Tony Bourdain has a serious bone to pick with this town, characterizing it as a hotbed of veganism rife with "crunchers". This colored his 2009 program with a bitterness I as a carnivore found depressing and hinting of Personal Vendetta. Sure enough, the name Alice Waters was mentioned; there's a feud so wrenching for him that he misses the boat on what makes San Francisco a great place to eat. I generally enjoy Bourdain's programs, although the Pre-No Reservations, younger-Tony shows were more interesting for his being less angry, jaded, self-conscious, and more bright-eyed.
A forty-four minute program is long. To find it wholly devoted to an anti-vegan diatribe was, frankly, boring. It led him to scarf down low-quality meat at greasy dives for a third of the program and to pursue a manic meat-mission at unexciting places for much of the rest. When the San Francisco show was over, I wondered why I was so vexed by it and tried to imagine how he could better have used his time here.
Neighborhoods and ethnicities are the essence of this sprawling, diverse city. For a New Yorker, especially, to devote forty-four minutes to culinary San Francisco and not mention Vietnamese cuisine is downright negligence; the foodiest of New Yorkers are often completely unfamiliar with Vietnamese food, so common here, and truly spectacular examples can be had at all price points.
Another interesting difference between New York and San Francisco is in the Italian cuisine department, New York's tradition being rooted in Naples and Sicily, and San Francisco's in more northerly regions such as Tuscany. As North Beach's former Italian predominance disappears, some focus on the Italian history of culinary San Francisco would have been apt if not important, not to mention colorful and fun.
Views – restaurants with views from decks and heights – of the bay, of the ocean, of the city, would have provided visual excitement for the TV audience and acquainted it with a unique neighborhood or two. Countless visitors to our city are drawn by this very feature, and there's just no denying the romance and thrill of al fresco dining here. Many establishments have charming small patios and gardens. Why not show one? As for our local people, the camera was pointed at a variety of homeless street persons and toothless beggars.
One wondered why Bourdain, in his one foray outside the city, drove all the way to Oakland for a $2 taco from a fast-food truck, and ate it sitting on a parking lot ledge. Was this the (Eureka) clue: Program as dig at nearby Berkeley's "Chez Panisse"?
Sante's Rx: One heck of a delightful, self-ridiculing segment deliberately integrating soy foods into his palate, with his characteristic vulgar humor saying something like, "I've come to San Francisco to lose my soy virginity." This town would have obliged him, sending him to the moon with creativity. There are Thai and Chinese chefs who would have incontrovertibly proved that tempeh and tofu are "Not Just For Yogis" but actually components of an exciting meal. But then he would have had to drop his beat attitude and let himself walk around stunned thereafter, muttering, "I stand corrected."
I agree that the Anti-Meat lobbyists can be annoying, and I personally do not fancy meatless meals. But I also recognize that restaurant patrons are often looking for tasty examples of meatless cookery, and Western chefs are not cooperating. Our culinary schools are not demanding that chefs master soy, for instance, in order to graduate. Over a quarter century ago, I was offering tofu and tempeh dishes to the meat-accustomed palate on a meat-dominant menu at a resort attracting its share of vegetarians and vegans, and this my innovation kept guests on the property for dinner. Omnivores on vacation would experiment at such a place, opting for Tempeh Piccata over Roast Chicken on a given night, to discover its possibilities beyond Asian expressions. Many a customer complimented and thanked me for both accommodating their health needs and inspiring their own experimentation. There are chefs far more talented than I who could expand their clientele catering to this market. Not that Anthony Bourdain need ever be one of them, but the guy's act is just crying for a shattering, silencing sexy night with soy, and I hear him.