The focus of the episode was not on food, but Bourdain managed to tie plenty of it in, anyway. He called the egg cream at Ray’s Candy Store “superb,” and the food at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Public Kitchen “pretty incredible.”
The episode centered on comparing the East Village of yore and today, with NYC art and music scenes icons taking part in the discussion. Opinions in the episode differed on the gentrification of the East Village, with most people nostalgic for the freewheeling ways of the neighborhood in the ’80s. Bourdain’s trademark way with words was on full display, especially when describing the East Village of today: “Now it’s projectile-vomiting frat boys with baseball caps on backwards,” he quipped.
Only singer and poet Lydia Lunch was a very vocal advocate of looking ahead, saying that she lives in the present and doesn’t romanticize the days of not having enough money, while dining with Bourdain at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Public Kitchen — the only newer restaurant in the episode.
Other participants in the episode included rock music legends Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of the band Blondie, who ate with Bourdain at old-school Italian restaurant Emilio’s Ballato. Bourdain went to iconic desserts shop Ray’s Candy Store for egg creams with former Cro-Mags bassist Harley Flanagan, and visited longstanding Dominican restaurant El Castillo de la Jagua with hip-hop legend Fab Five Freddy.
At stalwart Ukrainian diner Veselka, Bourdain dined with influential punk rock music industry executive Danny Fields, and he went to longtime LES art bar Max Fish with filmmakers Jim Jarmusch and Amos Poe. He ate with artist Joe Coleman at Italian restaurant John’s of 12th Street, and pld-school kosher diner B&H Dairy Restaurant also appeared in the episode.
This East Village episode was the last of the award-winning series on CNN, completed by the directors who filmed it, sans Bourdain’s signature narration. The beloved food TV celebrity died in June. Parts Unknown launched on CNN in April 2013 and has won five Emmy Awards.