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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  37,583 ratings  ·  3,938 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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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Denise
Feb 08, 2008 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
Jun 28, 2012 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
Nov 26, 2013 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 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
Diane
Feb 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: food
This is a fun look at the life of a New York Times food critic.

When Ruth Reichl started the Times job in 1993, she was warned that a lot of restaurant owners in the city had already posted her picture, warning employees to be on the lookout for her. Ruth decided to get help from a theater friend to come up with various disguises so she could dine anonymously. "Garlic and Sapphires" is an enjoyable look at her years writing for the New York Times and of some of her memorable dining experiences d
...more
Madeleine (Top Shelf Text)
Prior to reading Garlic and Sapphires, I wouldn't have pegged myself as a fan of food writing. I love to eat and enjoy talking about food, but I just wasn't sure I wanted to read about other people eating. Well, I was wrong. When I went to pick up this book from the library, my librarian told me that it's one of her all-time favorites, and that she's constantly recommending it to patrons. I started reading as soon as I got home from the library that day, and I thoroughly enjoyed the reading expe ...more
Sarah
Sep 10, 2008 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
Helene Jeppesen
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a delicious surprise!!
Lisa
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
[3.4 stars] I enjoyed this book about Reichl's experience as a food critic for the New York Times. I particularly liked reading about the transformative process she went through to "become" various characters when she visited restaurants. This is not a memoir - Reichl sticks to writing about restaurants. After the half way point it does become repetitious. Too much rich food.
Amy
Jul 20, 2008 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.
Lyn
Nov 26, 2019 rated it liked it
This is really about 3.5 stars.

I don't like seafood and I don't eat meat, but I love food enough that I hung on every food description Reichl gave, even if it was something I wouldn't eat now (I grew up a meat eater). My automatic inclination was to really like the book, since I love good food and so does the author.

It warmed my heart that she disguised herself and saw that many of those in the restaurant business gave far lesser service to those who by their appearance do not seem wealthy or i
...more
Idarah
Dec 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ken-ichi
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Ken-ichi by: Maggi
Shelves: memoirs, food
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
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
Heather
Aug 30, 2007 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
Judy
Aug 08, 2011 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
Warning: Reading this book will make you hungry and give you weird cravings for foie gras and asparagus and maybe caviar. She just makes it sound so good.
This is an interesting and engaging look at one woman's experience as a food critic for the New York Times. She talks about the food she ate, disguises she used, and lessons she learned along the way. I found it funny, charming, and thought-provoking.
I would go 5-stars except that it has taken me 3 tries to get through this one. My first reac
...more
Sarah
Feb 08, 2008 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
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
Sterlingcindysu
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree.
The trilling wire in the blood
Sings below inveterate scars
Appeasing long forgotten wars.

This is part of a poem from T.S. Eliot and I'm not real sure why it's in here. At one meal Ruth is having with a couple who "bought" her at a charity auction, her husband is mad at her listing all the famous restaurants she's been and the famous chefs she knows as she competes with the "food warrior" who won the meal with her. Her husband says, "you lo
...more
Kari Ann Sweeney
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
This food memoir takes you behind the curtain to experience what it's like to be the Wizard of Oz, or in this case, the New York Times food critic in the 1990's. A position so fraught with expectations that the author (& critic) needed to assume disguises in order to objectively review restaurants.
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The way Reichl describes the food is mouthwateringly sublime. As I was reading it one Saturday afternoon I put the book down and hollered to my husband, "We're going out to dinner tonight."
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...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
Carly Friedman
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a memoir of Reichl's time as the New York Times food critic. She often had to wear disguises to restaurants during this period, so the book focuses on food, identity, restaurant culture, family, friendship, and careers. I thought this was an engaging, thoughtful, and thoroughly entertaining memoir. Can't wait to read more by her!
Stephanie (That's What She Read)
3.5

This was light on the food content and heavy on the costume/disguise stories. Which was fine, I was interested in the idea that Ruth Reichl, when she became the NYT food critic, was writing "for the people" and would base her rating on the idea that she was not getting special treatment. I didn't really see the point in getting into unpleasant characters. I felt that she took the schtick too far at times, I mean if it's getting to the point where you're going on a fake date and the guy doesn'
...more
jess
Feb 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, 2010, audiobook-d
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
Sierra
Jun 21, 2007 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
Laura
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audible, nonfiction
A little long but otherwise delightful.

Oh, how this book made me wish I could just put anything & everything into my mouth & swallow it. It makes gourmet dining sound like an adventure. Alas, that it not my lot in life. I wonder... Could I file this under Fantasy, then?

Even if you're not a foodie, hearing Reichl dish about the New York Times, famous chefs, famous restaurants, dinner companions, & NYC in the 90s is a treat.

And she shares recipes that just about anyone could follow.

Beyond that i
...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
TraceyL
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Ruth Reichl. I'm working my way through all of her books. I love hearing about her talking about food and life in New York City.

This book is an interesting look at restaurant culture in New York and how different customers at the same restaurant are treated very differently. When Reichl was a restaurant critic for the New York Times, she would eat at a restaurant as herself, and then go several times in disguise using a fake name and credit card. She talks about both experiences at each r
...more
aarya
This is fun! I love food memoirs and I love Ruth Reichl’s writing. Also, yay me for reading a sale purchase within two weeks of one-clicking it. Miracles really do happen.
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Novel People Of E...: December's book is "Garlic and Sapphires" 5 13 Feb 04, 2015 11:55AM  

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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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