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Excerpt from Ruth Reichl's "Garlic and Sapphires"

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As a treat before the eG Spotlight Conversation with Ruth Reichl on Monday, November 28, we present an excerpt from her newest memoir.

Garlic and Sapphires

The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

Chapter 12: Food Warrior


First there was the phone call. I was sitting on the floor, playing a math game Nicky had brought home from school, so relaxed that when the aggressive voice blared, I was surprised into holding the receiver away from my ear.

“Page Six?” I shouted back, bewildered. “The New York Post? Who?”

“Bryan Miller,” said the voice. It was a woman. “Are you aware that he has been sending scathing letters about you to your bosses?”

“Excuse me?" I shook myself, trying to get into the right frame of mind. “Letters?”

“Yes,” said the voice, “he’s been writing them for years. Have you seen them?”


“Have you heard about them?”

“No,” I said again, before I thought of a question of my own: “How did you get my number?”

“We’re Page Six,” said the woman, as if the answer were obvious. “So you don’t know anything about these letters?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t.”

“Let me read one to you,” she said. “I’d like to get your comments.”

“No thank you.” I had finally come to my senses. “I don’t want to hear it. And please don’t call again.” Then I did what I should have done the instant I heard that New York’s best-read gossip column was on the line. I hung up.

I immediately called Carol. “Do you know anything about Bryan’s letters?” I asked. The awkward pause was so eloquent that, even through the phone, I could sense the blood draining from her face. “How long has this been going on?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“A long time,” she said in a whisper. “They’re really nasty. What good would telling you have done? Would you have wanted to


Would I? I wasn’t sure. “Anyway,” Carol, continued, “I tried to warn you. Don’t you remember?”

I had a vague memory of Carol, before I really knew her, telling me to watch out for Bryan. Thinking hard, I was able to conjure up Carol saying that the former critic was bitter about giving up the job. “Watch your back,” I remembered her saying, but I had thought she was speaking in a general way. Not once had it occurred to me that the warning was concrete. “Are there a lot of letters?’ I asked now.

“A few.” She was clearly uncomfortable.

“What do they say?”

“I’m sure you can figure that out. Basically that you’ve destroyed all his wonderful work and they should do something about it. “

“What?” I asked.

“I think,” she said dryly, “the implication is that the something they should do is get rid of you.”

“And bring him back?”

“He never said that. At least not in any letter I saw. But I haven’t seen them all. I’ve just seen the ones they sent upstairs. There are probably more. Why don’t you ask Warren?”

“He’s in London,” I said, reminding her that Warren Hoge was now London bureau chief. Depending on how much you liked him, Warren had been moved either because he was a good writer or because he was a bad manager, but whatever the reason, he was now on the far side of the ocean.

“They have phones in England,” she said.

I looked at my watch. It was late afternoon. “What’s the time difference?” I said.

Call him,” she said.

Warren picked up on the first ring. In a voice hoarse with fatigue, he said he’d just filed a story about six IRA terrorists who had been captured with ten tons of explosives. One of the Irishmen was dead.

Compared to Semtex my own concerns seemed silly, and I was sorry that I’d called. I hedged, asking about the bombing, reluctant to say that I wanted to ask about Bryan’s letters. But he already knew.

“Page Six called me too,” he said. “You have nothing to worry about.”

“But why didn’t you tell me about them?” I cried.

“You were new to the job,” he said. “When the letters first came, we discussed whether to tell you or not. In the end we decided that it would not be useful knowledge.”

“Were there others?’ I asked. “From other people?”

“Of course there were,” he said. “That happens when we get new critics. We expected it. But I didn’t think you needed that kind of pressure. We all thought you were doing a good job, and that’s what I told the people who wrote.”

“Thank you.” And then, because I didn’t know what else to say, I said weakly, “Good night. Stay safe.”

I put down the phone and sat down on the floor. “Are you okay, Mommy?” asked Nicky, stroking my hand.

“Yes, sweetie,” I said, “I’m fine.”

“Are you going out to dinner tonight?” he asked.

“No,” I said, suddenly making up my mind. “No, I’m not going out to dinner tonight. I’m going to cancel my plans and have dinner with you.”

“Yay!” he shouted. And then, “Can we have whatever I want?”

I nodded, knowing what was coming next. At the age of two my son had developed a passion for matzo brei, and for at least a year he ate it every night. He could not pronounce the words, so he gave it his own name. In our house “manna” was the ubiquitous comfort food, and now, with the unerring instinct of a child, he had zeroed in on exactly what I wanted. If ever there was a "manna" moment, this was it.

We went into the kitchen, and Nicky dragged a chair to the counter and climbed up. I got out the colander and handed him the box of matzos. With ceremonial solemnity, my son slowly broke the cracker into little pieces. With equal seriousness he ran water over them until they were damp, drained them, and put them into a bowl. Then, very carefully, he broke a couple of eggs into the matzos and gently mixed them with a fork. “See,” he said, “each matzo has some of the egg.” He held out the bowl for me to inspect.

I threw a lump of butter into a pan, and then threw in a little more. This was no time for restraint. Nicky slid over until he was next to the stove and picked up a long wooden spoon. “I can smell when it’s time to put in the matzos,” he said, sniffing the air. “Now!” I picked up the bowl and upended it over the pan. As Nicky stirred, the fine smell of butter and eggs slowly filled the kitchen.

Michael was still at the office, working on one of his more cheerful pieces; he had found an obscure rabbi in Brooklyn who seemed to be raising money for the man who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. It was just as well, I thought, that he wasn’t home; his conversation was now peppered with references to the Yigal Amir defense fund, which was not exactly soothing. I set the table for two and got out the good silver and my Aunt Birdie’s gold-rimmed plates. I put candles into my grandmother’s silver candlesticks and together Nicky and I lit them. I poured myself a glass of wine and filled Nicky’s glass with orange juice. Solemnly we clinked them together.

“I wish,” said Nicky wistfully as we ate our manna, “that we could have dinner together every night.”

“Me too, sweetie.”

Excerpted from Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Reprinted by

arrangement with The Penguin Press. Copyright © Ruth Reichl, 2005.

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The next morning I read Warren’s story. It was straight out of the movies—a sleeper IRA cell building bombs in a sleepy West London neighborhood. It was a good story, and Warren had written it well. Still, after I dropped Nicky at school I couldn’t keep myself from stopping at a newsstand to buy the Post. Opening it up I read, blazoned across the top of Page Six in giant type, “War of the Times’ Dining Divas.”

It was juicy stuff. Bryan said that I had “destroyed the system that Craig, Mimi and I upheld.” He claimed that people came up to him every day to tell him that they didn’t read the restaurant reviews anymore because they were “irrelevant and trite.” He claimed that, thanks to me, the Times was losing its clout, and that “it gets worse every day.”

“It’s just a lot of blah blah blah,” I told Carol when I got to the office.

“Maybe,” she said, “but people are eating it up. Good thing you didn’t comment; anything you said would have sounded defensive. They’ll call again, but no matter what dirt they throw at you, keep your mouth shut. Anything you say, they’ll twist.”

“Bryan talked to them,” I pointed out. “When they called him he actually had the balls to admit that he’d written the letters. I sort of admire him for that.”

“Who do you think sent them the letters?” she asked.

“It could have been anyone,” I said. “What difference does it make who it was? At least Warren stood up for me.” Warren, the Post reported, had said that Bryan was “dead wrong.”

“I guess you’ll find out how sincere that is,” said Carol.

“Meaning?” I asked.

“Weren’t you supposed to have lunch with Montorio today?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“If he cancels, you’ll know you’re in trouble.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Where are you going?”

“La Caravelle,” I said.

“If he’s still willing to go,” she said, “you’re fine. It’s so public, and he’s so political. He’d never be seen there with someone who was about to lose their job.”

All morning I waited for the call saying that John was canceling lunch, but it never came. In fact, as we made our way to the restaurant he never even mentioned Page Six. But I could feel his muscles tighten when we walked in and every eye looked up to survey us. The proprietor, a sweet-faced little man who always reminded me of a Shetland pony, came trotting forward to welcome John, and the room went still as he led us down the lane of pink banquettes to our table. In that adorable jewel box of a room, I had a sudden vision of the scene in the movie when Gigi walks into Maxim’s and the frame freezes. Then she smiles and moves forward and the action continues. Monsieur Jammet pulled out the table, John and I sat down, and the noise in the restaurant rose again until we were all snugly wrapped in a cozy cocoon of sound.

Notes: La Caravelle, 9/24/1996, lunch with John Montorio

It's a great place to talk, simultaneously public and private. Sitting side by side on the banquettes is like being on stage; everyone eyes everyone else, avid for drama. It’s exciting. On the other hand, I have to crane my neck to see him, and by the end of the meal I feel like a crippled goose.

The prix fixe lunch, $36, turns out to be a good deal if you don't drink. We don’t. With plain water the meal ends up costing about $100 for the two of us, with tip.

John starts with the foie gras and apples. It's fabulous. (Try to find out where Renaud gets his foie gras. It seems creamier, richer than the Hudson Valley stuff.) He’s crisped it so that the outside becomes a crust and when you bite through it the interior comes rushing into your mouth with the silky urgency of marrow. The apples are a great contrast, both sweet and acid, but unlike the foie they resist the teeth. Lovely!

I start with the quenelles de brochet, because I feel like being self-indulgent and I love them so. Very few restaurants still make these ethereal dumplings, a marriage of air and ocean, and even fewer do them right. But as far as I can tell they’ve been floating out of Caravelle’s kitchen since Joe Kennedy used to come here with his cronies, and they never seem to change. They’re a ridiculous first course—so big, so rich, so sure to make the next dish a disappointment—but I can never resist them. Imagine how magical they must have seemed before the invention of the food processor. I take a bite and the softness surrounds my mouth with the taste of lobster, of fish, of butter and then it just dissolves, disappears, leaving nothing but the memory in my mouth. And I take another bite, and another, and suddenly I’m floating on the flavor, and the world has vanished.

“You look different,” John says after the third bite, and I realize that the magic has kicked in, and I am peacefully suspended on clouds of quenelle. It is such a lovely sensation.

Unfortunately I come thudding back to earth with the vegetable ravioli. When I order the dish the captain makes it clear that this is not a good idea. It is brilliantly done; he doesn’t utter a sound, but his face goes oddly grim and his shoulders slump and all the smiling enthusiasm John got when he ordered the leg of veal disappears. I choose to ignore the warning and he’s so unhappy that he finally says, his French accent very strong, “It’s all vegetables, unh?” in a tone that makes his low opinion of vegetables very clear. And I say, stupidly, “But I like vegetables.” He shrugs with the air of a man who has done his best.

Still, he can’t help himself, and when I order the tomate confite for dessert he cries, “Wouldn’t you like a nice soufflé instead?” Once again I stupidly ignore this, so I guess I deserve the dreadful gingered tomato thing on a bed of fennel, with a tasteless quince sorbet on top, decorated with julienne of basil. It tastes so remarkably like the vegetable ravioli that if they had switched dishes I probably wouldn’t have noticed. John, wisely, sticks to sorbets: cassis (refreshing), coconut (too sweet) and pear (perfect).

Do they know me? Probably; the service is too good. I suddenly remember Joe Baum telling me, years ago when I interviewed him as he was opening the Rainbow Room, that he always gave his stuff instructions on how to behave when a critic was in the restaurant. The main point, he said, was to make sure that the service on either side was perfect. I look right, and sure enough the captain is hovering over a white-haired woman wearing pink Chanel and wreathed in clouds of gardenia, saying, “Yes, madame, the duck is very crisp. And yes, madame, of course we’d be happy to cook a duck and serve you just a half of it. I’ll eat the other half myself.” (Here he laughs heartily and her rubies twinkle with gratitude.) On my left he interrupts the two gentlemen of a certain age, engrossed in fifty-year-old tales of the publishing business, to suggest that they might prefer a plate of cold asparagus to a plain green salad. They do. The asparagus is beautiful—very fat, very green. The man sighs as he eats it, and says something about his grandfather’s gardener. As far as I can tell, a swell time is being had by all.

Even us. At our table John is going out of his way to make me feel appreciated. He never mentions the Bryan thing, but he’s very sweet and personal, clearly trying to make me feel I’m part of the Times family. As he forks up slices of veal—rosy, tender—and spaghetti squash mixed with zucchini – nice, but what’s it doing here?—he even tells me that he dreamt about Michael last night. The two of them were riding around on giant bumblebees shooting at their enemies with machine guns. “Rat-a-tat-tat, boom!” he says, aiming straight at the Chanel gardenia woman. She jumps. He couldn’t possibly have made that up. Or could he? The implications are so obvious.

Outside John asks, “Do you think they knew you?” And I say that I think they might have, and that Brenda is going to have to take over from here. He says, very wistfully, that he’d love to come along sometime when I’m in disguise. I say sure. I’m lying; there’s no way he’s ever going to meet Brenda.”

As I finished writing the notes Page Six called again, saying that Mimi Sheraton wanted no part of Bryan’s fight. Did I want to comment about that. I was tempted. But I remembered what Carol had said. As soon as I put the phone down it rang again. I picked it up and shouted, “I told you I don’t want to talk to you.”

“You haven’t told me anything,” said a whiny male voice. “We’ve never spoken before.”

“Who is this?” I asked.

“David Shapiro,” said the whiner, “and you belong to me.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“You’re mine,” he said. He laughed loudly, a big horsey ha ha, to show that he was joking. “Last night I outbid everyone else at the hospital fund-raiser and won dinner with the restaurant critic of the New York Times.”

“I see you didn’t lose any time in making your claim,” I said. It was usually months before I heard from the people who bought dinner with me; often I never heard from them at all.

“Why wait?” he replied, “I’d like to make some plans with you.”

I suggested dinner at Ici. He said he’d never heard of it.

“It’s good,” I assured him. “I’ve been three times. The name’s a play on the initials of Eric Clapton, who’s one of the owners. They’ve got a talented young French chef, and I’ve been impressed with his cooking.”

“I paid an awful lot for this dinner,” he said morosely. When I did not answer he continued, “I intend to get my money’s worth.”

“I see,” I said.

“The terms of this deal,” he said, “were that the dinner was to be in a restaurant that was mutually agreeable. And to that I don’t agree.”

“How about Candela?” I suggested.

“Never heard of that either,” he said.

“Of course you haven’t,” I replied. “It’s new. “

“I paid thousands,” he said. “I think I deserve a restaurant I’ve heard of. Maybe Daniel?”

“I’m not working on Daniel,” I said.

In the next five minutes he listed the most expensive restaurants in New York in descending order. Disappointed that none of them had a place on my agenda, he suddenly recalled an appointment. I would, he said, be hearing from him again. Of that I had no doubt.

In less than twenty-four hours Mr. Shapiro was back on the line. I groaned inwardly when I heard his voice; I hadn’t even met the man and already he irked me beyond all sensibility. I wondered if I had the same effect on him? From his tone it seemed likely. In an aggrieved voice he told me that he had now done due diligence and was prepared to offer me a list of restaurants that he considered acceptable.

“Look,” I said, exasperated, “you did not buy a night on the town at the restaurant of your choice. You bought a research dinner with the New York Times. Most people are happy to go anywhere I choose.”

“Most people,” said Mr. Shapiro, “don’t know much about food and wine. I, however, am a food warrior. I have spent years studying gastronomy. And oenology; my cellar is excellent. I’d bet it’s better than yours.”

I refrained from telling him how easily he would win that bet.

“And,” he continued, “I’ll want to drink some very good wines. After all, I paid plenty for this dinner.”

“Oh please!” I cried. “You didn’t pay a penny! You’re going to claim it as a gift to charity and get a big fat tax deduction. The hospital gets your money. And what do I get out of this deal? Dinner with you.” I put my hand to my mouth, terrified that the words had actually escaped from my mouth. But all Mr. Shapiro heard was, “I think you’ve mentioned that before.”

If I had an ounce of sense I would take Mr. Shapiro to Daniel or Lespinasse or Le Cirque and get the dinner behind me. But if I was doomed to loathe every minute of this meal, I was damned if the food warrior was going to enjoy it.

So we spent weeks in negotiations. He suggested Les Célébrités, I countered with Circa. He suggested Chanterelle, I offered Solera. When he brought up La Caravelle, I was happy to tell him he was too late: the review would appear the following day.

“Would you like to go to Michael’s?” I asked, thinking that might please him.

“No,” he replied, “I would not.”

“Well, how about Windows on the World?” Brenda had been there five times, sliding in and out utterly undetected, but I needed to make one last visit. According to my notes the whole foie gras, served for three, was too sweet, too rich, and came with leaden potato pancakes. I had tried the squab cooked in salt (“in the manner of Barcelona”) and found it salty, and the duck with kumquats was tough and lacking in flavor. I wanted to give them each another chance, and on this last visit it wouldn’t matter if I went as myself. To my surprise Mr. Shapiro said yes. “I didn’t think Windows on the World would be up to your standards,” I said.

“It’s not,” he replied, “but they have an excellent wine list. “

Excerpted from Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Reprinted by

arrangement with The Penguin Press. Copyright © Ruth Reichl, 2005.

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“This is going to be the most miserable evening we’ve ever spent in a restaurant,” I told Michael as our taxi barreled down the West Side Highway toward the World Trade Center. ”That jerk is going to spend the entire meal trying to prove that he knows more than I do. And please, do me a favor: don’t mention Yigal Amir, okay?”

“I won’t talk at all,” said Michael. “Will that make you happy?”

“No,” I said. “Just try to be bland.”

“Kiddo,” he said, “I think you married the wrong guy.”

“Try,” I said. “Please. Because Mr. Shapiro’s going to hate Windows. It used to have a certain dignity, but the new design makes it feel like an airport lounge. You’ll see; when you get off the elevator you’re facing a tacky beaded curtain, and when you get past that you find a shop selling teddy bears. The plates are shaped like the stars and the moon, and the waiters wear light green suits. You keep expecting to look up and find Bill Murray breaking into song. Poor Mr. Shapiro. “

“I bet he’ll want to leave early,” said Michael.

“I’m counting on it,” I replied.

How badly we had misjudged him.

The lobby at One World Trade Center was bright and cold, and after we had walked through the double doors, a uniformed man directed us to a desk where we were told, politely but firmly, to leave our coats.

“They want to make sure we aren’t carrying explosives,” said Michael, shrugging out of his coat. “After the bombing, they’re taking no chances.”

“Really?” I asked.

“It’s a lot less offensive than frisking you,” he said. “Watch. I bet they won’t let anyone carry a briefcase onto the elevator.”

He was right. The ride up, always a shock, seemed even longer than usual, and as usual, somewhere around the eightieth floor, my ears popped, leaving me slightly deaf. Then the doors slid open.

“Uh-oh,” said Michael in a low, flat voice. I stepped out and looked around. Standing in front of the elevator were two small people who, even in the dim light of the hallway, reminded me of angry ferrets.

“Mr. Shapiro?” I asked, holding out my hand.

He ignored it and looked pointedly at his Rolex. “Six and a half minutes past seven,” he said. He tugged at the little woman, then pushed her toward me. Her blonde pageboy did not waver. “Meet Sherry,” he said, “my wife.” With that he spun around and marched toward the dining room. The acrid, slightly sweet hotel smell of Sterno, of burning alcohol and too many meals being cooked at the same time, grew stronger as we approached our goal.

At the end of the corridor, just before you reached the dining room, a full-length window opened up to the view. In the dozens of visits I made to Windows on the World over the years, I never grew accustomed to that particular vantage point, and I always found myself standing for a few seconds, pressed against the window, staring down. Higher than a skyscraper, lower than an airplane, it made New York seem unreal, an imaginary city spread at your feet.

Mr. Shapiro was unimpressed. He marched on, eager for the eating portion of the evening to begin. I’d asked him to make the reservation in his own name, and he intoned “Shapiro, party of four,” in a masterful voice. But as the maître d' led us west, toward the Hudson River, still shining in the fading light, Mr. Shapiro began shaking his head. He pointed across the dining room. “There,” he said, “is where we want to sit.” The maître d’ obligingly executed an about-face and began leading us in the other direction. The East River came into view, but Mr. Shapiro was not satisfied. He shook his head again. “Window seat,” he said, thumping one fist against the other. “We must have a seat at the window. We want to be smack up against the view.”

“Let me see what I can do,” said the maître d’, escaping to his desk. “Tables,” Mr. Shapiro explained as we waited, “are like hotel rooms; never take the first one that they offer. They always try to find some dummy willing to accept the worst seat. Someone’s got to sit at the bad tables, and I don’t care who it is so long as it’s not me. It’s very important to demand the best from the outset.”

The rest of us were silent.

“But of course you knew that,” he added.

I did not bother to point out that in my continuing effort to avoid detection I always took the first table I was offered. We were led from table to table and Mr. Shapiro rejected them all. When he was finally satisfied, he gave a cursory glance out the window, grunted, “Restaurants with views are never very good,” and disappeared into the wine list. He fumbled in his pocket and extracted a small calculator.

“My wine computer,” he said proudly. “I never travel without it. I find it indispensable for sniffing out the best bargains.”

“Sounds time-consuming,” I said.

“Oh,” he said breezily, “we’re in no hurry. I make it my practice to always be the last person to leave a restaurant.”

“But that could be hours!” I protested, looking at my watch.

“No problem,” he said complacently. “At least not for me.” And then he dove back into the wine list.

The waiter arrived wearing a small, worried frown; he had obviously been warned about us. “Is this a special occasion?” he asked cheerily. His deep Georgia accent drew out the word "special," twisting and turning it until it sounded like a sentence all its own. “Can we sing to you? Happy birthday, happy anniversary, anything?”

Mr. Shapiro did not lower the wine list. But through it he growled, “No songs!” And then, “Sommelier!”

“Pardon me?” said the waiter.

“Sommelier,” said Mr. Shapiro. “The sommelier. The wine man. I’d like you to get him.”

“First,” said the waiter, standing his ground, “you’ll want to hear our specials.” Once again the word did pirouettes. He began a recitation of the restaurant’s proudest dishes: the entire foie gras, served for two (did I sense Mr. Shapiro’s ears pricking up behind that list?), scallops speared with sugarcane, a lobster salad that was really special (the word again). He recommended the “elegant and sumptuous seafood fiesta.” Mr. Shapiro remained submerged in the world of wine. When the waiter finally wound down, he surfaced and repeated “Sommelier!” in urgent tones.

I looked up at the waiter. “Why don’t you give us a chance to think about the menu?” I suggested. “We’ll have to coordinate the wine with the food.”

“Yes ma’am, thank you, ma’am,” he said gratefully. “I’ll just go get your ahmusey while you decide.”

“That would be our amuse,” intoned Mr. Shapiro, from inside the list. “Short for amusebouche, which means to entertain the mouth. “ He did not lower the wine list, so he had no way of knowing that our waiter was no longer there to be edified by this information.

“Do you like wine too?” Michael asked Mrs. Shapiro in what seemed like a kindly manner. She had yet to utter anything other than hello.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I just drink what Davey tells me to.”

“Do you eat on command too,” he asked. I kicked him under the table.

“To be honest,” she said, “I’m almost always on a diet, so I just taste. It’s the boys who take after Davey.”

“Boys?” asked Michael. “You have children?”

“Two,” said Mr. Shapiro, finally lowering the list. “When they turn eighteen I give them a three-star tour of France. A whole month, just the two of us, eating in at least one three-star restaurant every day. Bobby and I went this summer.”

“What a treat that must have been for him!” said Michael. I kicked him again under the table, struggling to keep my face straight, wondering if there was an eighteen-year-old on earth who could enjoy being cooped up with his father for a month of fancy meals.

“Bobby said it was the best trip he’d ever taken!” Mrs. Shapiro assured us solemnly. She sounded sincere. “We feel it’s an excellent education.”

“I want my boys to be cultivated,” said Mr. Shapiro, taking over. “I want to pass on my knowledge. It’s taken me years to become a true food warrior.”

Beneath the table Michael’s leg connected with mine and I understood that this was a plea not to ask Mr. Shapiro to elucidate the wisdom of the food warrior. But it was too tempting, and I was about to risk it when Mr. Shapiro’s happy voice cried, “Here’s the sommelier!” And then, in a less joyful tone, “And he’s so young!”

And, I thought, so cute. He could not have been more than twenty-five, with a shock of shiny black hair falling into his eyes, very red lips, and very long lashes. His face was full of fun and his lanky body seemed to be half rubber. A taste-vin hung around his neck.

“Have you seen something that interests you?” he asked, fingering the chain.

“I was thinking of starting with this Stony Hill Chardonnay,” said Mr. Shapiro.

“Ah, a connoisseur,” said the sommelier. “You zeroed right in on one of our treasures. So few people know those great Stony Hills.”

“I’m a bit worried about its age,” said Mr. Shapiro. “An ‘85 seems rather old for an American Chardonnay.”

“Those Stony Hills don’t begin to come into their own for at least ten years,” murmured the sommelier. “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.” It was not lost on me that Mr. Shapiro had zeroed right in on one of the list’s pricier whites. “And after that?” queried the sommelier.

“A Burgundy, I think. Which ones do you favor at the moment?”

The favored wine, it seemed, was the '89 Clos de Vougeot. This was fine with Mr. Shapiro, who began quizzing the sommelier about the vineyard, clearly trying to trip him up. Failing to do this, he began holding forth about his own recent visit to the Clos and some of the astute purchases he had made on that occasion. The sommelier put on a face as admiring as that of a southern belle charming a man on their first date.

They progressed to Bordeaux. When they had agreed on an ’82 Léoville Poyferré, Mr. Shapiro asked, “Will you decant it?”

“Of course,” said the sommelier reverently. “The '82s are magnificent, but still a little young.”

“I’m glad you don’t buy the argument that wines get all the air they need in the glass.”

“Ridiculous notion!” said the sommelier. I looked up, caught his eye, and realized that if Mr. Shapiro had fallen into the do-not-decant school of wine, our young man would have agreed with equal alacrity.

By now they were discussing sweet wines, and Michael’s leg was jiggling beneath the table with furious impatience. Unfortunately, as soon as the sommelier moved off the waiter moved in, and the food warrior leaped into the next negotiation. By the time the ordering was over, we had been at the table for more than an hour. No bread had arrived, but we had been served the ahmusey: rillettes of pork on a little piece of toast, with bell pepper oil on top. Mr. Shapiro took one bite and instantly set it aside.

“Delicious,” said Michael, demolishing the tidbit.

Mrs. Shapiro eyed her rillettes longingly. The toast began moving toward her mouth. Across the table Mr. Shapiro vigorously began shaking his head and did not stop until his wife’s hand stopped in midair and then reversed its motion. She replaced the toast on her plate and held it out to Michael. “Want mine?” she asked sadly.

Michael picked it up. “Thanks,” he said. Mrs. Shapiro’s eyes never left his mouth as he swallowed the tidbit in a single gulp. An awkward silence fell over the table.

“So,” said Michael cheerfully, doing his part, “David, what business are you in?”

“Education,” Mr. Shapiro said shortly.

“Oh, a teacher.”

“Not exactly,” said Mr. Shapiro. “I’m a businessman. I manufacture educational equipment. Desks, blackboards, that kind of stuff. Most people have no idea how much profit there can be in schools.”

I winced. We were heading for a cliff, and it was up to me to change the topic, quickly, before Michael gleefully elicited all the sordid details. “I guess,” I said, trying to turn the wheel of this conversational vehicle, “those blackboards must buy you a lot of wonderful meals.”

“Exactly!” said David Shapiro. “All those blackboards allow me to live the life of a food warrior.”

We were still in dangerous territory. “What was the best meal you had on the trip with Bobby?” I asked, desperately trying again.

That did it. Mr. Shapiro now offered detailed descriptions of dinners devoured in the far corners of France. One by one the stars came out, and he polished each one in his collection.

“Robuchon,” he said, “you’ve been there?”

“Amazing,” I replied. “My friend Patricia Wells, who wrote his cookbook, made our reservation, so of course we had exceptional food. It was the only time in my life that I have eaten food of such technical complexity that I could not figure out how it had been made.”

“Exactly!” he said.

Michael and Sherry were both silent.

“And Ducasse?” he asked.

“Oh, I love his food,” I said. “I spent a few days interviewing him when he was in Los Angeles. Such an interesting man! It was a long time ago, and he was very concerned that the Japanese were stealing everything from the French. He thought there should be a quota on Japanese cooks in French kitchens. But I imagine he’s changed his tune.”

“He’s a master,” said Mr. Shapiro. “But did you ever meet Alain Chapel?” I told him about translating for the great chef, years ago, when he was cooking at Mondavi, and how we had scoured the countryside for the cock’s combs he needed for his meal. Mr. Shapiro seemed impressed. He mentioned the Auberge de l’Ill and I told about the time I’d gone there with Paula Wolfert and Jim Villas. Next he described the great meal he had eaten at L'Espérance, and I described the way Marc Meneau had fed me and my friend David everything on the menu in one glorious and terrible five-hour meal. “Some people think Meneau is no longer as great as he once was,” said Mr. Shapiro.

“Some people,” I said, “are wrong.”

He agreed and we continued on our journey, working our way south. Before long he was regretting the downhill trajectory of Roger Verge, and I was bragging about the time I’d spent in his kitchen.

“Are you in pain?” Mr. Shapiro asked suddenly.

I turned to look at Michael, who was holding the side of his face. “Wouldn’t you be if you were dining with you?” he muttered under his breath.

“I beg your pardon?’ said Mr. Shapiro.

“Yes,” said Michael, “my teeth hurt. I had oral surgery this morning and I guess the pain killers are wearing off.”

This was a complete fabrication. “Traitor!” I whispered. Michael did not even flinch.

“If you don’t mind,” he said softly, “I think I had better go home now.”

“Warm water and salt,” said Mr. Shapiro. “That’s what you need.”

“Yes,” said Michael. “And, I think, a couple of sleeping pills.”

And with that he escaped into the night.

Mr. Shapiro had not exaggerated when he said that he made it his practice to close restaurants. We worked our way through the whole foie gras, which was still too rich, and the pancakes, which were still too heavy. Mr. Shapiro gamely ate the squab cooked in salt. His wife and I shared the duck with kumquats, and then we went on to dessert. By then Mr. Shapiro and the sommelier were on a first-name basis. We had an ’83 Rieussec, which was maderized, so we went on to an ’85 followed by a Sémillon from Chalk Hill gloriously infected with noble rot. It was past 1 a.m. when the last guests departed, and Mr. Shapiro refused to even consider leaving before they did. When we finally rose from the table, we had been sitting for six hours and I was so stiff I could barely walk.

“The night is still young,” said Mr. Shapiro.

“Not for me,” I said, wondering what else the Food Warrior could possibly want.

We rode the elevator down in stomach-tumbling silence, and when the doors opened I fled into the echoing lobby, heading for the coat check.

“Ruth!” cried a voice behind me. Turning, I found Daniel Johnnes, author, winemaker, and wine director of restaurants like Montrachet and Nobu, waving wildly at me.

“Daniel!” said Mr. Shapiro, moving in front of me and holding out his hand.

“Yes?’ said Daniel with a distantly polite do-I-know-you look. He accepted Mr. Shapiro’s hand, but he did so gingerly.

“I met you at Montrachet,” brayed Mr. Shapiro. “Don’t you remember? I brought a seventies vertical of La Tâche?”

“Oh, sure,” said Daniel, in such a noncommittal tone that I could not tell if his memory of Mr. Shapiro was negative or nonexistent.

“What are you doing here at this time of night?” I asked.

“We’re having a party for Nobu up in one of the private room,” he said. “Why don’t you join us?”

“You know I wouldn’t do that,” I said. “I don’t go to parties with chefs.”

“We do!” said Mr. Shapiro. He grabbed Daniel’s arm and walked him back into the elevator, pulling his wife along. As they stepped in, Mr. Shapiro waved and shouted, “Good night. Good night. Thanks for dinner. Good night.” I caught a brief glimpse of Daniel’s face. He looked like a man caught in a nightmare. And then the doors closed.

“How could you abandon me like that?” I raged at Michael the next day. “How could you go off and leave me with those people? Were they really so unbearable?”

“It wasn’t them,” he said quietly.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

Michael touched my arm. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” he said, “but they weren’t the ones I couldn’t stand. It was you.”

“Me?” I said. “Me?”

“You,” he said. “I couldn’t stay and watch what you were doing. I hate it when you pretend to be that person.”

“What person?” I asked.

“The Restaurant Critic of the New York Times. The Princess of New York. Ms.-I-know-I-am-right-about-food-and-don’t-argue-with-me. Take your pick. “

“Was I that bad?’ I whispered. My cheeks burned and I could feel the sweat prickling against my skin.

“Worse,” he said. “You were the person you used to make fun of.”

I felt sick. But Michael wasn’t finished. “You really enjoy food, and you’re able to translate that pleasure for others. But if you turn into a . . . what did Mr. Shapiro call it?”

“A food warrior,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “If you let yourself become that . . . ” He paused for a minute and then started again. “Last night this line from T.S. Eliot kept running through my head. It’s from the Four Quartets. ‘Garlic and sapphires in the mud . . . ’ I remembered that when you got into this it was almost a spiritual thing with you. You love to eat, you love to write, you love the generosity of cooks and what happens around the table when a great meal is served. Nothing that went on last night had anything to do with that.”

“But I did it for charity,” I protested.

“There must be better ways to give,” he replied. “Don’t give yourself away.”

Excerpted from Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. Reprinted by

arrangement with The Penguin Press. Copyright © Ruth Reichl, 2005.

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It seems almost inane to respond by saying that this is really good writing. Perhaps it would be more meaningful to say that it's some of the best writing I've read in a long time, really engrossing (yeah, I know that's one of those cliched words, but I really couldn't put these posts down, so to speak [if you think about them like a book]). The last excerpt has a surprising ending. Reichl obviously didn't hesitate to be open about herself in this book.

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I've never read anything of Reichl's until now (as the odds of my dining in New York anytime in the next decade are slim-to-none). On the evidence of this excerpt, I think I need to adjust my "next things to read" list.

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I've read the book, and really liked it. I burst out laughing whiule reading it in a Vietnamese cafe in (Eden Center in) VA, where I was the only american customer and the place was dark and really quite. Everyone turned to look at the crazy American.

That said....That is an awesfully long exerpt to post in a forum.

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"Garlic & Sapphires" is a wonderful book that I "read" as an audio book on flights to and from Paris last Spring. It made the time fly and I, too, got some odd looks when I forgot where I was and laughed out loud a few times. I especially loved that Ms. Reichl shares with the reader the thought processes behind the characters she and her friend created for her incognito reviews.

Oh, and there is a delicious brussels sprout recipe somewhere in the book. If you come across it, try it. It is REALLY good. :wub:

Edited by shelly59 (log)

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Whereas I really liked her two previous books, and enjoyed her reviews, I have to say that I HATED HATED HATED this book, and I know I am in minority here. I also know that she will be the guest here on Egullet, and do not wish to offend her or anyone else, but here is my opinion:

This book was so self serving and egocentric that I wanted to scream, "It's not all about you in this world and why don't you appreciate the gifts you have been given rather than whine and moan about how awful people treated you and how you were forced to eat such bad meals."

First, she spends an inordinate amount of time settling scores with pasty faces at the NY Times. Who cares? We don't need to know about people we will never meet and don't care about. I was totally bored by reading two reviews of every restaurant in each chapter -- We get it, Ruth, we get it. But for me, the final straw was when she takes Marion Cunningham to The Box Tree. Here is her mentor, who has been much more than kind to her, and she knows she is taking her to a terrible restaurant, yet she remarks that she wanted a glass of wine and wished that Marion had not stopped drinking, because she could not have said glass of wine. One, it is likely that her dinner guest would not have objected or felt uncomfortable with Ms. Reichl having a glass of wine. Did she bother to ask? And Two, this reinforced my feeling that IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU, DON'T YOU GET IT?

I simply found her to be completely narcissistic and am relieved that I am not some acquaintance of hers who she may some day write about.

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I didn't like the second book because I just was not interested in her flings. I didn't even find them interesting. I loved the other 2 books.

Whereas I really liked her two previous books, and enjoyed her reviews, I have to say that I HATED HATED HATED this book, and I know I am in minority here.  I also know that she will be the guest here on Egullet, and do not wish to offend her or anyone else, but here is my opinion:

This book was so self serving and egocentric that I wanted to scream, "It's not all about you in this world and why don't you appreciate the gifts you have been given rather than whine and moan about how awful people treated you and how you were forced to eat such bad meals."

First, she spends an inordinate amount of time settling scores with pasty faces at the NY Times.  Who cares?  We don't need to know about people we will never meet and don't care about.  I was totally bored by reading two reviews of every restaurant in each chapter -- We get it, Ruth, we get it.  But for me, the final straw was when she takes Marion Cunningham to The Box Tree.  Here is her mentor, who has been much more than kind to her, and she knows she is taking her to a terrible restaurant, yet she remarks that she wanted a glass of wine and wished that Marion had not stopped drinking, because she could not have said glass of wine.  One, it is likely that her dinner guest would not have objected or felt uncomfortable with Ms. Reichl having a glass of wine.  Did she bother to ask?  And Two, this reinforced my feeling that  IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU, DON'T YOU GET IT? 

I simply found her to be completely narcissistic and am relieved that I am not some acquaintance of hers who she may some day write about.

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Moderator's note:

We're closing this topic temporarily while the eGullet Spotlight Conversation with Ruth Reichl takes place here. Please feel free to participate!

We'll open this thread back up for replies after the Conversation closes on Friday, December 2.

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