RIP Anthony Bourdain

Les Halles was one of the first nice restaurants I dined at when I moved to Manhattan. I didn't know anything about Anthony Bourdain at that point.  I honestly didn't know much about NYC food in general. I had come to the city jobless, with very little savings and no real plan for the future except that Mr. T (my then college boyfriend) had landed a decent job here.  We spent most of that first year inside our tiny apartment, getting out occasionally to "brown bag" a beer in the park or hit up Gray's Papaya for their Recession Special.  Not exactly fine dining but the kind of entertainment that fit our budget at the time.  So when Mr. T's sister said she would take us out to a great NYC restaurant for dinner, we were beyond excited.

I can still remember walking up Park Avenue and seeing that shiny moonlit writing on the front window that said Les Halles.  We pushed open the door and entered into what I can only describe as complete chaos. Big groups crowded around the hostess stand waiting for a table, the tiny bar overflowed with business men and women enjoying a raucous happy hour; people were absolutely everywhere.   I tried to find a place to stand and ended up in the middle of the butcher counter line.  I was completely baffled.  Why in the world was there a butcher counter inside this restaurant?  And who were all these people waiting to purchase slabs of meat on a Thursday night?

After a stressful wait being jostled here and there we were finally brought to our seats, or should I say our seats were brought to us. Two waiters grabbed a tabletop and pulled it away from the wall, creating a narrow little space between our table and our neighbors of which I was to squeeze myself into.  Once I sat down the table was pushed swiftly back into place so that I was locked into my seat like a prisoner. Being that I have both a fear of small spaces and a tiny bladder, my level of anxiety shot through the roof.  I wouldn't be able to move the whole dinner!? But neither Mr. T nor his sister seemed to notice my panic.  They were on the other side of the table and it was too dark and boisterously loud to notice much of anything. I couldn't even hear the server when it was time to order so they ordered for me; then went back to discussing their jobs while I chugged red wine and counted down the seconds until I could retreat back to our quiet apartment.

But at some point during all of this craziness something wonderful happened; our food arrived.  Three large plates of grilled steak appeared, engulfing our table in the most amazing aromas of garlic and butter.  Then a pile of fries as big as my head arrived, flaunting the most beautiful golden brown color.  I sliced into my steak and it was as if the entire restaurant vanished.  Suddenly I didn't notice the loud clinking glasses anymore or the shouting waiters; it just me and this rich, buttery piece of meat.  Everything seemed right in the world again.  I was even able to become part of the table discussion as it moved from careers to those beautiful fries and how they were so damn delicious.   As we walked out the door of Les Halles that night I took a look at the butcher counter and said "maybe we'll get some steak here to-go one day". 

Now obviously I didn't completely change that evening.  I still hate going out to eat on Thursday nights because of the crowds and dread those super tight tables, but I did go back home and start to do some serious food research.  How did this Chef take something I've had a hundred times in my life and make it so much better? What else did this new city have for me in the food world that I was completely unaware of?

I immediately bought Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential and read it with intensity, amazed at the under belly of the culinary world. I quickly followed that by A Cook's Tour and various other food based novels.   I started to become a regular member on the Chowhound Message boards, getting incredible advice from fellow New Yorker's and learning about little places like Pomme Frites, Inoteca and every single dumpling spot in Chinatown.  I got so much great information that I decided to start my own food blog to give back to the community and for the first eight years my profile picture on here and all the food sites stayed the same; a simple glass of red wine and bread at that very first restaurant Les Halles.  

Anthony Bourdain inspired every food obsessed person I know, but I think it was his ability to inspire (or at least excite) those not in the food world which was even more incredible.  Mr. T used to let me choose which restaurants to dine at years ago, but then No Reservations began and together we would watch and discuss which one of Tony's spots we should visit.  Then just last week when my parents were visiting, my Mom and I passed a small chalkboard on Broadway with a quote about Bourdain scrawled across the front.  My Mom just shook her head and said "Oh Anthony, it's just so sad" in the most heartfelt and familiar manner.  I honestly didn't think my Mother even knew who Bourdain was but here she was talking about him with such genuine sadness.  He really seemed to have touched almost everyone.

RIP Tony~ thanks for taking us along on your wild ride of life.  I only wish you had been as happy living it as we have been watching it.