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

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  25,570 Ratings  ·  2,843 Reviews
Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and 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 se ...more
Paperback, 334 pages
Published March 28th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jubilation Lee
Garlic and Sapphires was recommended to me by an incredibly passionate eighth-grader, who plans to study cooking in college, and who assured me (while clutching his chest as though about to suffer a collapse) that this book would change my life with its GENIUS.



Okay, so no book is going to live up to that sort of recommendation, but I picked it up anyway because I’m a good librarian like that.

And also because if the amount of time I spend scrolling through Tumblr recipes is any indication, I lov
...more
Denise
Feb 08, 2008 Denise rated it it was amazing
Shelves: firstread, memoir
Reichl served as the New York Times food critic from 1993 to 1999, and this book is about her years as "The New York Times Food Critic" -- but it's also about her struggle to evade the identity of The New York Times Food Critic (tm) and get people an honest, egalitarian review of what, exactly, they're going to get out of their meal.

I vaguely remember bits and pieces of the controversy when Reichl took over the reins, but this book really blew the whole thing open. The problems she was facing we
...more
Jason Koivu
Mar 18, 2014 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
A bit more sapphire than garlic.

Ruth Reichl's book about her time as the New York Times food critic is mainly focused on her need to don disguises in order not to be recognized in the restaurants she was reviewing and how changing her appearance opened her eyes to how people are treated due to their physical appearance and projected personality. Therefore, foodies will find less about food in Garlic and Sapphires and more about fashion.

I was hoping for more about the food. I guess I neglected t
...more
Carol
Jun 27, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it
Some books languish on my TBR list forever it seems. It's really pleasing to pick up one of these and wonder why it took me so long to read. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secrete Life of A Critic In Disguise was published in 2005. It might have been a bit more relevant at that time but it's message about the love of good food, told with insight and humor is timeless.

I thoroughly enjoyed this peek into the life of a food critic. I had never read any of Reichl's columns when she was editor at The New
...more
Erica Verrillo
Oct 20, 2012 Erica Verrillo rated it did not like it
After reading Tender at the Bone, I was looking forward to more of Ruth Reichl. Garlic and Sapphires was not only a disappointment, it was as if a completely different person had written it. It is ironic that in a book about disguises, Reichl herself was unrecognizable. Far from the funny, sensitive, and sincere person she was in her first book, Reichl had transformed herself into a self-absorbed snob loaded with enough hypocrisy to sink a ship.

This book covers Reichl's stint as the New York Tim
...more
Sarah
Jul 25, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, food
Ruth Reichl should be required reading for anyone writing a memoir. She manages to shape plot and theme within her own life story. I think part of the trick is that she carves her life into bite-sized arcs, one journey per book. It helps that she is witty, observant, and one hell of a food writer.
This one is the story of her years at the New York Times, which happen to be the years after we no longer lived in the city but kept our subscription to the Times. Reichl's reviews were great for that g
...more
Eve
Aug 11, 2012 Eve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, read-2012
Ruth Reichl is back, and this time she's the new restaurant critic for the New York Times. Although the Times is famous for its all-business-no-play reputation, leave it to Ruthie to take her job to the next level...and have fun doing it!

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise chronicles Reichl's ten year stint with the Times, and her effort to bring good food to the masses. In order to do that, she decides to create alter egos a la Mrs. Doubtfire, to avoid red carpet trea
...more
Judy
Aug 15, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys a good meal or wonders what a food critic does
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise whetted my appetite to read more food memoirs. This book charmed me from the get-go. Whether Ruth Reichl donned the costume of aggressive Emily, beatnik Brenda, sexy Chloe, her mother or invisible Betty Jones, her accounting of her stint as food critic of the New York Times sizzled. Lest anyone think this is a cream puff of a book, it isn't. Reichl candidly discussed how she deceived herself about her reasons for becoming a food criti ...more
Amy
Jul 23, 2008 Amy rated it it was amazing
My favorite of Ruth Reichl's food memoirs. In this one she takes the job as restaurant critic for the New York Times. To avoid being recognized she creates disguises to use when she dines out. It is interesting to hear how people react to her as an old homely looking lady and then as herself when she visits the same restaurant again. I loved it and hope that she writes a new book in the future.
Raina
You may or may not assume this from looking at me, but I think a lot about what Erving Goffman calls "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life." I'm not saying I don't have my lazy moments, OR that I necessarily pay a lot of attention to fashion. But, like most things about the way I live my life, the way I dress and groom myself is methodical. Thought-through.

Maybe this is why I was hooked by the concept of this book. I mean, I like eating. Like eating in restaurants, in fact. But just the fa
...more
Sierra
Jun 21, 2007 Sierra rated it liked it
We're all nosy gossips at heart. This snappy account of Ruth Reichl's six years as The New York Times restaurant critic won't disappoint those looking for an insider's view of reviewing. Most of the book takes place in various swanky restaurants, but Reichl selects her most creative reviews and rarely wanders into Snobdom. After Reichl was pegged as the new critic for the Times on her flight to New York by the woman sitting next to her, she decided she would be needing some disguises. She create ...more
Book Concierge
Audio Book performed by Bernadette Dunne

Subtitle: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
Well, that’s a pretty good synopsis of this memoir of Reichl’s tenure as the restaurant critic for The New York Times in the 1990s.

I loved her stories of the various restaurants, from tiny noodle shops to elegant restaurants, where even the King of Spain is kept waiting at the bar. What I really appreciated about the book, however, was the “secret life” part – her own growth as a person. As Reichl tried on
...more
Sarah
Feb 12, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who has (or has thought of) eating in New York City
Living in Manhattan is incredibly expensive, but eating well in Manhattan isn't. That's the one thing I learned when I lived there in 1998.

When Reichl came to the New York Times as restaurant critic in the nineties, however, the paper was not known for reviewing the incredibly delicious (and incredibly affordable) ethnic restaurants that are thick upon the ground. For the Times, a four star restaurant was inevitably French, inevitably required reservations, and inevitably granted you superior se
...more
Ken-ichi
Oct 15, 2012 Ken-ichi rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ken-ichi by: Maggi
Shelves: food, memoirs
A couple of impressive things about this book:

1) It reads like a novel. I personally find it absurd when people try to make sense of their lives by fitting the totally random and haphazard things that befall us into some kind of narrative arc, but it makes for more compelling reading than an honest recounting, and not many people can do it as well as Reichl. From being ID'd on the plane to her first disguise to her inevitable subduction into her own duplicity and her epiphanic exit, it all seems
...more
Heather
Aug 30, 2007 Heather rated it it was ok
I'd never read her Times reviews, so this was my first time experiencing any of her writing. I looked forward to my subway rides while I was reading this, and I found myself almost blushing while reading some of her more Porn-ish reviews of food. I loved every bit of the food critic/ dressing up in disguise/ new york times culture stuff, but could have done without much of the personal crap about discovering herself through her characters and what a good mom she is. I'm sure she is a good mom, i ...more
 Carol ♔ Typo Queen! ♔
I write amateur reviews for an eating out site in New Zealand & the subject of professional critics came up on one of the chat forums. I mentioned that in a small country like NZ, I was sure that the reviewers were often "made" by the restaurants concerned & thus received preferential treatment - so often the critiques of us amateurs were of more value when choosing a place to dine. Another member of the site recommended this book & the efforts Reichl went to disguise herself, so she ...more
Summer
I really went back and forth on the rating for this. I like Ruth Reichl, I like what she's done with Gourmet, I like her non-elitist attitude, I like her food writing, and by all accounts, she's a genuinely nice person. But while she has a golden tongue for tasting, she has a wooden ear for dialogue. While her adventures in disguise have been confirmed by outside sources, they seem impossible to believe because her characterization is so wooden and awful. Heck, I almost questioned whether she ac ...more
April
Jan 03, 2016 April rated it liked it
I'm kind of torn between "I love this book!" and "What the fuck did I just read?"

"I love this book!"
* I liked the costumes/characters that Ruth used/created to disguise herself to get "real service" at some of NYC's best restaurants (because they'd have recognized her as herself - the NYT restaurant critic - and would've given her fantastic service, even if it weren't their normal M.O.).
* I liked how much Ruth "got into" her characters. We're talking character-study levels of playing the persona
...more
☮Karen
When I started listening to the audio book, I didn’t pay attention to who was the narrator; just that I liked her and that she was exactly what I would imagine Ruth Reichl to sound like. I was almost half way through when I saw that it was, in fact, Ruth Reichl. That was special. She truly knows her food and a million and one adjectives to describe food and her emotion-packed experiences with...food.

There were pros, and cons. She’s one of my favorite authors, but maybe I’m feeling Reichl overloa
...more
Lara Mckee
Aug 29, 2011 Lara Mckee rated it it was ok
This book was a new topic for me- I have never read a book about the life of a restaurant critic. I learned something new about The New York Times, restaurant critiquing, and upscale food (like foie gras). I tried but could not relate to the author or her lifestyle. Call me cheap but it was distressing for me to read about these high-priced meals she was repeatedly consuming. I did not enjoy the way she described food either. She was too passionate and her descriptions seemed ridiculous to me. I ...more
jess
Feb 22, 2010 jess rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook-d, 2010, food
I listened to this on audiobook. The version I got from the library was read by Bernadette Dunne. Apparently there is a version out there that is read by Ruth Reichl, which I bet is superior. Bernadette was, well, mostly adequate but she mispronounced geoduck. Since I live in Olympia, I think I'm required to be offended by that. For the record, it's gooey-duck not geo-duck. Okay, thanks.

This book is 1-part meditation on fame and pretentiousness, 1-part hilariously delicious food writing, 1-part
...more
Robyn
When I picked up this book, I actually said aloud "alright, you horrible woman, this is your last chance with me. This one had damn well better be an improvement on the last two."

The good news is that it is.
The bad news is that it's nothing I'm the slightest bit interested in.

My reviews of Reichl's first two memoirs are available for anyone who cares enough to go find them on my profile, I'll sum up here: Tender At The Bone = interesting and fun to read until Reichl goes to a Montreal boardin
...more
Mo
Oct 28, 2013 Mo rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
I really wish I had not read ‘Tender at the Bone’ prior to returning to ‘Garlic & Sapphires’. It ruined it for me. All I could hear in my head was the author’s same whiney voice.

I just finished reading 'Tender at the Bone' by Ruth Reichl last week, and I didn’t care for it. Let me correct myself… I should say I didn’t care for HER. I disliked the author as portrayed in her book. (see review Tender at the Bone) When 'Garlic and Sapphires' once again became available, I dutifully checked it o
...more
Kid
Nov 03, 2015 Kid rated it liked it
Perhaps in the stultifying context of NYT, food critics and privilege Reichl comes as a breath of fresh air . . .what she lacks is class. By class I mean the good grace to have actual humility - not the self-satisfied aww-shucks persona that feigns humility and self-doubt, but the real thing wherein you realize that you don't know shit and you're lucky to be celebrated in any context. Reichl takes pot shots at everyone and everything. . .people (editors, chefs, other diners, etc) emerge as caric ...more
Jeslyn
Jul 07, 2015 Jeslyn rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoy Reichl's writings - they are always layered so well, and this book was an interesting look at the life of a restaurant critic and often hilarious recounting of visits to the "chic" restaurants, but also an excellent insight into human interaction and perceptions. One of the highlights for me was her account of a tour of Brooklyn's food offerings with her friend Ed - oh, how I wish I could have that experience, it sounded wonderful!

I will admit that I was relieved to read in th
...more
Vivian
Ruth's account of being the restaurant reviewer for the New York Times is engaging from the very first sentence. Anyone who loves food is going to love this book. I mean, she has the gift for describing food in such a way that you want to stampede to said place and order a plate.

The challenge she has is being able to give a review of a place where she is recognized instantly and all stops are pulled to give her the best possible service and servings. Her solution? She goes in disguise.

Much of t
...more
Margaret
Reichl, a noted food critic, has written several books; this one is about her tenure as the New York Times food critic and the lengths to which she went to avoid being recognized at restaurants (so that the restaurants wouldn't cater specially to her and she could write a more fair review). Reichl pairs an account of each restaurant experience with the review she wrote for the Times, which was interesting as a comparison.

The food descriptions are marvelous and evocative; I loved how Reichl talk
...more
Nancy O'Toole
Sometimes all you need to make a great read is an interesting concept, explored well, and that's how Garlic and Sapphires succeeds. While on a flight to New York City, Ruth Reichl finds herself called out by a fellow passenger. This passenger knows who Ruth is, that she's destined to be the next food critic for the New York Times, and as a waitress, she's been told to look out for her to make sure that she has the best dining experience ever. Ruth is horrified. After all, how can she accurately ...more
Robyn Kiyomi
Jan 27, 2016 Robyn Kiyomi rated it really liked it
I wouldn't call myself a foodie per se, although I do love good food and trying new restaurants. (I mean, who doesn't?) I'm not a connoisseur of any one type of food and, being a whiskey & beer girl, I know next to nothing about wine, let alone pairing wine with dishes. But what I DO love is reading delectable descriptions of food from writers who have the discerning palate that I don't seem to possess along with the creative flair to translate those amazing meals to paper. (That and food po ...more
Grace
Mar 28, 2016 Grace rated it it was amazing
I wish Ruth Reichl had more books. I've read all of them and her writing is just beautiful. I don't think many people describe food or the experience alongside food, quite like her. This is a story of her life and her beginnings as the New York Times Food Editor. It has a lot of comedy to it too as she tries to disguise herself so the restaurants don't treat her differently (name, wigs and all!)
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Ruth Reichl is an American food writer, the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine and culinary editor for the Modern Library.
Born to parents Ernst and Miriam (née Brudno), she was raised in New York City and spent time at a boarding school in Montreal. She attended the University of Michigan, where she met her first husband, the artist Douglas Hollis. She graduated in 1970 with a M.A. in art history
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“When a person has lived generously and fought fiercely, she deserves more than sadness at the end.” 18 likes
“A thousand years ago the Chinese had an entirely codified kitchen while the French were still gnawing on bones. Chopsticks have been around since the fourth century B.C. Forks didn't show up in England until 1611, and even then they weren't meant for eating but just to hold the meat still while you hacked at it with your knife.” 9 likes
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