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ANTHONY BOURDAIN PARTS UNKNOWN

Parts Unknown: Las Vegas

Aired April 27, 2014 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(MUSIC PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of our roles here has always been to take away excess money from people who don't know what to do with it, who can't think of a better idea about how to spend their money.

In the old days, the mechanism for doing that was you would throw it on a table. Put that into the context of throwing away a bottle of 7- Up in a club. That's we're only slightly more honest about it.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST: 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?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the rest of the country? I don't know. But it's that place that they all leave and come here.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can go to the desert, but I am not going to get there by accident. But that's part of the whole experience of the desert is that, you know, it ain't friendly. It ain't nice. It ain't good, you know?

You're out here, you know, a half a mile, it doesn't matter if you're half a mile out or you're 20 miles out. There's no reason to walk a mile further. You're already in infinite desolation.

Sin City was true, it was real. Part of moving out here was you were never going to see your family again. That was it. I'm moving to Vegas and you ain't coming to see me and I ain't coming to see you. That's the character of the city.

It really was, you know, the pit of America. It wasn't that somebody came out here because I'm going to make a million bucks. It was I'm going to come out here and I'm going to survive and you all ain't going to bug me anymore back home.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST (voice-over): 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 Lottery Cookbook" and "Soul of a Chef," he washed up in Vegas at just the right time.

Vegas was always the most unlikely of dreams, the longest of long shots in the middle of the desert, a real but imaginary space that keeps expanding, creeping ever larger across the wasteland.

Back in the '40s, the '50s, it was a small town; 100,000 became 300,000 became 500,000, then a million, then two. But it doesn't matter if it was five years ago or 50. The town has always ended like this, an abrupt cut in the desert racks on the horizon.

But there are comfortable dark places, too, where a man can have a drink meet like-minded sophisticatos of the Open West, places like this.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the good stuff. That's Jameson Black.

BOURDAIN: I'll give you 30 of those.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Huntridge Tavern, where those who have to live it, see it, the things that men do day after day, night after night, in a town where people are encouraged to do their worst, where they can drink the stain away.

BOURDAIN: This is the side of Vegas I like, this side, yes, because people here are really cynical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really.

BOURDAIN: They have a dim world view. Even more dim than me. That's hard.

You know what this whole show's about? You know there's a theme.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

BOURDAIN: This is about people who live here, you know. When all the meatheads come and go, they're still here. These people have seen every variety of horrifying human behavior. The old business model was come to Vegas and behave really, really badly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's encouraged people to be their worst. They're expected to do that. Kind of makes my skin crawl.

BOURDAIN: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not here. Here, I like it. I'm comfortable here.

BOURDAIN: Is this an easy town to make a living or a hard town to make a living?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Depends on what you do, 25 years behind the bar, you see some shit.

BOURDAIN: If you were born and bred here --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's third generation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Third generation.

BOURDAIN: Third generation. So, then, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you think that basically the human race are good people?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say roughly half of them.

(LAUGHTER)

BOURDAIN: Half are going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Half are going.

BOURDAIN: Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are probably more knuckleheads per square foot in the Vegas Strip than anywhere in America.

BOURDAIN: Yes, but I'm not hanging with those people, man. There will be a few high end meals during our adventure here. We will be sampling the other side. But there's a price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is always a price with you.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BOURDAIN (voice-over): There are places in Vegas where the available rooms are not listed on any websites, places reserved for the whales, the high rollers, the $10 million-a-night gamblers who arrive by private plane.

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BOURDAIN: Bobby Flay probably lives like this all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It could have been dark, couldn't it. It's very dark here. I honestly never thought it would have come to this.

BOURDAIN: Well, it was Duncan Frey's 14 years ago, so...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have made some steps up.

BOURDAIN: You make me feel better about all of this luxury looking back at that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You deserve this.

BOURDAIN: You're right. You're right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You deserve this.

BOURDAIN: Entering my golden years era. They don't show this in the Viagra commercials. They're always running down a beach with a tennis racket but they're never sitting here.

You know, go out and kill some young people.

(LAUGHTER)

BOURDAIN: You'd be like throw them into a prison in there. It would be cold.

To victory, Ruhlman. Victory in our time.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BOULDEN (voice-over): You always try to comfort yourself in situations like this thinking, oh, I'm sure there are people who are really, really wealthy, they're probably really miserable. They don't know the sort of ups and downs, the happiness, the contrasts, the passion that I have.

But we don't know, do we?

Right.

Like maybe every day is like wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to welcome, it's a toast for --

(CROSSTALK)

BOURDAIN: Lovely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. It was (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect. Thank you.

BOURDAIN: Mmm. Delicious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect. Perfect.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BOULDEN (voice-over): Octavius Villa at Caesar's Palace. 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. I'll deal with the fallout later. But for now, we live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So gentlemen, this dish is called a collage of caviar, everything is in layers. In the bottom of the glass you will find caviar vinaigrette, topped with a cream of caviar, then topped with a puree of French green beans with caviar. Then a Grenaille of golden Szechuan (ph) caviar and which are finishing the dish with a caviar sabayon (ph).

BOURDAIN: Ahh, beautiful. Look at that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's rare that I say it's too beautiful to eat.

BOURDAIN: I was just thinking that.

Oh, speaking of fantastically luxurious --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So messieurs, this is a specialty of Mr. Savoy, the (INAUDIBLE) with fresh black truffles and shavings of aged Parmesan cheese.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man. That's truffle.

BOURDAIN: Mmm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So messieurs, this is a combination of pheasant, white rabbit, duck, seared foie gras, cabbage and white mushrooms. Please enjoy.

BOURDAIN: Wow, look at this. That is beautiful.

You feel guilty eating this well?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

BOURDAIN: You do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

BOURDAIN: I'm feeling guilty now but it will pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will follow you then.

BOURDAIN: Wow. You ever even seen anything like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think I've seen anything like this anywhere.

BOURDAIN: Yes, me either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the thing is, you can see the main pool in front of the window here. You can see the hoi polloi.

BOURDAIN: I was thinking of inviting them up to our crib for a party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you do dare that. No. BOURDAIN: Don't they deserve a good time? I don't know. Maybe not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not going to happen.

BOULDEN: We're getting back to guilt. Do you feel enlightened and inspired by this meal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you asking? What are you getting at here? You're trying to get at something.

BOURDAIN: Trying to make myself feel better. I'm trying to prove that I'm down with the people, man. I'm still cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guilt keeps coming back. You keep bringing up the guilt.

BOURDAIN: You're right. I feel guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing here if you feel so guilty about it?

BOURDAIN: I don't. I don't. I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's more to the point. Now you're being honest with yourself.

BOURDAIN: Right.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so easy to say I came out here because it's a lot of opportunity. Well, that's really great. If you're not here for that, why else are you here?

It's the good old wreck your life scenario. That's always pretty popular. You can change your mind about wrecking your life, now what do I do? There's a lot less self-reflection about why people are here than there is about most other places. What a lost opportunity that is.

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BOURDAIN (voice-over): 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 rub joints and places where a man could get a proper plate of Italian American meatballs and spaghets. Thankfully there are still such places, places like this, The Bootlegger.

It's a family operation. Mama Maria's family has been running it for 41 years. You got your veal parm, your fettuccini Alfredo, your steaks and shrimps. Don't forget the iceberg wedge with the bleu cheese, which believe me, you want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to The Bootlegger.

(APPLAUSE)

LAURA SCHAFER (PH), SINGER: Thank you very much. This is Charlie Schafer (ph), my esteemed father. My name is Laura Schafer (ph) and we are your entertainment for the evening.

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BOURDAIN (voice-over): The Bootlegger has the reputation for being a locals joint and it is but there's a lot of out-of-towners, too, sentimental fools like me who, if they don't miss Sinatra, definitely miss Dino and Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

SCHAFER (PH): When I was 19, I got my first show on the strip and it was a small casino which is not there anymore now, now it's been imploded for something newer, bigger and better.

What I do, anyway, it's part jazz, part nostalgia, but obviously I do it with a heavy dose of nostalgia because I'm recreating the whole look, not just singing the old songs, which is what makes it fun for me.

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BOURDAIN: Pick one, Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. You get to see one of them live in a small room like this.

SCHAFER (PH): Frank Sinatra.

BOURDAIN: I'm going with Dino.

SCHAFER (PH): I like Dino as a person better because I've never heard anybody say anything bad about him.

BOURDAIN: Whereas Sinatra, you would have a hard time hearing something good.

There does seem to be a sound track to Old Vegas.

SCHAFER (PH): A sound track --

BOURDAIN: Right. Yes. Yes. Yes. Does that help?

SCHAFER (PH): Who, me? Or any other entertainers?

BOURDAIN: Well, an affection for the classics. An expectation that while I'm here, I should hear some standards.

SCHAFER (PH): I don't know if there's a certain place that people stay who are sentimental about Las Vegas because there are very few hotels left that were there in the old days. They have all been imploded. BOURDAIN: They recreated Ancient Rome sort of and the Amalfi Coast and Paris. You would think somebody would want to recreate Vegas. I would go there.

SCHAFER (PH): I would work there.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

SCHAFER (PH): Thank you very much.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

PENN JILLETTE, ENTERTAINER: You used to be able to go see Louis Prima, 3:00 am, have breakfast and then go out and watch an atomic bomb explode in the distance.

BOURDAIN: That sounds like a good time.

JILLETTE: That's the time I would like to live in.

BOURDAIN: Was it better before? Is it better now? Is it different?

JILLETTE: It's better to talk about before. People loved having their Mob stories and there's that weird romance of bad people.

BOURDAIN: Yes.

JILLETTE: I don't think it actually was better. I think it was really good if you were Sinatra.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Penn Jillette, another cog in the entertainment machine, though at a somewhat more elevated level. Of the live acts left in Vegas, his might be the biggest draw.

I suggested this place because Raku off the Strip is where every chef I know who knows this town said I should go.

The Japanese modern izakaya, known as one of the best places to eat in Vegas, casual but pricey, pricey because the ingredients, many from around the world. There is sea urchin from Santa Barbara. OK, that's not too far, but good.

The tuna is from Spain, where it's best. The fresh river crab from Japan.

JILLETTE: That was good, right?

BOURDAIN: Yes. Delicious.

JILLETTE: I didn't know oysters came that big.

BOURDAIN: Oh, yes.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Hasaki sashimi, hasaki belly, juicy deep-fried chicken, hamachi belly and one of my favorites, fish collar, where all the best, tastiest, moistest, meatiest bits hide their favors. Penn has been living here and performing here for over 20 years. He knows.

JILLETTE: The thing about magic is, you cannot see it electronically. Many people come to Vegas are people that see one or two live shows a year and if you see one or two live shows, you might as well see something that you can only see live.

BOURDAIN: Right.

JILLETTE: You can never, ever see a magician anyway but live.

BOURDAIN: These days for better or worse, live acts, live performers, are being squeezed out in favor of EDM, electronic dance music. It's a deejay's world and where once they used to say cocaine was God's way of telling you had too much money, now maybe EDM is.

JILLETTE: We get invited to all the openings of the new clubs but I simply don't understand it. And I'm embarrassed that I don't understand it.

BOURDAIN: Are we just old?

JILLETTE: I think that might be it.

BOURDAIN: Or are non-juicy (ph)?

JILLETTE: I don't know. You want to spin it the latter, I'm afraid it might be the former.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Used to be a whole spectrum of entertainers who existed almost entirely in Vegas. Danny Ganz was huge here. Wayne Newton. They were gods.

But what's the big money draw now? This.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Come, ye lords and princelings of douchedom (ph), here my clarion call. Anointed thyself with gel and heavenly body spray. Maketh the sign of the devil horns with thine hands. Let there be high-fiving and the hugging of many bros, for this is the kingdom and the power. Now frolic and maketh it to rain.

BOURDAIN: You've got this. Power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, man, it's crazy.

BOURDAIN: Just press a button and people respond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do, man.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Wednesday night at The Marquee. Deejay Jason Lima works for the house. Tonight at Marquee and at other clubs like it around Vegas, somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people are going to stop by and drop a whole buttload of cash. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just coming in here and ordering a bottle and sitting there drinking it. You're getting a full-on group experience.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): The new money, the new Vegas, where the take at the big nightclubs is outpacing the take from gambling and slots, where everybody for the right price and with enough sparkles and the right mix can be a winner.

BOURDAIN: After you finish work, how long does it take for your adrenaline to level off?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At least an hour.

BOURDAIN: What are your dreams like now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to lie. Sometimes I close my eyes and I still see the strobes, ears are ringing, I've still got like flash of the strobe lights.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

OSCAR GOODMAN, FORMER MAYOR, LAS VEGAS: Las Vegas is an adult playland. And that's what we intend to be. If people want to see Mickey Mouse, they can go 175 miles down the road. If they want to see Bugsy Siegel under a rock, they stay here.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Is there a Mr. Vegas like Elvis or Wayne Newton or Bugsy Siegel used to be?

If there is, it would probably be this guy, former mayor Oscar Goodman, a man who knows allegedly and to the best of my knowledge where all the bodies are buried, some of them equally allegedly by some of his former clients.

We meet over drinks at Oscar's, the steakhouse that bears his name and boasts beef, booze and broads.

BOURDAIN: You've got some colorful clients.

Who was nice and who was less fun to have a...?

GOODMAN: Well, the truth of the matter is, all my clients were nice to me because I kept them out of prison.

BOURDAIN: Did alleged mob guys know how to eat?

GOODMAN: My mother used to say two things, she said. She was the greatest lady. She said Oscar's clients don't hurt anybody, they just kill each other. And she also said Oscar's clients take us to the best restaurants.

BOURDAIN: They knew where to go.

GOODMAN: They knew where to go. Yes. And were always treated right. They were always treated like kings and queens.

BOURDAIN: Did the Feds hold it against you? You were just doing your job.

GOODMAN: They didn't see it that way. They thought I was a consigliere. As a matter of fact, in order to murder somebody, they had to get my permission. That's how stupid these people were.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Anthony "The Ant" Spilatro (ph), Meyer Lansky (ph), these were gentlemen not unknown to Mayor Goodman.

GOODMAN: A lot of people will tell you it was a better place when the Mob was running it. In many ways, that's true.

BOURDAIN: There were rules then that mattered. You know the old saying, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Back when the Mob ran things, there was a certain urgency to that suggestion.

GOODMAN: Always talking about with Prince Harry, that's a perfect example. Here's a guy who was here having a good time. In the Old Vegas, that would never have happened. There would never have been a disclosure. In today's modern age, it was all over the world in moments.

BOURDAIN: Moments.

GOODMAN: Yes.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

BOURDAIN (voice-over): It says something about the town that his honor served three terms as mayor. He's an unabashed booster, entrepreneur, drinker of hard liquor and gambler and he was never shy about admitting it.

BOURDAIN: It's unique. It's its own hothouse environment.

GOODMAN: That's what Vegas is. Vegas is unique.

But I'll tell you one thing, you go to the airport here, everybody is smiling. When they come in, they're smiling. They can't wait to lose their money and then when they leave, they're smiling after they've lost their money. So I think it's very, very special, a special place kind of place that people can take their basest instincts and just let it fly. I think that's good. I have no problem with that at all.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): When you come to Vegas, you see this, the lights and smoke and mirrors, the casino floors.

But who manages the machine? Where do they come from?

Beneath the floors, behind the walls, above the winking surveillance camera lenses, a whole other world manned by thousands and thousands of waiters, maintenance people, repairmen, chefs, engineers, plumbers and croupiers. Three shifts a day they slip in and out of the casinos almost unseen through their own entrances, but it's these people who have seen it all, seen everything, night after night.

Benny (ph) has been working here since Caesar's opened in August of 1966. He's dealt cards to everybody.

BENNY (PH), CROUPIER: I've dealt to Diana Ross, Harry Belafonte, Sinatra, Sammy Davis.

BOURDAIN: Sinatra was not supposed to be particularly amiable at the table.

BENNY (PH): Sinatra was class.

BOURDAIN: Really?

BENNY (PH): He was class. He was a gentleman. But those were the days. But it's nice now, too.

BOURDAIN: Would you describe yourself as a degenerate gambler?

ERIC LINDGREN (PH), PROFESSIONAL GAMBLER: I definitely have been. I'm trying to move past that. We have a 2-year-old at home. So I'm working in that phase, but I'll always have that gambling gear, there's no doubt about it.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Eric and Erica Lindgren (ph) are professional gamblers, poker players, to be precise. It's routine for them to sit down to a game with a bankroll of half a million dollars. Tonight, slightly smaller stakes.

ERIC LINDGREN (PH): Hey, Benny, what are -- how do you like my chances?

BENNY (PH): Good. Good.

ERICA LINDGREN (PH), PROFESSIONAL GAMBLER: That's a trained answer.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Instead of actual poker, we are set up with a dumbed down for the camera version of Texas hold 'em. You play against the house. The odds, to say the least, are stacked against you.

BENNY (PH): Oh, here's a winner. Here's a winner. Two pair. He's cutting up over there. See how easy it is? You got this game down.

BOURDAIN: Uh-oh. Those are famous last words.

ERIC LINDGREN (PH): All right. Let's put out a hondo, let's see what happens.

BENNY (PH): All right. Now we have a pair of 7s.

ERIC LINDGREN (PH): I want to bet.

BENNY (PH): OK. I have trips. That's going to be pretty hard to beat.

BOURDAIN: You're a dead man, Benny.

BENNY (PH): I'm a dead man.

ERIC LINDREN (PH): I'll bet again.

BENNY (PH): OK. Two pair. Pair of deuces. Two pair. Pair of 10s.

ERIC LINDREN (PH): Oh, no.

BENNY (PH): Pair of kings.

ERIC LINDREN (PH): Benny!

BENNY (PH): Full house.

ERIC LINDREN (PH): Goodness, Benny.

BENNY (PH): Huh?

ERIC LINDREN (PH): You got a full house. This is unbelievable. Is there a cooler standing behind us?

BOURDAIN: All right. That works for me.

BENNY (PH): Thank you very much.

BOURDAIN: This is what we call a learning experience in my case.

ERIC LINDREN (PH): That was fun. We got away with our shirts.

BOURDAIN: Let's not do it again.

ERIC LINDREN (PH): Let's never do it again.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANTHONY BONDI (PH), ARTIST: It's easy to find people that will help you untangle the mess, but somebody's got to be the one to create the mess in the first place.

It's called untangling.

Where's our metaphor here? Easy to tangle, but untangle this. This is going to be so much fun.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Anthony Bondi is an artist and a born and bred Las Vegas native. After many adventures and I'm guessing some misadventures as well, he chose to live here.

BONDI (PH): To what degree am I complicit in the worst of our city by making art that glorifies the city?

I don't profit directly from what those people do but, of course, I do, because I live in the city and as that money rolls all around us. But how do we live with it? It's not what why and where the people come from who do the grotesque things people do here. It's how do we live here complicit in it. That's the big issue is be able to be self-reflective about the place or you have to go and stay high all the time because of the shame.

I mean, you know, which is another popular way to deal with living here.

BOURDAIN: Is Vegas a friendly town?

BONDI (PH): Yes, always friendly, because that's our job.

BOURDAIN: But I mean to itself. You're a local.

BONDI (PH): No.

BOURDAIN: No.

BONDI (PH): Not a bit. This town has never had any respect whatsoever for the people who just happened to live here. In the old days, we were co-conspirators in those days. We weren't citizens. The new authority, the new power is exactly as anonymous as the old power. No poll number, no access. It's not a fan.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Though it's 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, just 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. Reflection, not so good.

BOURDAIN: As a resident, what are the general rules of survival?

BONDI (PH): Don't cry about being broke. If I'm broke, more than likely it's because I threw away my money and too bad for me because I didn't get lucky.

BOURDAIN: Don't complain about being broke. OK.

What's another one?

BONDI (PH): Well, smile. That is absolutely a local characteristic.

BOURDAIN: This is a service industry town.

BONDI (PH): One of our roles here has always been to take away excess money from people who don't know what to do with it and who can't think of a better idea about how to spend their money. We'll always take it.

BOURDAIN: Is that worse than before? BONDI (PH): The wrong is there are people with that kind of income who could put it to so many thrilling uses and can think of nothing so crass and boring than to wave the money in the air and throw it away.

How loathsome, but within us, within those of us who live here is that challenge. This has always been. Here we are.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): You are sitting in Lotus Siam, the best Thai restaurant in Vegas by far. And one of the best Thai restaurants in America.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Jet Tila (ph) has been here before. An L.A. guy, he came out here to do four years as executive chef at Encore, a Wynn (ph) casino on the strip. He's a reigning authority on Thai food but really, everybody who loves Thai food knows about this place.

JET TILA (PH), EXECUTIVE CHEF, ENCORE: What you should order here should only be northern. You go to the back of the menu, it's northern specialties. You come here and eat chicken with cashew nuts and drunken noodles, I'm going to punch you in the face.

BOURDAIN: Right.

TILA (PH): It's one of those restaurants.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Sipend Shutuma (ph) is the owner and chef. Now get this. And it's important. You don't do pad Thai here. You do what they are uniquely superb at, which is specifically the food of Northern Thailand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Num trik (ph).

BOURDAIN: Oh, yes, yes, of course, love it.

TILA (PH): The literal translation, chili dip. It's really more of like a composed room-temperature salad.

Nam koa ta (ph) is a puffed crispy rice salad with preserved pork sausage.

BOURDAIN: That's good.

TILA (PH): Jackfruit salad.

BOURDAIN: Jackfruit salad.

TILA (PH): This is hung leh, a pork curry braised down with garlic and ginger.

BOURDAIN: This pork is amazing.

TILA (PH): Isn't that great? And that's northern love.

BOURDAIN: Right. TILA (PH): Very important dish.

BOURDAIN: Oh, that looks really pretty.

TILA (PH): This is kow soy (ph), this is the food my grandma made.

BOURDAIN: That's perfection, man.

TILA (PH): What I love about Vegas Asian food is on one street you have the best Szechuan food, the best Cantonese food, you drive down the street and you get the best Thai food. It's a funky, awesome Asian --

(CROSSTALK)

BOURDAIN: How did that happen?

TILA (PH): Gambling.

BOURDAIN: But I mean, were there high rollers who would come into town --

TILA (PH): A dude with a $2 million to $10 million credit line who wins is going to go eat a $10 Chinese meal because it's the closest thing he has to home food. I'm going to go eat Asian food, I'm going to come back and I'm going to drop $5 million more and then go home.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what avant garde cooking is. People think that we want to do things in a way because we want to be cool. No. We do it because really, we believe we are increasing the value of the product we are working with. We are giving you the essence.

BOURDAIN: E by Jose Andres, tonight, three seats, tucked away in the back of another of Jose's restaurants, Paella (ph), behind the guys making paella over open flame in the center of a crowded dining room. Quiet, serene, a kind of magic.

This is, granted, a far cry from the $1 shrimp cocktail and the all- you-can-eat buffets groaning under the weight of a thousand cars. Iberico ham and bean soup with black and roasted garlic. Come on, baby, the world's best, like from Espain.

Nitro almond cup, a frozen shell made from a puree of Marcona almonds, filled with almond milk espuma and finished with Andalusian caviar.

BOURDAIN: You know, Chef, this meal is working very well. My palate is open, I'm intrigued, I'm only growing more hungry and excited. The desired effect is taking hold.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): If you were a famous chef and you were lured as so many are to the rivers of green promised by Vegas, it's nice if you can get yourself a playroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, this is al vermuz (ph). BOURDAIN: So this is mussels, olives with an escabeche foam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't use the word foam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water goes all over the place. It's a mess. A chef cannot do anything with these. Air gives us opportunity, all of a sudden, water is not water anymore. Water has a body, belongs.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): The truffle egg, a gelee of truffles formed into an egg shape with an actual yolk suspended in the center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is the idea of what if we will be feeding our chickens truffles? Will their eggs become like this?

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Served with onion puree, a decheval (ph) cream and finished with more -- lots more -- shaved white truffle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is crispy chicken skin escabeche.

BOURDAIN: I'm sliding this off right into my face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, this is your portion of the salt- roasted foie gras and Brian is going to come finish it with a clementine sauce for you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Light is key, light and flavorful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, this is your next course. It's alcucheres al papillote (ph).

BOURDAIN: This is squid ink (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BOURDAIN: Awesome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a secreto de cerdo en papillote (ph). Secreto or the secret. It's a secret cut of the Iberian --

BOURDAIN: Ahh, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- located underneath the front shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an homage of the goodness of the sea meets the goodness of the Earth.

You know the work that goes into creating a menu like this? Colossal. The good with the work doesn't mean it's good. When a food creates, they come.

And they say the chef was not there. And then look at the food critics saying it's 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 thousands of chefs, sous chefs that we have across the world, they are as good, if not better, than the guys that have the big name on top with me on letter.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is not one acre of preserved Mojave Desert in the city limits of Las Vegas.

Why would you preserve this? This desolation is not nurturing. We can't be here unless there's a lot of technology supporting our presence. And so there's a sense of the city versus nature. This is not our friend.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): You would think looking at the vast lakes, the canals, the fountains of Vegas in the middle of a desert, the flush of 100,000 toilets that 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 culprits. In fact, Vegas casinos are a model of water efficiency and conservation.

Main culprit? The all-American lawn, a little square of green.

Robert Kern (ph) is water police. He patrols the Vegas streets looking for evidence of water violations.

ROBERT KERN (PH): There's finally some water in the gutter actually on both sides. This is not their day.

We're in an area where there shouldn't be any water, yet there's water here. So that's what we do, we drive around looking for something like that, to give them a little educational visit. Hey, you're not supposed to water today.

BOURDAIN: So you don't wrestle them to the ground, cuff them and drag them in?

KERN (PH): No, we do not. Although we can go to a fee.

BOURDAIN: Around how much?

KERN (PH): $80.

What about the --

KERN (PH): Then it doubles, $160, $320.

BOURDAIN: Then it just keeps going?

KERN (PH): Yes.

BOURDAIN: It seems to me a losing battle to try to keep your grass green.

Do you really need a lawn in the first place?

KERN (PH): Well, most everyone who lives here came from the Midwest or the East Coast and it was all lush and green. And that's what Vegas was 20 years ago.

BOURDAIN: It was lush and green?

KERN (PH): Sure. Sure.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): The city assigns watering days to control usage, and also encourages xeriscaping, a landscaping style focused on drought-resistant plants and efficient irrigation.

And if you don't get with the program, there's a hole out there in the desert for you, Dad. OK, not really. You get a notice pinned to your door or something.

BOURDAIN: But some people, they want the lawn? Got to have it?

KERN (PH): And they can have it, just don't water on the wrong days.

BOURDAIN: How critical is it?

KERN (PH): Very. I mean, there's no snow on the Western Sierras, so we don't get any continued flow into the Colorado dumping into Lake Mead. So unless something drastically changes, which there is no foreseeable relief in the near future. But got to stay positive.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the first 30-40 years of the development of the tract, you just couldn't conceive of what was ahead.

What we had, whatever was the newest thing that was happening was so spectacular and wonderful and, oh, my gosh, we've reached a new eastern edge, or western, a northern edge.

But the odds are slim to zero that we're going to extend it to yet a further horizon. It was unconceivable. So there's the thing. So what does the desert do? It exceeds our ambition.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): 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.