The Tale of Two Restaurant Critics

Last night this line from T.S. Eliot kept running through my head.  It’s from the Four Quartets. ‘Garlic and sapphires in the mud…’ I remembered that when you got into this it was almost a spiritual thing with you.  You love to eat, you love to write, you love the generosity of cooks and what happens around a table when a great meal is served.  Nothing that went on last night had anything to do with that.  ~ Reichl’s husband criticizing the critic

The Palm smelled of hope and garlic and grilling meat.  p. 108

Ever since I stumbled upon Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, I have been a Ruth Reichl fan.   Her second memoir Comfort Me with Apples cemented my opinion.  Garlic and Sapphires tells the story of her tenure as the restaurant critic at the New York Times.  All three books have excellent recipes (New York Cheesecake, Risotto Primavera, Thai Noodles, Hash Browns, a ten-minute Spaghetti Carbonara, Gougères – cheese puffs, Aushak – an Afghan dish, are just some in this book) decorating the narrative.  

An entertaining bit of Garlic is the story of Ruth’s disguises and the persona she adopts with each wig and outfit.  Ruth wears her departed mom’s dress and becomes Miriam; a champagne wig, nails, heels and a sexy suit create Chloe;  a carrot red wig, large glasses, lipstick and a vintage silk jacket evoke the cozy and crumpled Brenda;  Betty was an old sorry lady in oxfords so bland that she blends in to the crowd.   Reichl tells the back story, how it went down, and then we get to read the actual review that was printed in the Times.  Most of the food reviewed isn’t food *I’m* used to ordering: foie gras, wild hare stew, steamed skate, raw tuna and caviar, risotto with black truffles. But I am enjoying myself (calorie-free!) through Ruth’s remarkable descriptions.  Currently Reichl is my favorite food writer. 

When I realized that Mimi Sheraton had previously held the same job and wrote her own memoir, I decided to read the two books back to back. 

Where Reichl drew me in, Sheraton pushed me away.  It reminded me of the self-absorbed drivel you sometimes endure from a stranger at a party.  Example: So whenever I am asked, “How can I become a food critic like you?” I am always tempted to answer, “Live my life.”   There were many references that only residents of NYC could catch. 

I had a head cold; in the grips of a passive indecisive misery, I kept plodding along.  Lo, during the last fifth of the book, I started to perk up.  I was compelled to write down a few quotes.  Here are a few.  Enjoy them, skip this book and read Reichl.

Not to taste while cooking is much like
choosing a color scheme with closed eyes. p.219

Wrinkled ripeness in fruits, as in people,
seems anathema to many Americans.  p. 229

It is better to be good
than to be original.
~ Robert A. M. Stern, architect

Just as some women gather jewels that they contemplate
occasionally to cheer themselves up,
so I can unwrap memories of favorite meals,
a far less fattening pursuit than eating them.  p.237



5 thoughts on “The Tale of Two Restaurant Critics

  1. Hi Carol, I’ve had TENDER AT THE BONE in the box in the closet for almost two years.  I guess it’s time to dig it out!  Thanks for the great reviews.  Did you get a chance to watch Dear Heart?

  2. I did!  It was fun.  It ‘s been on my list ALL WEEK to mail it back to you.  I’ll get it mailed tomorrow.  I’ve been thinking of your family a lot lately.I think I liked Tender At the Bone best of all Reichl’s books.

  3. I picked this up at the library yesterday, and I can hardly put it down.  It is so entertaining.  She’s a great writer.  It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a book so much.  Thanks for the review!

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