Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
When I started this book, I kept thinking “Ugh, I’m gonna hate this lucky bitch” – I mean, she gets to eat at the most fabulous restaurants in New York City (in the 90s) on the New York Times payroll – jealous, much? But I didn’t hate her – she’s still a lucky bitch, but I definitely didn’t hate her.
She came across in her writing as funny and thoughtful and honest and, holy hell, does she know how to talk about food! It must be one of the hardest things to write about, right up there with music – how do you describe something in words that can be experienced with every sense except…well, reading isn’t a sense, but you know what I mean. But she definitely manages it – I could picture, smell, and almost taste every dish she wrote about, even the bad ones!
Part of the fun of the book is also the disguises she comes up with, completely disappearing into other personas in an attempt to dine anonymously – some bring out the best in her (Brenda) while others are the worst (Emily). I found her less pleasant identities a little awkward to read about as she really did go all out and very nearly become the characters she created, even the pretentious, rude ones and it wasn’t fun to read about her being horrid to waiters and every once in a while, her fellow diners. At her worst, Emily, it is Marion Cunningham of all people (not Ritchie’s mother, but the cookbook author instead) who brings her around and leads to one of my favorite moments in the book. I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s worth the slog through Emily’s night out to get to the end of the story.
But mostly it’s a love letter to the food scene in New York City – and not because all of the restaurants are fabulous, they’re not and she includes those reviews along with the positive ones (I think there’s only one restaurant that receives a 4-star review included in the book, I don’t know how many she [or, for that matter, other reviewers] handed down over the years she spent reviewing for the Times). It’s a love letter to the vibrancy of the variety and options available in New York – she goes to super fancy restaurants like The Rainbow Room, Le Cirque, and the Box Tree but she also goes to noodle joints (though it sounds like those aren’t cheap either) and a friend of hers takes her on a food tour of New York towards the end of the book that sounds like heaven.
I wish I had the financial resources – or the job at the Times – to gain her level of knowledge about food and wines because it sounds like it brings the experience to a whole other level.
My rating: B+ (I would have given her an A, but I’m a petty, petty blogger who can’t bring myself to give such a lucky bitch an A even though she probably deserves it)
*[Yes, I know she’s not just lucky, she’s talented and worked hard to get where she is, but I’m going to comfort myself with the lucky bitch thing.]