GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is Ruth Reichl's riotous account of the many disguises she employs to dine anonymously. There is her stint as Molly Hollis, a frumpy blond with manicured nails and an off-beige Armani suit that Ruth takes on when reviewing Le Cirque. The result: her famous double review of the restaurant: first she ate there as Molly; and then as she was coddled and pampered on her visit there as Ruth, New York Times food critic.
What is even more remarkable about Reichl's spy games is that as she takes on these various disguises, she finds herself changed not just superficially, but in character as well. She gives a remarkable account of how one's outer appearance can very much influence one's inner character, expectations, and appetites.
As she writes, "Every restaurant is a theater . . . even the modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while." GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is a reflection on personal identity and role playing in the decadent, epicurean theaters of the restaurant world.
As the New York Times's restaurant critic for most of the 1990s, Reichl had what some might consider the best job in town; among her missions were evaluating New York City's steakhouses, deciding whether Le Cirque deserved four stars and tracking down the best place for authentic Chinese cuisine in Queens. Thankfully, the rest of us can live that life vicariously through this vivacious, fascinating memoir. The book Reichl's third lifts the lid on the city's storied restaurant culture from the democratic perspective of the everyday diner. Reichl creates wildly innovative getups, becoming Brenda, a red-haired aging hippie, to test the food at Daniel; Chloe, a blonde divorc e, to evaluate Lespinasse; and even her deceased mother, Miriam, to dine at 21. Such elaborate disguises which include wigs, makeup, thrift store finds and even credit cards in other names help Reichl maintain anonymity in her work, but they also do more than that. "Every restaurant is a theater," she explains. Each one "offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from mundane reality." Reichl's ability to experience meals in such a dramatic way brings an infectious passion to her memoir. Reading this work which also includes the finished reviews that appeared in the newspaper, as well as a few recipes ensures that the next time readers sit down in a restaurant, they'll notice things they've never noticed before.