Sunday, September 1, 2013

Garlic and Sapphires

Every restaurant is a theater, and the truly great ones allow us to indulge in the fantasy that we are rich and powerful. When restaurants hold up their end of the bargain, they give us the illusion of being surrounded by servants intent on ensuring our happiness and offering extraordinary food.  

But even modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from mundane reality; that is part of their charm. When you walk through the door, you are entering neutral territory where you are free to be whoever you choose for the duration of the meal.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

What an interesting book.  I now feel like I should be eating infinitely more fancy food, all the time.  (Though I confess that when I eat my very simple chicken tacos at home with my husband I feel like it's all I need, which might explain why we've had chicken tacos at least three nights a week for four weeks straight now.)

Ruth Reichl was hired as the food critic for The New York Times in the 1990s.  She moved her family across the country and settled in New York City where she dove right in.  This was a fascinating life for me to hear about: I had no idea that such people exist, frankly.  I mean, I assume that somewhere in my mind I realized that there were food critics and that they ate out a lot, but I didn't full understand that to give a fair review you probably needed to eat at the same place 3-5 times trying more than a half dozen dishes each time.  I thought I had a hearty appetite but I really respect someone who can sit at the same table eating the same meal for five hours straight.

Also, I don't drink alcohol so the wine aspect of this book was really fascinating to me.  I'm trying to think of a non-alcoholic similarity but I just can't seem to find one: seems like a very rich experience for so many.  It's really interesting for me to read about the sommeliers and the wine snobs and the depth and flavor of a good wine.

Aside from the wine, I really enjoyed simply getting a glimpse into such a different lifestyle from my own.  I have never tasted about 90% of what she wrote about (I had to ask TJ what foie gras was) and I am confident I'm incapable of naming every ingredient in the foods I eat.  Aside from being able to taste things in details (an odd combination in writing) she is a great writer.  Her food descriptions were gorgeous - I can see why she was given the job.  This short description of noodles gives you a taste of her writing:

I was not prepared for the feel of the noodles in my mouth, or the purity of the taste. I had been in Japan for almost a month, but I had never experiences anything like this. The noodles quivered as if they were alive, and leapt into my mouth where they vibrated as if playing inaudible music.

One thing I really appreciated was the clean language...until about halfway through when there were three instances of the f word on one page.  I sure wish that would have been left out!  There were a couple other swear words so if you're a sensitive reader (as I consider myself to be) beware.  You could certainly skip that page without missing a beat, which makes me think I should've grabbed the page number before returning it.  Sorry about that.

If you're looking for a look at a different lifestyle (assuming you're not already a food critic) this is a fun read. 

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