Rated Reads

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

by Ruth Reichl

Rated: Moderate

After a couple of decades on the West Coast, Ruth Reichl returns to her native New York City to assume the revered position of Restaurant Critic for The New York Times. In accordance with her determination to dine anonymously, she morphs into a variety of personalities so that her multiple trips to sophisticated dining establishments will result in honest service instead of attempts to impress a person of influence. She describes how she invents Brenda, Betty, Chloe, and Emily with very comfortable prose, making the transitions to these persons very smooth and easy on the reader.

The results of these visits traverse the spectrum from hilarious to humbling, and not just from the food experience point of view. As time goes by, her family and friends (and, eventually, she herself) notice that each character she embodies is a showcase for a different aspect of her personality. The final recognition of this is borderline maudlin, but it does not last very long. Nearly every chapter concludes with a full restaurant review, often a concise account of the more detailed descriptions she has just related. It is assumed that these reviews are what actually appeared in the Times, but that is not made clear.

I am not a food snob, I have no plans to spend $100 per person for dinner, and I honestly like The Spaghetti Factory. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the inner workings of gourmet dining establishments and Reichl’s occasional conflicts between her work and her ideals. She includes just over a dozen of her own recipes for a wide variety of dishes in the book, most of which do not require supreme effort (or talent) to create.

Rated: Moderate. Just fewer than a dozen inappropriate usages of Deity, a handful of mild terms, and two uses of strong language.

— Reviewed by Craig Smith

Craig Smith is chief medical officer of Tacoma Cat Hospital. In addition to providing book reviews on Rated Reads, he podcasts about feline health issues through iTunes and www.tacomacat.com.

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  • Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
  • by Ruth Reichl
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: