When Reichl took over from the formidable and aloof Bryan Miller as the New York Times' restaurant reviewer, she promised to shake things up. And so she did. Gone were the days when only posh restaurants with European chefs were reviewed. Reichl, with a highly developed knowledge and love of Asian cuisine from her years as a West Coast food critic, began to review the small simple establishments that abound in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Many loved it, the Establishment hated it, but her influence was significant.
She brought a fresh writing style to her reviews and adopted a radical way of getting them. Amassing a wardrobe of wigs and costumes, she deliberately disguised herself so that she would not receive special treatment. As a result, she had a totally different dining experience as say, Miriam the Jewish mother than she did as Ruth Reichl the reviewer, and she wasn't afraid to write about it. The resulting reviews were hilarious and sobering, full of fascinating insights and delicious gossip.
Garlic and Sapphires is a wildly entertaining chronicle of Reichl's New York Times years.
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.