Usually Anthony Bourdain is a hedonist. He indulges in food, alcohol and not a few off-color sex jokes, no matter what city or what audience. But this week while visiting Montana, he exits out of the fast lane. Maybe it's the mountains, but in the first 20 minutes of the episode he eats only once and spends most of his time discussing art, fishing and life with painter Russell Chatham and author Jim Harrison, who wrote Legends of the Fall.
First, Tony visits cattle-ranching family the Metcalfs at their home near Livingston Montana. Their plight -- that is, working 16 hour days, seven days a week, and still living in debt -- replicates that of agriculture families across the country. After taking a hard look at this American industry, Bourdain also puts in a hard day's work eating a hearty biscuit, bacon and eggs breakfast and lassoing some calves.
Bourdain-ism: "He sure makes [lassoing a cow] look easy. But can he catch a creature wild and free? One with a mother f***ing Emmy nomination?" Cut to roped cameraman.
The Murray Hotel is a historic inn in Livingston where the likes of Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and drug-addled film director Sam Peckinpah have stayed. At the hotel bar, Tony drinks with Jim Harrison, who speaks of the "solace of empty vices" and how "good behavior these days is so difficult." At the attached 2nd Street Bistro, the two gourmands feast on buffalo, chicken and elk galantine, pan-fried pork rillettes, and stuffed whitefish on a bed of spinach with white butter sauce and caviar. Chef Brian Menges focuses on local ingredients because, well, Montana has so many of them.
Then it's a horseback ride through the white-and-purple mountains to survey the changes view-hungry millionaires have wrought. "Two hours and several slabs of butt flesh later," Anthony and his guide arrive at base camp. Their sustenance is pan-fried deer heart, fried antelope liver - the prairie foie gras - and pheasant with sautéed asparagus.
For the episode's final meal, Harrison and Bourdain prepare elk carbonade with antelope stock, onions and garlic and grilled wild doves that they de-feather outside at a picnic table. Really, Bourdain looks delighted. And with all its nostalgia for John Wayne values, fly fishing and braised game dinners, Montana could be the "good country for old men," as Tony puts it.