Tony winds up Season 7 of No Reservations tonight in Cajun Country and New Orleans. It’s been a great season, possibly the best since the first year or two, so I look forward to seeing where he goes, who he meets, and what the locals are eating. Hopefully there will a grandmother or two cooking whatever grandmothers cook in Acadiana, because while New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, something tells me there is a lot of awesome food being enjoyed in the Bayou that isn’t available on Bourbon Street. If a wild boar-like product doesn’t wind up over a fire tonight, I’ll be asking for my money back. Brian_Wheeler_8.29.11.1

Overall it’s been a fabulous season, four months of 60-minute culinary vacations to places I didn’t know anything about or places I thought I knew about, from an underground Russian nuclear submarine dock in the Ukraine to hanging out in the California Desert with Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age. Meeting young cooks from Boston to Japan, hanging out in legendary places like the Amazon Rain Forest or the temple of El Bulli. I think what changed this season is Tony has toned everything down a bit. He certainly hasn’t mellowed; just ask Paula Deen. He just doesn’t seem to be trying as hard, and it agrees with him. Maybe he just realizes he has the Travel Channel gig, and he’s enjoying what he has (accurately) described as the best job in the world. From hunting in Vienna to cooking with families in the Colombian countryside to taking us inside Castro’s Cuba, as the world becomes increasingly smaller, the shared stories of food, table and family become remarkably consistent. Even on Real Time a few weeks ago, Bourdain comes across, not surprising in the least, as a thoughtful culinary ambassador, someone who can reasonably discuss global issues with Dr. Tyson Degrasse without walking away from his bad boy persona.

Most shows are out of steam or flat out cancelled by Season 7. This season of No Reservations seems like the 52-course meal at El Bulli. It just kept coming, and it was all good. Set the DVR for “record all episodes” and capture as many shows as you can.