- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143036610
- ISBN-13: 978-0143036616
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (389 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise Paperback – March 28, 2006
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Fans of Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples know that Ruth Reichl is a wonderful memoirist--a funny, poignant, and candid storyteller whose books contain a happy mix of memories, recipes, and personal revelations.
More from Ruth Reichl
Tender at the Bone
Comfort Me with Apples
The Gourmet Cookbook
Remembrance of Things Paris
Amazon.com's The Significant Seven
Ruth Reichl answers the seven questions we ask every author.
Q: What book has had the most significant impact on your life?
A: Kate Simons New York Places and Pleasures. I read it as a little girl and then went out and wandered the city. She was a wonderful writer, and she taught me not only to see New York in a whole new way, but to look, and taste, beneath the surface.
Q: You are stranded on a desert island with only one book, one CD, and one DVD--what are they?
A: Ulysses by James Joyce. What better place to finally get through it?
Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert. If youre going to listen to one piece over and over, this is one that doesnt get tiresome.
How to Build a Boat in Five Easy Steps. Since Im going to be watching one movie over and over, it might as well be useful.
Q: What is the worst lie you've ever told?
A: Im such a good liar, I wouldnt know where to begin.
Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.
A: I can write pretty much anywhere. But I prefer small, cozy spaces, with a good view over a lake or a forest, and room for the cats to curl up.
Q: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?
A: "Shell be right back."
Q: Who is the one person living or dead that you would like to have dinner with?
A: Elizabeth I. She fascinates me. She had a great mind, enormous appetites--and she was a survivor. The most interesting woman of an interesting time, and I have a million questions Id like to ask her.
Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
A: You mean after creating world peace? This is a hard one. But Ive always wanted to be able to fly.
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. The book—Reichl's third—lifts the lid on the city's storied restaurant culture from the democratic perspective of the everyday diner. Reichl creates wildly innovative getups, becoming Brenda, a red-haired aging hippie, to test the food at Daniel; Chloe, a blonde divorcée, to evaluate Lespinasse; and even her deceased mother, Miriam, to dine at 21. Such elaborate disguises—which include wigs, makeup, thrift store finds and even credit cards in other names—help Reichl maintain anonymity in her work, but they also do more than that. "Every restaurant is a theater," she explains. Each one "offer[s] the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from mundane reality." Reichl's ability to experience meals in such a dramatic way brings an infectious passion to her memoir. Reading this work—which also includes the finished reviews that appeared in the newspaper, as well as a few recipes—ensures that the next time readers sit down in a restaurant, they'll notice things they've never noticed before.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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".
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Ruth Reichl really did well with this book.Read more
I will now need to cook more often!