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".