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Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

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“‘There is no right or wrong in matters of taste,’ I said. ‘It’s just an opinion. And in the case of restaurants, an extremely subjective one, given that no one has the faintest idea if what you taste when you bite into an apple is the same thing that I do.’”

I decided to follow up Delancey with another food memoir, Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. This memoir follows Reichl’s time as the restaurant critic for The New York Times in the 1990s. I read her first memoir, Tender at the Bone, two years ago and enjoyed it, but I liked Garlic and Sapphires much better. I loved reading about Reichl’s need to disguise herself when dining out at restaurants; it was utterly fascinating to me. I picked up the large print version (accidentally!) from the library and started reading it while at jury duty. So if anyone has jury duty coming up soon, Garlic and Sapphires is an excellent choice to pass the time!

Like in most food memoirs, Reichl included some great recipes after several chapters. Since I had a library copy, I took a bunch of pictures of the recipes. So many of the recipes seem rather easy, and I am excited to test some out. I think I’m first going to try the Spaghetti Carbonara and Nicky’s Vanilla Cake soon. I can’t wait to make some of these tried and true Ruth Reichl recipes.

In one of the first essays, Reichl talks about flying to New York to meet with The New York Times. She ends up sitting next to a woman in the New York restaurant world, who tells her that all the restaurants in New York already have Ruth’s photo up in the kitchen and know very personal details about her and her family, prior to the age of the internet. Reichl is understandably confused and a little scared by this, so when she starts going to restaurants, she decides to dress up in disguise so she can eat like a regular person, not the Restaurant Critic of The New York Times.

Over the years, Ruth had several different disguises, although it’s probably more accurate to call them personas. One of my favorite ones she described was Brenda, who was as Reichl wrote, “Brenda was my best self, the person I’ve always wanted to be.” She was outgoing and kind, all things Reichl was, but just a tad stronger than Ruth herself. I liked reading the reviews that Ruth actually wrote, and in the chapter on Brenda, Ruth included her review of Restaurant Daniel, which she gave four stars. But several people responded after her review that the style didn’t match the rest of Reichl’s reviews, and as Reichl said, Brenda was the one who wrote the review, not Ruth. I was so intrigued about the different personas that I couldn’t stop imagining all of her different wigs and outfits at these fancy New York restaurants. The whole concept of her different characters made this memoir so much fun.

Garlic and Sapphires is definitely a fun food memoir, and I can’t wait to read more of Ruth Reichl’s work. I own her novel, Delicious!, and her most recent cookbook, My Kitchen Year. I really enjoy her writing style and find her life so fascinating. Her new memoir, Save Me the Plums, is about her time as the Editor in Chief for Gourmet magazine and just came out a few weeks ago. I can’t wait to read that one.

If you are interested in food and/or memoirs, I cannot recommend Garlic and Sapphires enough. It was a fun read that I read over the course of a couple weeks. And every time I finished an essay, I found myself imagining Reichl’s life. I was completely intrigued by her role as the restaurant critic for The New York Times. I thoroughly enjoyed it; I give it 4 stars!

What are some of your favorite recipes? I am always in the mood for trying new things!

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