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Paperback Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise Book

ISBN: 0143036610

ISBN13: 9780143036616

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

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Book Overview

Author of Save Me the Plums Ruth Reichl's iconic, bestselling memoir of her time as an undercover restaurant critic for The New York Times Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Great third Memoir. Leaves us wanting more! Buy It.

`Garlic and Sapphires' is the third volume of memoirs by Ruth Reichl. After `Tender at the Bone' which deals with her childhood and teens and `Comfort Me with Apples' which deals with her early journalistic career in San Francisco, this latest volume deals with her five years as the lead restaurant critic for the New York Times. This volume proves that Ms. Reichl is truly the best culinary memoirist today, and easily the best since M.F.K. Fisher. And, as one who has read more than a few of Ms. Fisher's memoirs, I would easily choose Ms. Reichl's humor and great stories of the modern scene over Ms. Fisher's slightly musty, albeit exquisitely crafted tales of cities and towns in France. The primary point of this volume is to tell the stories behind Ms. Reichl's various disguises and personas she took on in order to dine at Daniel's and Lespanisse and Le Cirque without being identified as the restaurant critic for the Times. The book starts off with the amazing story of Reichl's flight from Los Angles to New York seated, by coincidence, along side a waitress of a major Manhattan restaurant. It turns out that posted in all restaurant kitchens in New York City was already a photograph of Ruth Reichl with a reward to any staff member who identifies Ms. Reichl in their restaurant. In spite of all the other things on which Ruth could dwell, she stays remarkably on message. There is only the slightest of references to the great New York Times culinary writer, Craig Claiborne, who was still alive while Reichl was at the Times. And, there was only a slightly more specific reference to R. W. Appel and Amanda Hesser. The only two writing talents cited to any extent are Marion Burros, a friendly colleague who mostly worked out of the Washington bureau and adversary Bryan Miller who left the critic's post and objected to Reichl's overturning a lot of his restaurant opinions. What Miller forgot was that the power of the restaurant critic's column was not based on the writer, but on the newspaper which published the column. The most important character in this story after Reichl may be `THE NEW YORK TIMES', commonly thought to be the best and most powerful newspaper in the world. This fact makes it almost unthinkable that Reichl would question whether or not she really wanted to work for the Times when she was literally offered the job on a silver platter. There may have been some foundation to her doubts when she saw the Times offices for the first time. In contrast to the light, airy, Los Angles Times offices, the New York offices were crowded and filled with lots of old desks and unmatched chairs. After a full day's interviews plus total willingness from her husband to relocate to New York, Reichl took the job and immediately changed the tone of the paper's reviews. Reichl's personal philosophy was that reviews were nothing more than informed opinion and taste. This may seem utterly subjective, but actually, it is not far from what you would see in a scho

Dress up, eat up, write up

It's one thing to hold the coveted job of restaurant critic for the New York Times but it's an entirely different matter when that person can deliver such a wonderfully breezy book about her experiences. Ruth Reichl has done just that in a style that is as warm, informative and delicious as the best restaurants she has reviewed. In "Garlic and Sapphires" the author invites you into her world so intimately that you feel you are sharing each and every meal with her. It would probably have been enough if Ruth had simply given us a compilation of her entire collected reviews because she writes so well in that vein, but the joy of this particular offering includes a cast of characters who are not from central casting. While she manages to keep herself in the limelight, as she should, she surrounds herself with willing (and sometimes unwilling) cohorts in her attempts to review restaurants through her many disguises and personalities. Her usually understanding husband, Michael, her precocious son Nicky, her friend and sometimes mentor Carol, and her close buddy Claudia all add to her support as the author becomes Miriam, Chloe, Brenda, Betty and Emily. A male critic could never have gotten away with what Ruth pulls off! It is a surprise to both the author and the reader that her dinner guests often become angry with her because she plays the roles of her assumed identities with such panache that they almost beg her to return to her own self. In one of the most alluring chapters, Ruth relates how she meets a total stranger, Dan Green, who ends up dining with her at Lespinasse. Keeping her secret, she spends an evening with him wondering what he will think of the review when he reads it. In another hilarious chapter she endures an evening with the "food warrior" at Windows of the World. Who wouldn't have wanted to be at the next table for that encounter? Through it all, Ruth Reichl keeps an eye on herself. She is her own best and worst critic, often worrying about the legitimacy of her characters. In the end she simply reverts back to Ruth. As the book nears its close, Ruth speaks of her friend Carol's final illness and her own (ultimate) decision to leave the Times, a poignant reflection by the author. At this moment, knowing the book is about to be finished, I am reminded of that other moment when you've just finished an extraordinary meal and reluctantly acknowledge it's time to go. I highly recommend "Garlic and Sapphires".

Beyond the wigs and cloaks

In contrast to the cover's stated premise, the heart of Ruth Reichl's newest book, "Garlic and Sapphires", turns out to be not so much about her covert efforts to produce a fair restaurant review. And that's a good thing... Instead, what she's produced is somewhat of a narrative on the transformations that occurred in her life while she the was chief restaurant critic of The New York Times. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of very funny stories and insightful looks into the life of a restaurant critic, but after reading over a few of them, I'm glad that she didn't devote the book to just this theme. To me, it got tiring after a while to read about her efforts to obtain the perfect wig or coat or look to enable her to step into another life beyond her own. Interspersed between the logistical procedures to obtain these covert reviews are lovingly told desciptions of the diverse foods of New York, served by ultra-uppity 3 star French joints to the painstakingly precise sushi bar. Also very worthy of mention are Reichl's recollections of time spent at the NY Times, as to the people she met, hated, feared, and loved. The latter primarily focused on a woman named (at least in the book) Carol, to whom Ruth pays particular attention, and conveys sincere emotion as regards their friendship. In surprising depth, Reichl conveys how, through her secret identities, she was able to learn about herself and her motivations / intentions when reviewing restaurants. Was it just about the food itself or about the "lifestyle" that comes with loving food? As such, ultimately, the thrust of the book is very much about food -- how it can in itself be excellent, mediocre, wonderous, or deflating and how the treatment of the waitstaff or the quality of one's companions can dictate the tenor of the dining experience. An oftentimes hilarious, and surprisingly sincere book. Highly recommended.

Hilarious, Refreshing, Poignant

Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, an account of her years as restaurant critic of the New York Times, is simultaneously hilarious, refresing and poignant, altogether a five-star read in the light memoir category. The hilarity comes from Reichl's penchant for donning elaborate disguises, the better to assure anonymity in assessing New York's most prominent eateries. These incognita excursions allow Reichl to skewer the pretensions and omissions of such well-known restaurants as Le Cirque and Tavern on the Green. Garlic and Sapphires sets a refreshing tone due to Reichl's insistence on recognizing excellent dining in all of its venues, from humble ethnic restaurants to New York's most elegant establishments. Reichl's penchant for ferreting out little-known gems earns her the opprobrium of Bryan Miller, her predecessor as the Times's restaurant critic, and his supporters, all of whom charge Reichl with "letting down standards". But the many New Yorkers who experience life without expense account or trust fund appreciate her excursions to the wrong side of the tracks to identify dining delights. Most important, Garlic and Sapphires provides a poignant look at what it is like to be too old, too unfashionable, or too poor to fully take part in the glories of the Big Apple. Reichl's disguises frequently place her in one or more these overlooked groups, and she provides a sensitive picture of what it is like to be marginalized-- not only by headwaiters at four-star dining establishments, but by society. One hopes that Reichl's tenure as Times restaurant critic made top restaurants more likely to treat all of their patrons with dignity and respect. Garlic and Sapphires led me to develop the following advice for restaurant patrons: --As Reichl notes, restaurant preferences are subjective. Go to the places you enjoy, rather than the places fashion dictates. --Restaurants are there to serve you. If you are unhappy about food or service, speak up-- preferably to a manager, if your waiter or waitress hasn't dealt with the problem. Above all, don't be intimidated. If you need instruction on what fork to use or what wine to order, you should be able to ask without embarrassment. --You are especially entitled to fine service and cooking in a top restaurant-- don't let the establishment off the hook. If you have arrived on time for your reservation (or called ahead to notify the restaurant if you are delayed) and behaved courteously, any lapses in food or service reflect a deficiency in the restaurant, not a deficiency in you. --At least in the U.S., tips are discretionary. If you're not happy, reduce the tip accordingly. Feel free to advise your friends of the restaurant's shortcomings. And fortunately, you're not a critic who must return to give the establishment a fair chance. If you're not happy, you need never darken its doorstep again. One final piece of advice-- if you enjoy books about the food world, read Garlic and Sapphires.

A fun, fabulous, mouthwatering read

This is my first Ruth Reichl book, so I really didn't know what to expect, but was intrigued by the title. I just bought this today and am almost done. It feels like the best kind of book, a novel that just grabs hold and pulls you right into another world. I'm right there, as she dons her disguises, dresses up as her mother, right down to the attitude, as she sends dishes back, or gives herself up to the sheer pleasure of the food without over-analyzing it. What comes across more than anything, is the pure passion for the food and her job,and the sincerity and respect for the reader as she sets out to share her experience and to rate each restaurant. She also has a way with description. I can almost taste these dishes, and am now starving... If you like food, and the restaurant world, you will have an absolute ball with this book.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise Mentions in Our Blog

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise in Dig In! A Veritable Buffet of Food-Focused Literature
Dig In! A Veritable Buffet of Food-Focused Literature
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • June 26, 2019

Food writing has never been more ubiquitous. And we love it! This week we serve up up a bevy of books with culinary themes.

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