Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

It took me awhile to write this review, because I needed some time to digest the material and consider it’s aftertaste before talking about it.

At first bite, I smiled. Witty, charming, pleasantly humorous, this was a book I hoped to savor. In Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir by Ruth Reichl, we discover the truth about fancy shmancy eateries as the former restaurant critic for the New York Times goes undercover at 21, Le Cirque, The Rainbow Room, Windows on the World, and more.

Ruth comes up with the idea to dine in disguise shortly after accepting the job at the Times. During a flight from LA to NY, she meets a woman who recognizes her and tells her that her picture is in every kitchen of every fine restaurant in Manhattan. Alarmed at the amount of information this woman knows about her, Ruth comes to the realization that if she is going to be able to judge these establishments fairly, they can’t know she’s there. Being well known can get you the best of everything-excellent service, the very best table, choice cuts of meat, the biggest berries in your dessert. Ruth was much more interested in the dining experience of the average person, the masses who would likely be reading her reviews.

With the help of an old friend of her mother’s, who happens to be an acting coach, Ruth takes on various personas ranging from flamboyant, raven haired Brenda, to petty, snippy Emily. Her elaborate disguises include wigs, theater makeup, thrift shop costumes, and alterations in her voice and personality. Each persona she takes on gets different treatment in the elite restaurants she reviews. This truly becomes restaurant as theater, but what else would you expect in New York?

The constant stream of lavish meals, continuous consumption, and ever more cantankerous personas grew tiresome for me to read about. Does every fine restaurant in New York serve a signature version of foie gras and crème brulee? It would seem so. It all becomes a bit tiresome for Ruth as well, who after 6 years decides to make a career change (with a nudge from a dying friend and from her son, Nicky, who just wants his mom to eat dinner at home now and then).

The end of each chapter has tasty-sounding menus that I am anxious to try. I found Garlic and Sapphires entertaining, but ultimately, it left me feeling hungry rather than satisfied.

Garlic and Sapphires

Ruth Reichl is the current editor of Gourmet magazine.

Garlic and Sapphires was the November selection at Planet Books.

For other reviews of Garlic and Sapphires, visit Beastmomma and Care


15 Responses

  1. Love your review – it is so descriptive! Too bad that it wasn’t all you had hoped it would be.

  2. Incredible. Professional review! Get a job doing this! You’re GOOD. or? … IS this what you do? – Care

  3. Wonderful! I’m glad we posted reviews about Reichl’s book at the same time, otherwise I might never have found your blog – and a fabulous blog it is! I’ll be back for more…

  4. Yeah, great review and What DO You Do? I’ve tasted foie gras and no I don’t care for it. It was a dinner during my honeymoon at Walt Disney World. We were at The Grand Floridian’s Victoria & Albert’s 5 Star restaurant and the first of seven courses was the foie gras. Let’s just say that that was just the beginning of a meal where I took one taste of each dish and then passed it on to the Hubby. I did eat the entire plate of my steak and dessert though.

  5. Thank you for all the complimentary comments! No, I don’t write reviews for a living (I wish!) I love to read and I love to write, so that would quite possibly be my dream job. I’m a stay at home parent and chronic volunteer (girl scouts, soccer, church, PTA).. In a former life (before kids) I was an exec. recruiter and outside sales manager for an employment service.

  6. Small world, I’ve tried my hand at legal recruiting but found my niche as executive assistant in recruiting offices in both D.C. to Memphis. I enjoy taking care of the office and making sure they have everything they need to get the job done.

  7. Hi, I enjoyed this book overall but had a lot of the same thoughts at the end that you did. There’s just so much food and really what is the point of it all? I actually went to hear Reichl speak about this book and it was very interesting. Have you read her other books? I also enjoyed her first memoir, the second not as much.

  8. K- wow, it is a small world! I loved the employment industry and really felt so much satisfaction from helping employers and job seekers find each other. I miss it still, but the hours were long, the pressure was high, and it’s really not conducive to family life. I did it for 10 years and may go back someday.

    Tara, I bet it was really interesting hearing Reichl speak. I liked her personality and I’d bet she’s quite entertaining in person. I haven’t read the others but may pick up Tender at the Bone.

  9. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    I’ve bookmarked yours – I’m currently in nursing school full time, but finish in May & I’ll be back to follow along. Ooooh, can’t wait! Great blog!

  10. I might read this book even though it wasn’t your favorite. I’m obsessed with food so I think I might like it.

  11. I wandered over here from Planet Books and I agree with all the compliments. You are a wonderful writer; I especially love the layout of your site. The reading challenges section is really inspiring me.

  12. Tammi, Good luck with nursing school! I’m sure it’s a lot of hard work.

    Crystal, if you’re a foodie, you will love it. I just lent it to my friend, who is more into food than me, and she loved it.

    Beastmomma, thanks for wandering over! I’ve ‘seen’ you around at Planet Books and have been to your blog in the past, too. Are you going to try a reading challenge?

  13. I am currently doing one called the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge; it is sponsored by A Life in Books. It finishes in December; I am not sure if I am going to make it 🙂 I will probably try another one in 2008.

  14. […] What book are you reading right now?  Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl  This book was reviewed on Books on the Brain and, even though the review was mixed, I decided to give it a try since […]

  15. […] this is a sweet and charming memoir of Reichl’s early life.  I read and enjoyed Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires a while back, which is a memoir of her days as a restaurant critic for the NY Times.  Tender at […]

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