Ruth Reichl | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ruth Reichl 

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Ruth Reichl made her name as a restaurant critic, but in her two best-selling memoirs, Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples, she proved herself a compelling storyteller as well. The latest (and allegedly final) installment in the trilogy, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise (Penguin), not only contains better actual food writing but is full of the vigorous prose that made the first two such page-turners. This volume, which ends with the beginning of her current tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet, covers Reichl's notorious adventures in the 1990s as lead restaurant critic for the New York Times. A good portion of the book details her use of a succession of disguises--including wigs, costumes, names, and complete backstories--to become a totally different person when she ate out. Anonymity was Reichl's best weapon in her ongoing struggle to keep the VIP treatment she got when recognized from obscuring the truth about a restaurant, and the ruse makes for interesting tension, especially as she begins to find her various personalities unmanageable. It also provides a good entry point for the average reader, who can easily identify with bad restaurant service. Garlic and Sapphires does share some problems with Reichl's previous books. The breathless sprints of storytelling sometimes don't go anywhere except around and around the track, for one. And at times her charming self-effacement verges on disingenuous: Who is this person who knows and continuously meets just the right interesting, amazing people (butchers, waiters, Wolfgang Puck, Hilly Amis, Shirley the wig lady)? And though she does, deliciously, dub Amanda Hesser "frighteningly ambitious," dirt on life at the Times is in relatively short supply. But hey, she's still gotta eat lunch in that town, right? Thu 4/21, 7 PM, Borders, 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564.

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