No Reservations Uruguay: A Brother\'s Diary
By Chris Bourdain
Join Tony to film a show in Uruguay? How quickly could I say \”yes\”? The plan was for a February trip — summer in Uruguay. A no-brainer! February rolls around, and here I am, winging my way to Montevideo with my itinerant brother and his entourage of four from \”No Reservations\”. Oh yeah — it seems I am viewed as part of \”the talent,\” so I get to fly in business class with Tony. It\’s good to be the king! Arrival in Montevideo is slightly delayed by the local customs chap inviting us to his office in back to share with us the benefit of his knowledge and experience dealing with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. After an extra hour of pointless discussion and waiting, we are met by our local \”fixers\” Sofia and Cecilia, and our van driver, Anibal. Our hotel, the Victoria Plaza, is apparently the place to stay in Montevideo, and indeed we see limos pulling up with various foreign diplomat and zillionaire types. Interestingly, I learned pre-trip that this hotel is actually owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon\’s Unification Church, which has made a number of substantial and secretive investments in Uruguay.
The ostensible reason I am along on this show is for \”genealogical research,\” the \”family connection\” thing. As young children we always had thought that the French part of the family washed up on this side of the Atlantic during World War I. But one summer when we went over to France to clean out our deceased great-aunt\’s house, we discovered a trove of yellowed documents alluding to several generations of Bourdains in Uruguay and a nearby border town in Brazil. But other than a fleeting reference citing our great-great-grandfather Jean Bourdain as a \”merchant\” in Montevideo, we have never known why these people ended up in Uruguay, what they were doing, or why all remaining Bourdains on the continent returned to France after 1860. Who knows what these guys could have been getting into?
The Antique Car:
I am not sure what the premise is behind Tony picking me up in the wonderful antique car (which I am told is the very same one used in the \”Miami Vice\” movie). But driving around in this thing is fun … What TV viewers don\’t see is Max and Sofia crammed down in the back seat for the entire weavy ride around old Montevideo. If they were height-challenged people, their forced embrace might be peculiarly romantic. But this looks more like a painful knee in groin/elbows in breasts story going on back there.
The brief summary: Chivitos are a local favorite, a Uruguayan mega-sandwich equivalent of Wendy\’s \”Grand Slam.\” It has everything you could imagine on it – sliced beef, bacon, ham, cheese, egg, mayonnaise, olives, pepper sauce on a big roll. Absurdly huge and impossible to eat neatly, it\’s about the best sandwich I\’ve ever had. Tony and I nail these down. Plus beer. I enter into food coma.
At a huge Brooklyn-size cattle ranch, an estancia, we are riding around in our host\’s Jeep in search of the ostrich-like \”Ã±andu\” when my cell phone rings. How is this possible? We are miles from any town or cell phone tower! I pick up… and hear the taped message: My kids\’ school is closed tomorrow due to snow. I\’m soooooo happy to be here. Our hosts are fun and interesting people. There is nice wine here. I\’m going to try armadillo. The sight of the armadillo trembling upsets several of us in attendance. I am personally very glad the assisting gauchos take the thing away to bring him into his next state of existence. And yes, it actually does taste like chicken!
This point of land at the angle of two long and unspoiled strips of beach is fantastically beautiful. It is an \”ends of the Earth\” type place where a 1960\’s/70\’s-style hippie commune has survived. It\’s gorgeous here and I enjoy our visit, but somehow I\’m also finding this place a bit depressing. The blind bartender with his little penguin friend crapping on the floor near the bar …this is getting kind of strange. Still — I guess I\’d rather see Cabo Polonia stay this way than be just another enclave for the rich.
The Punta del Este Resort area where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic is a mix of communities. The most famous areas draw the Uruguayan and Argentine versions of the Rodeo Drive crowd, a super-glam caste of people, some replete with Botox and implants. Up the road from the \”Punta,\” Jose Ignacio is a more mellow, low-key satellite community, with unpretentious sun-bleached buildings — more Fire Island than Hamptons. Our visit to the restaurant \”La Huella\” is maybe my favorite time on the whole trip. The restaurant is right on the beach and I can feel sand in my toes. The weather is great, and I\’m totally relaxed and in the mood for the mojito and good food I know are coming. I\’m looking forward to chilling with Tony, eating good food by the sound of the waves, and relaxing.
Having a Famous Brother:
What is it like having a famous brother? I admit, it is sometimes strange. That\’s my brother all over bus stops! And sometimes in in-flight magazines when I go on business trips. I gather in Singapore and nearby, Tony has rock-star status. But Tony\’s always been a brilliant verbalist with a buzz-saw sense of humor, so I\’ve never been surprised that some with money and connections finally figured this part out. When I see him on TV, I\’m just like many fans who don\’t know him: I enjoy the travel to places I can only dream of going, laughing at his hilariously-expressed but bang-on social and cultural observations and his self-deprecating humor. I am proud of Tony and consider myself his biggest fan. But I get sooooo tired of people asking me, \”Chris, where\’s your brother now?\” \”What\’s your brother eating now?\” Yada, yada, yada … Shut up!
I love Uruguay and will miss it. I want to come back some day. I dislike pretension. Uruguay is delightful because it is so not pretentious. People have lots of space and are relaxed. They take pleasure in the small enjoyments of life the way one sees in areas around the Mediterranean in Europe. Food and wine are good, plentiful, and inexpensive — at least for visiting Americans. The clothes in shop windows in the center of the capital are generally very un-chic, almost old-fashioned. I do not see a single McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or other similar chain.
And I like it that way.