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.
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