January 30, 2009

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Riechl

Have you ever wanted to get into the mind of a restaurant critic? Or a spy? I don't think it would be on the top of my priority list, but my DC book club picked this book for January's book. The book is written by Ruth Riechl, a New York Times' restaurant critic for six years. The book is about her experience as an undercover restaurant critic.

When Ruth got on a plane to move to New York she was immediately recognized by a woman that worked in the restaurant industry. Every restaurant in NYC had posted Ruth's picture in their kitchens so they all knew who the new critic was. As soon as Ruth found this out she enlisted the help of a famous costume artist in New York, an old family friend who helped her design her first costume.

This book is about her experiences going to restaurants dressed as herself and different people. It includes real restaurant reviews that were published in the New York Times as well as some of her favorite recipes. She describes the food and restaurant in delectable detail that makes you want to try out the restaurants she ventures into. Her writing is intriguing and really takes you into the midst of being a critic, or a spy.

There were two things I loved about this book and neither had anything to do with her actual reviews or writing. One of my favorite parts was her different disguises and her perfect descriptions of how differently people act depending on who they're dealing with. For instance at one point she dresses as a homely old woman that she calls "invisible." She's seated at the worst table and cannot get service to save her life. On the other hand when she walks in as a gorgeous and sophisticated blond, taxis are fighting to drive her to the restaurant. It's a true story, and it's both heartbreaking and humorous to see the difference in treatment.

The second thing I loved about this book was for me how relatable it was. That may not be the case for everyone, but I've done a lot of service evaluation in settings including upscale restaurants. I've been given the chance to dine in restaurants that I would never fit into otherwise. I get the chance to act a part just like Ruth, and I love to see the different levels of service. It really is like playing an undercover part by blending right in. I related to this part of Ruth's book immensely, and that was the high point of this book.

I would recommend this to anyone that enjoys good food and a good story about human identity and relationships. I really enjoyed it, although for different reasons than most.


  1. This looks really good, I just added it to my wishlist, thanks!

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