."
6. Ruhlman on the Vegas Strip: "There are probably more knuckle heads per square foot than anywhere in America."
7. Bourdain, while sipping champagne and eating things like toast foie gras with black truffle vinaigrette in a golden dining room in the secret, private villa that Caesars Palace reserves for its whales: "Bobby Flay probably lives like this all the time."
8. Bourdain on enjoying this kind of luxury in his golden years: "They don't show this in the Viagra commercial. They're always running down a beach with a tennis racket, but they're never sitting here.
9. Bourdain further describes the villa as "a little pad they give you if your credit line runs into the eight figures. How did I get it? I told the casino that Wolf Blitzer was coming, that he was expected any minute. I suggested that Wolf might be hungry, and they sent up Guy Savoy. Fortunately, he doesn't watch a lot of television, and I plan to live large until they figure out that Wolf ain't coming."
10. On dealing with the guilt of living in such luxury: "I'm trying to prove I'm down with the people. I'm still cool."
11. At the Bootlegger Bistro, Bourdain takes a sentimental look at old Las Vegas: "Sinatra and the mob are gone, but there remains still a certain sentimental attachment to the way things used to be. There were rules then, a way that things were done. And when they weren't done, there was always the desert and a hole in the ground. Also, there were lounges and rug joints and places where a man could get a proper plate of Italian-American meatballs and spaghetts. Luckily, there are still such places."
12. Over dinner at Raku, magician Penn Jillette weighs in on old Las Vegas: "It's better to talk about before. People loved having their mob stories. There's that weird romance of bad people. I don't think it actually was better. I think it was really good if you were Sinatra."
13. Bourdain on the new Las Vegas culture: "These days, for better or worse, live acts, live performers, are being squeezed out in favor of EDM. Electronic dance music. It's a DJ's world, and where once they used to say cocaine was god's way of saying you had too much money, now maybe EDM is."
14. Surveying the young be-glowsticked crowd at Marquee: "Come ye lords and princelings of douchedom. Hear my clarion call. Anointeth thyself with gel and heavenly body spray. Maketh the sign of the devil horns with thine hands. Let there be the high fiving and the hugging of many bros, for this is the kingdom and the power. Now frolic and maketh it to rain."
15. Former mayor and one-time defense attorney to the mob Oscar Goodman reminisces about the days where what happened in Vegas really did stay in Vegas. On what makes Vegas unique, he says: "You go to the airport here, everybody's smiling. When they come in they're smiling, they can't wait to lose their money. Then when they leave they're smiling after they lost their money. So I think it's a special kind of place where people can take their basest instincts and let it fly. I think that's good. I have no problem with that at all."
16. Bourdain shares lunch with local artist Anthony Bondi at Eat and reflects: "There has been for some years an art community in Vegas. You know, like art, that makes your life, all our lives better and makes us think. Granted, Vegas is a town designed to make you not think, to separate you from your money in as pleasurable a way as possible, so pleasurable that even after you limp out of town leaking from your ass with nothing in your pockets, you want to come back and do it again."
17. At Lotus of Siam, chef Jet Tila lays down the law about sticking to the restaurant's northern Thai specialties: "If you come here and eat chicken with cashew nuts and drunken noodles, someone should punch you in the face. It's one of those restaurants."
18. On a visit to the counter at é by José Andrés with Andrés himself and Ruhlman, Bourdain states the obvious: "This is a far cry from the $1 shrimp cocktail and the all-you-can-eat buffets groaning under the weight of a thousand carbs."
19. Andrés on why he doesn't like to call things "foam": "I would say air. Water, it goes all over the place. It's a mess. A chef cannot do anything with this. Air gives us an opportunity. All of a sudden, water is not water anymore. Water has a body."
20: Bourdain on é's crispy chicken skin en escabeche: "I'm sliding this off right into my face."
21. Andrés on the critics: "When the food critics come and they say the chef was not there, I look at the food critic saying this is almost like a lack of respect. Who do you think these people are? Where do you think they come from? What do you think their careers are? Every one of those amazing chefs, sous chefs we have around the world, they're as good if not better than the guys that have the big names on top with neon letters."
22. Bourdain on how something as mundane as watering one's lawn is at the heart of a crisis in Las Vegas: "You'd think looking at the vast lakes, the canals, the fountains of Vegas in the middle of a desert, the flush of a hundred thousand toilets at the casinos and what they bring would constitute an obscene waste of water. And indeed, water is at an ever-more desperate premium as the water levels in the Colorado River reservoir at Lake Mead decrease at an alarming rate. But it ain't the casinos that are the culprit."
23. Bourdain's conclusion about Las Vegas: "In Vegas, nothing is permanent. It constantly eats itself. Tears down, builds up, expands according to no known or easily understood plan. An organic thing, responding to the dark dreams of the American subconscious. Come frolic. Live like Caesar or make money off those who do. Drop a few moist bills in a gas station slot. See the full spectrum of human folly and commit some follies of your own."