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

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

by Ruth Reichl


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Author of Save Me the Plums Ruth Reichl’s iconic, bestselling memoir of her time as an undercover restaurant critic for The New York Times

Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl reveals the comic absurdity, artifice, and excellence to be found in the sumptuously appointed stages of the epicurean world and gives us—along with some of her favorite recipes and reviews—her remarkable reflections on how one’s outer appearance can influence one’s inner character, expectations, and appetites, not to mention the quality of service one receives.

“[A] wonderful book, which is funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—and smart and wise.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143036616
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 65,343
Product dimensions: 5.48(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.76(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ruth Reichl is the bestselling author of the memoirs Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, and For You, Mom, Finally; the novel Delicious!; and, most recently, the cookbook My Kitchen Year. She was editor in chief of Gourmet magazine for ten years. Previously she was the restaurant critic for The New York Times and served as the food editor and restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has been honored with six James Beard Awards for her journalism, magazine feature writing, and criticism. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two cats.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 16, 1948

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., University of Michigan, 1968; M.A., University of Michigan, 1970

Read an Excerpt

“I’m a restaurant critic,” I told the woman in the wig shop, “and I need a disguise that will keep me from being recognized.”

“That’s a new one on me,” she said. “Do you have a special restaurant you’re working on at the moment?”

“Yes,” I said, remembering the fragrant aroma of the soup I had eaten on my last visit to Lespinasse. When I dipped my spoon into the broth shimeji mushrooms went sliding sensuously across my tongue with the lush texture of custard. I tasted lemongrass, kaffir lime, mushroom and something else, something that hovered at the edge of my mind, familiar but elusive. I took another taste and it was there again, that sweetness, hiding just behind the citrus. It came whirling into my consciousness and then slid maddeningly away before I could identify it.

“The food was wonderful,” I told her, “but I think they made me. Everything’s been just a little too perfect. So I want a foolproof disguise.”

“Try this,” she said, opening a drawer and pulling out a cascade of hair the color of Dom Perignon. As the wig caught the light the color changed from pearl to buttercup.

The hair fell across my face as gently as silk. I squeezed my eyes tight, not wanting to look until it was seated right. I could feel it settle into place, feel the soft strands graze my shoulders just below my ears.

“Wait!” she cried as my eyes started to open, and she leaned forward and tugged at the wig, adjusting it. “Okay,” she said at last, “you can open your eyes now.”

The champagne blonde in the mirror did not seem to be wearing a wig. The hair looked real, as if it were growing out of the scalp. Even the dark eyebrows looked right, as if this woman had so much confidence she didn’t care who knew that she dyed her hair. My mouth dropped open. “Oh!” I said stupidly, “oh my.”

I don’t think I would have recognized myself if we had met walking down the street, and I had yet to put on any makeup. Somehow this cut, this color, made my cheeks pink, my eyes almost violet, my lips seem redder than they had ever been. I felt new, glamorous, bursting with curiosity. What would life be like for the woman in the mirror?

“You were meant to be blonde!” cried the saleswoman, packing the wig into an old-fashioned hatbox. She looked wistfully at the hair and said, “You’ll come back and tell me what happens, won’t you?”

“You mean whether I’m recognized at Lespinasse?”

“Well,” she said, “that too. But what I mostly want to know is—do blondes really have more fun?”


Excerpted from "Garlic and Sapphires"
by .
Copyright © 2006 Ruth Reichl.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Garlic and SapphiresThe Daily Special
The King of Spain
Looking for Umami
Meat and Potatoes
Dinner with Chairman Punch
Food Warrior
The Missionary of the Delicious
Recipe Index

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This wonderful book is funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—and smart and wise." —The Washington Post

"Reichl is so gifted . . . the reader remains hungry for more." —USA Today

"Expansive and funny." —Entertainment Weekly

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Garlic and Sapphires 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 105 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is less autobiographical than Reichl's other two books, 'Tender at the Bone' and 'Comfort me with apples.' Nonetheless, this book is a great read and hilarious. Reichl talks about moving from being the restaraunt critic for the LA Times to the NY Times. It is great to read about how she dresses up and goes undercover t o see how regular, non-rich people get treated at restaraunts. Great stories and pleasant to read beacuse Reichl has the gift of sounding like your friend and that she is right there telling you what happened to her today.
Atthebeach More than 1 year ago
This is a delightful read---funny and enlightening and mouthwatering. Reichl's tenure at the NYT as restaurant critic certainly gave her plenty of fodder for this book. I could have read on and on. Lots of good stuff on how restaurants treat their customers, how they cater to certain customers and especially critics, how the food and service varies by types of customers, etc. And just lots of great writing about food and flavors, some great recipes. Lots of humor and great fun about her disguises and the personalities she took on to be someone else. It's a fast, fun read.
LotteDeno More than 1 year ago
Ruth Reichl takes us through her days as a New York Times Food Critic and the huge task before her -- reviewing restaurants fairly and for the masses, not just the uber rich. Through her reviews she gives everyone a unique and highly descriptive view of the restaurant as a whole from ambiance down to each morsel of food. She makes you feel as if you are right there with her experiencing everything. I especially loved how she created all of her aliases to be able to slip into each restaurant covertly. It was also very enlightening and touching to read how each alias brought out hidden depths of her personality. It allowed her to dig deeper than ever, and understand herself better and realize that really wanted to be. It's an experience that I think so may people wish they could have.
Z9 More than 1 year ago
I've thoroughly enjoyed all the Ruth Reichl books I've read. She is honest and forthcoming about her experiences, sometimes not at all pleasant, as a restaurant critic. She's also refreshingly honest about herself, and the things she sometimes sees about herself that she is not so proud of, or happy about. As a mom, I can appreciate the balance between her job as a critic and her job as a mother. As a wannabe foodie, I especially enjoyed her detailed descriptions of the meals she ate and the experiences she had at the different restaurants. I think her writing is very engaging and it just draws you into her life. She seems like she would be a delightful friend to have, and I was sad to reach the end. As a matter of fact, it's been hard to start another book since then.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This brought a little gourmet into my not so gourmet existence with some added insight into human character. Fun and fast read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A light hearted read. Not my kind of food or restaurants, but I still enjoyed it.
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this engaging memoir by the New York Times food critic. I particularly enjoy Reichl's egalitarian view of fine dining (everyone should have the same great experience, famous or not). As a lover of good food and fine dining, I found this to be a very entertaining read.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not as good as her previous two books - writing was a little too put-on at times. A bit like a charicature of herself. And all the disguises were boring.
karieh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Who wouldn't LOVE to eat LOTS of meals for free? Especially at many of New York's most fabulous restaurants? After a while - the author, that's who. There are so many things to like in this book - her description of the food (it's almost like eating it!), her journey in and out of aspects of her personality as she disguises herself, and the very interesting affects her new, wonderful job has on her relationships. I enjoyed reading it - but can't give it a full 5 stars...I think her disillusionment with the critic biz flows through and towards the end - her writing seems a tad too bitter.
vnovak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Immerses the reader in the world of restaurants and food in New York City. When Ruth Reichl becomes the restaurant critic at the New York Times, she often wears elaborate disguises so that she is not recognized at restaurants and treated differently. The descriptions of food are so lavish and sensuous that one reviewer wrote, ¿she can describe a dish in such satisfying detail that it becomes unnecessary for readers to eat.¿
kmoellering on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to Ruth Reichl's funny and fascinating account of her years as the New York Times' restaurant critic and truly enjoyed myself! I found myself wanting to check the book out of the library so I could read the names of the different restaurants - and then take a look at their current menus online if they are available. I felt like cooking and eating exotic foods and trying something differnt in my culinary life. I would highlly recommend this to other foodies, or anyone in search of a relaxing, fun read.Additionally, the reader for the CD was excellent, I can't remember her name, but she was terrific with the different character's voices - I felt like I knew exactly who each character was.Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires - Four Stars!
sweetiegherkin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book picks up about five years after Reichl¿s last book, Comfort Me with Apples, left off. I have to admit, I wouldn¿t have thought a book basically about eating would appeal to me, but I read Comfort Me with Apples with my book discussion group and enjoyed it, so I thought I would give this one a try, too. Garlic and Sapphires is Reichl¿s chronicle of her tenure as the restaurant critic of The New York Times. Apparently this is a huge deal, and even ordinary people on the street care deeply about Reichl¿s opinions on food and restaurants. (Personally, I live not that far away from New York City and have never once read a restaurant review in the New York Times, but I guess I¿m just not that type of person). As you can imagine, restaurateurs are even more concerned about Reichl¿s reviews, and she soon realizes that it is next to impossible for her to be anonymous while dining out. This means that she gets the royal treatment every time she goes out, which does not mesh with Reichl¿s aim to be the critic ¿of the people.¿ So, Reichl decides to don a variety of costumes to see how the ordinary person would be treated in four-star restaurants. She completely embodies each of the personalities she creates, which, while interesting to read about, is also a bit creepy in my opinion. Reichl also talks about a variety of other things going on in her life besides eating out, although it seems to me that her personal life is less a topic here than in Comfort Me with Apples. Nevertheless, there is enough that this is not solely a book about food. Reichl often turns a pretty phrase, writing in a way that is very evocative. There were often times I wished I could sample the meal she was describing. This a delightful quick read, although I personally enjoyed Comfort Me with Apples more.
Kikoa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to it via books on cd and loved it....I have always been interested in food and theatre critics. Garlic and Sapphires really opens up the world of a critic. In this case Ruth wears a number of disguises to now be recognized and I think she learned as much about herself as she did the food...Her descriptions of the foods made my mouth water...I wanted to go with her and eat eat eat.........Read it, as it is a jaunt into another world...
phyllis2779 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this down once I picked it up. It gave me a whole new appreciation of food and a new way of approaching food and restaurants critically. I'm not a foodie, more of an amateur but this book made fine dining and not so fine dining experiences so real that I could really imagine the taste of things. Now I want to go back and finish Tender to the Bone which I started a long time ago and never finished.
CarusSec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, makes you stop and wonder if the "best" restaurants truly have earned their titles by treating all of their customers as four stars restaurant should, or whether, instead, the four star treatment is reserved for "special" patrons. A delight to read and including the recipes will be entertaining to try in my own kitchen.
SqueakyChu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ruth Reichl, in this book as food critic for The New York Times, takes her readers along on her job assignments. To keep people from recognizing her, she changes appearance with the use of make-up, various wigs, and clothing to match each new persona. Oddly enough, she also takes on a new personality with every costume change. Throughout the book, Reichl visits various restaurants and has vastly different experiences in each. After telling about them in excruciating detail, she adds a matching review for each restaurant. Not all of them were good. I found this book pleasurable reading for a while. Toward the end, however, I was becoming tired of Reichl¿s whirlwind restaurant experiences. I most likely felt this way because some of the restaurants that she visited were ones at which I could neither afford to dine nor would I want to. I don¿t count duck web, foie gras, steamed skate, fried quail eggs, or squid ink among those foods I¿d be eager to try. I¿m more of a Deborah Madison-type foodie. Nevertheless, I found this book to be a fun and light read, and, for the most part, an enjoyable experience.I must say that the best part of this book by far was the New York Cheesecake recipe on page 20. The author uses recipes in her book instead of pictures. I¿m grateful for that as I made two of Reichl¿s cheesecakes (both of which were entirely eaten) before I even finished reading the book.
traciragas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love memoirs. But typically don't pick ones like this, I traveled a little outside my comfort zone and really enjoyed it. I loved Ruth's stories of her incognito appearances at various restaurants. I loved her honesty about what the job did to her and how it changed her (not always for the better). Her retelling of various restaurant outings painted an often funny picture of waiters, hostesses, and Captains milling about waiting for her, but instead finding one of her characters.Funny story and for someone who loves food (me!) great recipes and lessons.
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I want to sit down and eat a meal with Ruth. I also want to go to almost every restaurant she mentions in this book. I am so envious of food critics, not only for getting to eat on someone else's dime, but for getting to try the variety of food and establishments that they do. She writes about the food so beautifully that I could almost taste it, see it, and smell it. She also goes on a personal journey throughout the book. A wonderful wonderful read, but it will make you VERY hungry.
aubreyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Garlic and Sapphires is a memoir about Ruth Reichl's time as a food critic at the New York Times. The book gives a fascinating look into the New York Food scene. Reich's descriptions of food are always fantastic, you can practically see and taste the food through the pages. The book was funny and personal, chronicling the multiple disguises Reichl used to visit restaurants incognito and the way her job affects her family life.
skinglist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Totally unfamiliar with Ruth Reichl before reading this book. She's apparently very well liked and this book has been well reviewed, but I wasn't a huge fan. I liked the idea of her disguises and what they accomplished, but it seemed a little too over the top for me. I felt bad for her in her loss of Carol. It was an OK read but I felt it begin to drag - probably about when she started to get burnt out on her work. Not sure if I'm interested enough to read her other stuff. Liked the recipe touches and the extend to which she found stories for her alternate egos. OK light read, but not one of my favorite "critic" booksI didn't know the timing of her stint with the NYT before reading this. Some things give it away though. The Unabomber and bin Laden for two.
itbgc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! I love food and cooking, so I know that influenced my love for the book. So far I have tried two recipes and thought they were quite tasty--Sort-of-Tai Noodles and Nicky's Vanilla Cake. We discussed this book at our book club (with mixed opinions), and I brought Nicky's Vanilla Cake, dressed up a bit with sprinkled powdered sugar on top. Everyone seemed to love the cake, but only part of us loved the book.
shihtzu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you eat in restaurants, I think you'll find this book entertaining. The author tells of her years as food critic for the New York Times and her efforts to hide her identity as she visits some of the city's most famous restaurants. With the help of friends and associates, she creates a variety of disguises, and assumes a particular identity with each one, in order to find out how some of these restaurants treat ordinary customers. It's incredible how badly she is treated in some of Manhattan's most well-known and priciest restaurants when she shows up in some of her disguises.
NativeRoses on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ruth dons multiple disguises to obtain fair reviews as a food writer for the New York Times. As expected, she receives very different treatment depending on whether she is a wealthy looking young blond, bold 60s radical, or old woman of modest means. Unexpectedly, she finds her personality changing to fit each disguise and discovers she is able to inhabit a new personality as well as a new disguise. This in turn impacts her thoughts regarding the food she reviews. An interesting read.
julied on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I tried Reichl's first two memoirs attracted by the food writing connection but, let's face it, I just don't like the grittiness that comes with some memoirs and Reichl's were of that sort to me. This book, however, is nothing like that as Reichl is telling about her struggles to stay "under cover" as when it is announced she will be the next NY Times food critic her photo is plastered all over restaurant kitchens throughout the city. She also tells about her struggles to change the sorts of restaurants that the Times covers, including a hilarious recounting of her interview where she tried her hardest to be so outrageous that they wouldn't offer her the job. This book is a great read for anyone interested in food writing ... or any writing.
Katie_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me by a friend, and it remained in my 'To Read' stack before I finally picked it up. I really enjoy memoirs, and this fascinating insight into the life of well-known food critic did not disappoint. I'm a lover of fine dining and unique restaurants, and her writing really made the food leap off the page (or maybe it's just that I'm pregnant and ALL food sounds good??). Even sashimi and foie gras, two dishes that I don't particularly enjoy, sounded fantastic! Her quest to remain anonymous in NYC's many restaurants was extremely interesting, not only in her process to create disguises, but how these characters affected her personality and changed the way she was regarded. Reichl also included personal recipes, a nice addition, in every chapter, and there are a couple that I just might try. Garlic and Sapphires is a fun journey that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys food writing or memoirs in general.