Ready to be hungry?
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl was the food critic at the LA Times in the mid-90′s, when she got called up to the big leagues, the venerable, and undoubtably stuffy NY Times. She quickly realized that in order to not get star treatment at every big NYC restaurant, she’d have to pull out some pretty tricky disguises. The stories of how she’s treated as a rich divorcee, a nondescript older woman and a tourist are certainly interesting, but where this book really shines is in her description of food. Good Lord. Reichl obviously loves food, and not just the French/Italian stuff that the NY Times likes to review. She reviews everything from Korean noodle shops to the fanciest steakhouses. I practically salivated after reading her succulent, dripping with detail descriptions. Since I tend to read until I fall asleep, I started dreaming of food. This is not good for the girl who is still on a diet.
I started craving the food she describes so badly I checked Yelp to see if the restaurants are still open. Many of them are! I see a NYC trip coming up…well, a NYC trip where I end up doing unspeakable things so I can afford to eat at these restaurants.
Here’s a couple excerpts so you can feel my pain:
“It was an extraordinary sensation, the brittle snap of the seaweed wrapper giving way to the easy warmth of the rice and then the crunch of the yama imo, which almost instantly turned into something smooth and sexy. Meanwhile the flavors were doing somersaults in my mouth: the salt of the plum, the sharp of the vinegar, and the feral flavor of the herb.
‘Umami,‘ the waitress whispered in my ear. Again she had glided silently up.
‘Excuse me?’ I asked.
‘Umami,’ she said again. “It is the Japanese taste that cannot be described. It is when something is exactly right for the moment. Mr Uezu,’ she continued proudly, ‘knows umami.’”
About (the now closed) Union Pacific Restaurant:
“The fish, poached in goose fat, had absorbed the taste of the bird. It was a sensation both dizzying and exciting, as if you were flying and swimming at the same time. Chicken had also been transformed, slowly poached in a lemon-strewn bath until it lost its barnyard character. Torn into long strips, it was barely meat, just all soft tenderness, a vehicle for conveying spice and citrus and the plump flavor of the summer truffle puree upon which it was perched.”
Now, please excuse me while I go raid my fridge.