Traditional recipes

DC Restaurants Have Been Sharing Secret Critic Guide

DC Restaurants Have Been Sharing Secret Critic Guide

In a culinary version of Spy vs Spy, restaurants in Washington, D.C. have been using a secret handbook to prepare for the city's food critics.

The steady stream of political intrigue from our nation’s capital is what keeps the entire industry of journalism alive, both domestic and abroad. So it’s somehow deliciously fitting that even Washington’s culinary scene has its own spy network. According to the Washington City Paper, restaurateurs around the city have been sharing a critic handbook for the last two years that details what to expect from D.C.’s food critics and food writers.

The guide, complete with photo identification, describes critics’ personalities, writing styles, likes, dislikes, food knowledge, and writing ability. The document, designed for use by restaurant staff at all levels, also offers tips on how to recognize someone in the food media, as well as what kind of server to assign them.

As for food bloggers, the handbook says, “While they often know little of food and even less of writing, they do occasionally reach respectable audiences and those should not be ignored.”

The handbook’s author, who has previously worked in politics, shared the document with the Washington City Paper on the condition of anonymity.

"When you're in a field where somebody's there to criticize you, you need as much information about that person as you can get to understand their position," he told the City Paper.

Karen Lo is an associate editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @appleplexy.


Let's hope canned tuna recipes are more than just a coronavirus fad

Shipping manager Adriana Barajas moves pallets of Rancho Gordo beans prepared for pickup by the Rancho Gordo factory in Napa in early March.

Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle

It&rsquos been seven weeks since the Bay Area began to shelter in place in an attempt to stem the rising tide of novel coronavirus infections, and it&rsquos clear that the world has changed irrevocably. The way we eat has shifted to something more private and more fraught. (Though maybe less private in some regards, from all the bread photos I&rsquom seeing on social media.) The restaurant industry is reeling, with many scrambling to adapt to a world without dine-in service&mdashor just going silent for now.

What I&rsquom reading and hearing is that the initial adrenaline rush has subsided: We can start to look forward, to articulate how and where we&rsquod like to see things shift in the future. There&rsquos a lot that&rsquos up in the air with regard to the future of restaurants, and I&rsquod like to hear from you if you have theories about what&rsquos to come. (You can also submit answers in our reader poll about the future!)

But today I&rsquom wondering about how food writing should change for the better, which is a question I&rsquove been ruminating on ever since Los Angeles journalist Tien Nguyen posed the question last week. Food sections and publications have pivoted to meet the world-shaking shifts sparked by the novel coronavirus outbreak, and I think that, largely, these are positive shifts. For example, our section has had more coverage of frugal home cooking, more discussion of the business side of restaurants and more conversations with wage workers, not just chefs and owners.

Here&rsquos a snapshot of what I&rsquod like to see, both as an avid reader and lover of the genre.

The end of celebrity

Our insistence on only asking restaurant chefs and owners for their opinions needs to end. Yes, they&rsquore the easiest to get on the phone and often the most media-trained and articulate, but they&rsquore not the only ones who have testimony and perspectives that matter. I want to read more op-eds and features that center on dishwashers, cooks, taqueros and delivery drivers, who by and large represent a much more diverse slice of the food industry.

Class awareness

A side effect of grocery stores and restaurants becoming less accessible is that recipe writing has become more accessible in turn. It&rsquos great that more writers are helping readers strategize how to stretch dollars and get the most out of a can of beans. For many people, those are behaviors that have been an integral part of their daily lives even before the pandemic, and shame-free, pleasure-centered writing about frugal cooking was hard to find in newspapers and magazines. (I highly recommend the book &ldquoGood and Cheap&rdquo for this.) I hope recipe writers can keep writing about food waste and frugality, and thus make service journalism serve more than just people with money.

Transparent cost coverage

Talking about the value of food can be challenging, whether you&rsquore looking at a $300 tab or a $6 coffee. There&rsquos been so much great work about the financial pressures on restaurants and how they manage to chug along. Frankly, restaurant meals are probably going to cost more, as establishments struggle to pay rent and loans that had been deferred during the outbreak. I think it&rsquoll be even more important to continue the work of explaining the hows and whys of that&mdashand to discontinue the glorification of &ldquocheap eats&rdquo that we only value because of their affordability. That&rsquos not to say that I&rsquom going to go all-out on gold flake-covered hot dogs, though.

So I&rsquom curious to know what you think! Are there other big takeaways that you think the genre should take to heart from all of this?


A critic and a restaurant face the pandemic over pastries (6 feet apart)

On Monday morning République, the all-day restaurant in Hancock Park, announced on Instagram it would be open to serve pastries and coffee from its takeout window. Later in the week its survival strategy would come to include pastas and rotisserie chicken dinners for delivery or takeout, but it began by focusing on viennoiserie.

Without much deliberation, I headed over.

In the car I questioned myself. The public is being urged to stay home as the most effective means of curtailing the spread of the novel coronavirus the national death toll continues to mount. How irresponsible was it to be out of my apartment to grab breakfast? Was it worth the risk to support a restaurant I’ve praised as a critic, and where I’ve lingered over many off-duty meals?

A thin, nervous crowd milled on the sidewalk in front of the takeout window some customers were practicing social distancing more diligently than others. Pastry chef Margarita Manzke, who owns République with her husband, Walter, greeted regulars with a wave from behind glass. Keeping 6 feet between us, I chatted with a lawyer in her 70s named Jill who stops by daily for a latte. The restaurant was only serving drip coffee but Manzke made a latte special for her.

Staffers wore masks. They handled croissants and credit cards with gloves, shedding second skins with every new transaction. The shapes of the pastries alone brought comfort: chicken tikka masala hand pies formed in flaky half-moons oblong Danishes filled with fans of caramelized apple slices a small round tart heavy with custard and inky berries. I bought too many and tipped generously.

Grasping the pandemic’s direness has been difficult for me. I didn’t want to believe the extent of the danger. Three weeks ago I was urging readers to go try new restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. At this moment, in mid-March, shelter-in-place lockdowns seem inevitable. I had a review about the Ricans, a pop-up that specializes in mofongo (including at the weekly Smorgasburg L.A. festival, which is on hiatus) ready to run.

Get the latest coronavirus updates from our staff in California and around the world.

I hate the sense of powerlessness, watching the small businesses I write about — the seats of community and hospitality in L.A. — struggle on the brink of financial devastation. Some, probably many, won’t make it back without government help or intervention that needs to arrive quickly.

Something about the mix of fear and friendliness in the eyes of one of République’s staffers stirred memories of my own experience in the restaurant industry. I worked in kitchens through much of my 20s. This was the 1990s. Health insurance and paid sick leave were faraway concepts. At my highest pay I made $12 an hour. Looking back, I can acknowledge privilege: I could have returned to my parents’ house to regroup if things turned truly grim. Barring that, I scraped together rent and inched slowly into credit card debt.

Gazing at Manzke’s spread of pastries reminded me of one indie restaurant in particular where I worked, a long-closed place in Seattle called Plenty. In addition to a full-service menu we staged a deli case with photo-ready displays of prepared foods and desserts. In my corner of the kitchen, I iced chocolate cakes, whipped meringues, layered fruit crisps, stirred batters and doughs for muffins and scones, and baked the oversize cookies we sold by the register. I flipped omelets and reheated roasted potatoes to order on Sunday mornings.

What if COVID-19 had arrived in 1997? How would Plenty’s owners have mobilized to endure? Would we have stapled black-and-white copies of the carry-out menu on telephone poles around the neighborhood? Taken orders by the phone — did we even have call waiting? — and trotted out food curbside? Would we have sold the staff T-shirts embossed with the Plenty logo of a bird chirping “Amen?” Would we have urged people to buy gift certificates for the restaurant, knowing they might never be able to use them?

What would have happened if the money coming in from takeout wasn’t enough to make payroll? Would I have worked a while for free, to keep my loner self from total isolation? Would I have joined protests from quarantine, writing to congresspeople to implore them to eliminate payroll taxes and defer rents while providing other government aid like paid sick leave?

That’s what the restaurant industry faces in 2020: queries with no answers in a state of emergency. There will be unknowns for months.

I called Jim Watkins, the chef and co-owner of Plenty all those years ago (he’s since retired from the restaurant business), and asked him how he would handle the situation now.

“Yes, all those things,” he said, when I read him the above questions. “And I would hound government leaders to convince them how slim-margined and under-represented the restaurant industry is.”

As we spoke of the Plenty era, our conversation turned to the crisis that haunted us then: the AIDS epidemic. We were both close to restaurant workers who died. Without diminishing the catastrophe we lived through, the wider corollary is the cultural loss. We lost an entire generation of talent to that plague we can’t conceive of the art, the music, the technology and the cuisines that might exist had the stricken survived.

Restaurants have been blindsided by the coronavirus pandemic. Here is a guide to services available to those affected, including financial and legal aid.

What will we lose in this disaster? Restaurants give our lives more meaning than ever. We frequent them as much for fellowship and provocation as for sustenance. Much of the professional cooking in our city involves personal narrative chefs show us who they are and we know ourselves better. Tlayudas, galbi jjim, koobideh kebabs, khao soi, tagliatelle, spicy beef noodle soup, edomae sushi, even grain bowls and elaborate avocado toast: Food kneads together the city’s identity the people who prepare it for us, without customers to feed, are imperiled. Not every business will successfully pivot to takeout. Not every building happens to have a preexisting carryout window like République.

As a young, broke cook I would have looked to my bosses for assurance. I didn’t have easily transferable skills. If I’d been furloughed, if the owners had bled the bank account empty, I’d likely have not known how or where to ask for help. It’s a different world, but digital connectivity doesn’t always dispel isolation. Our most visible chefs have taken to social media to urge mayors, governors and representatives to action there are pleas for economic relief, including cancellations or delays of sales and use taxes. Who has already slipped into invisibility? How many dishwashers, servers and cooks are already wondering how they will earn their next paycheck — or are already asking where they will earn it?

It is raining in Los Angeles. I order smoked mozzarella sticks and a calzone from Cosa Buona in Echo Park. As instructed, the courier knocks on the door and then leaves the bag on the stoop for me to retrieve. I eat the meal in solitude and go back to scrolling through social media, waiting to see what happens next.

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Bill Addison is a James Beard Award-winning restaurant critic. He was previously national critic for Eater and has held critic positions at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and Atlanta magazine.

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Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Bill Addison and food columnist Jenn Harris taste-test chicken sandwiches from Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, Carl’s Jr., Jollibee, Church’s Chicken, Burger King, McDonald’s, Arby’s and KFC and declare which is the best.

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Chefs from the 10 Best New Restaurants share recipes

When restaurants are willing to share their secrets, we listen. And then we get cooking.

And today we share 10 recipes that come courtesy of the restaurants that made this year’s Free Press/Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers Best New Restaurants list. The restaurants named earlier this month were chosen by Free Press restaurant critic Mark Kurlyandchik and former restaurant critic Sylvia Rector, who retired at the end of 2015.

Top 10 Best New Restaurants (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

This group of 10, including our Restaurant of the Year Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails, offered a diverse array of recipes — each translated for the home cook. In fact, each of these recipes has various takeaway components that can be used in other dishes. And they also reflect what metro Detroit diners crave: dishes that are local, fresh and classically made.

Mabel Gray owner-chef James Rigato assured us his hot pepper jelly is just as tasty dolloped on a bagel that’s been smeared with cream cheese as it is with the mussels recipe featured in this section. Chartreuse’s Mushroom Ricotta is a tasty reminder of how easy it is to make your own ricotta cheese. Townhouse’s Macaroni and Cheese, an ultra-creamy version that staffers say is addictive, can be made with a variety of pastas.

Some of these recipes have several steps, but they are not difficult. And many of them have components that can be made ahead. To see how these dishes come together, follow the links below for videos and recipes.


Centrolina brings joy, now more than ever

No chef turns out more intriguing pasta than Amy Brandwein. Not only are her wiry, saffron-tinted taglioni and ribbon-shaped mafaldine cooked just so, they’re dressed for success. The former is tossed with escargot and zucchini flowers, the latter with creamy white Bolognese, made with veal, beef and sage. “I wish I could bring you a lazy Susan,” a server says, noticing how a group of us are sharing everything, because who doesn’t want to try semolina-fried clams dunked in shishito aioli? Or superlative lamb, chicken or fish from the wood-burning oven? Brandwein cooked for nine years under Italian master Roberto Donna. Three years after opening a place of her own, spare and light, she’s at the top of her game, aided and abetted by a staff that’s equal parts warm and wise. A friend, drunk on all the shared pleasures, summed it up best: “This is happiness.”

Lunch Monday-Saturday, dinner daily

Lunch mains $19-$38, dinner mains $24-$42

78 decibels / Must speak with raised voice

2018 Top 10

Himitsu

The Petworth jewel becomes a little easier to experience, with a Monday night supper club that takes reservations.


How the Past Year Changed Restaurant Criticism

The image of the traditional restaurant critic — an older white man, surreptitious in appearance yet hearty in appetite, issuing snobbish judgments from behind a white tablecloth— was out of date long before the pandemic hit. White men aren’t the only ones who have worthwhile opinions on restaurants upscale iterations of French or Italian cuisine aren’t the only foods worth talking about and anonymity, the sacred shield of the restaurant critic, doesn’t necessarily work the way it used to. (As the San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic Soleil Ho put it, “I am a millennial and I’ve been on the internet for 15 years — it’s really hard to cover up my tracks at this point.”)

Such shifts in the world of criticism and food writing broadly were already underfoot then came the pandemic, which rocked the entire restaurant industry (not to mention media) to its core. So we invited Boston Globe restaurant critic and food writer Devra First, New York Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao, and food writer and host of the podcast A Hungry Society presents Boundless Horizon Korsha Wilson to discuss how criticism has changed in the past year and where it’s headed.

Below are lightly edited excerpts from the conversation, part of our Eater Talks event series, as well as a full video recording. For more ways on how to help the restaurant community, check out Eater’s How to Help guide.

COVID-19 pushed food writers to move beyond traditional restaurant reviews.

Tejal Rao: “Around March, I had a conversation with my editors [at the New York Times]: Should I keep filing weekly reviews? Should I rethink the restaurant review? And I decided I didn’t want to write straightforward reviews at all. So I did more, like, weird essays and policy reporting and just a mixture of pieces — like first-person stories about how to think about takeout in this moment, or how my relationship with cars has changed. Just looking at it from every possible angle.”

Devra First: “At the beginning, when indoor dining shut down and it wasn’t clear what was going to happen, I was like [to my editors at the Boston Globe], ‘Hey, what if we do a daily newsletter about cooking right now?’ And we just banged that out into the ether. We didn’t know what to do or how we were going to cover it for the first month or so, it was a lot of guesswork and figuring out what what does it all mean for restaurants and for us. It was pretty tumultuous, but it’s settling in now. Where I work, at the Boston Globe, they’ve also really deeply sympathetic to the situation with restaurants. We started this thing called Project Takeout just encouraging readers to get takeout as much they’re able to. It’s been an interesting see us do sort of like boosterism on behalf of the [restaurant] industry, which was a stance that we never would have taken before.”

The pandemic accelerated the shrinking of journalism budgets.

First: “It was really sad to lose Chicago Tribune dining critic Phil Vettel and Detroit Free Press restaurant critic Mark Kurlyandchik this year as voices — both Phil and Mark have been such important voices for their cities. I think it’s frightening for Chicago and frightening for the Midwest, but also, it’s a bellwether for what the country might look like down the road, because so few publications are investing in this kind of coverage. It is expensive to do.”

Wilson: “When the pandemic started, there was this very scary constricting of freelance opportunities, because people [in media] were unsure about ad budgets and if they even have freelance budgets going forward.”

Rao: “The loss of alt weeklies and blogs and a lot of those spaces — I am just forever devastated about that. Those spaces are so vital for local reporting, but also, for me, that was my journalism school. I wouldn’t have I wouldn’t have become a critic if I hadn’t gotten a job at the Village Voice.

As restaurants and media change, more diverse voices are emerging within food writing.

Wilson: “I have the very fortunate position as a freelancer of being able to look at the [food media] landscape and say, ‘Okay, what stories do I wish existed in the landscape right now?’ and then pitch those to the places where I think it makes the most sense. That’s the same thing I do with my podcasts. For me, it’s really important to highlight people of color that don’t get a lot of attention. So it’s been a refocusing or a doubling-down on what I cover already, which is: really talented folks who are adding a lot and not getting the attention they deserve.”

First: “I think that we need to look toward different pipelines. I do think that the people writing nationally who get information from local critics on the ground have cultivated other sources as well, and maybe more different kinds of voices. I hope in some ways that that pipeline, while getting constricted in some ways, will then broaden in a different way to make up that difference. Certainly, we’re going to see fewer and fewer restaurant critics around the country. So I guess we need to ask what that means, what readers want, what the public needs, and how do we look towards the future and think about how are we going to get this to people going forward?”

Wilson: “For [restaurant coverage] to be dynamic, a lot of different people need to have their voices included. You know, America isn’t just white men. That’s not a newsflash. But for a long time, restaurant critics have been cisgendered white men. So what perspectives are left out of food criticism when that happens? In order for restaurant criticism to continue to grow, different voices have to be at the table and talking about why restaurants matter, and why their food is good, or the service is good. As restaurants change, the people covering them needs to change too.”

With more voices involved, restaurant critics are covering far more ground.

Wilson: “An Eater Chicago op-ed about the loss of the food critic there referred to food critics as ‘arbiters of taste,’ and I disagree with that a bit. I think food critics are journalists, essentially, and they’re covering the food beat in whatever region that they’re in. And then national food critics are looking at the landscape of America’s restaurant scene and talking about the changes and important players and different cuisines that are available. I think looking at it holistically like that — instead of just ‘this is good, or this is bad’ — is really where criticism needs to go.”

Rao: “Should critics consider all the vital issues of their moment, like labor, inequities, exclusion — all the forces that we don’t immediately see and how they shape our culture and our restaurants and all the spaces we move in? Like, yeah, that has to be part of the job, even if it’s not part of every single story. That has to be part of what’s driving the work. I don’t think of myself as an ‘arbiter of taste.’”

First: “It’s really important for critics to continue to point out what needs to change, where there are weak points, where culturally there are problems — to really wrestle with the issues of American culture through the dining lens.”

Rao: “So much of what has been illuminated this past year wasn’t new, it has been around for a long time, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere — the racial injustice, the physical costs to workers, the structural inequalities running all along the supply chain, the environmental costs. Our food system is so broken and so dysfunctional, and people are suffering because of it. And I think criticism can serve many roles, including continuing to shine a light on these issues.

That’s not its only role, but I’m thinking a lot about the power of that attention now. Like, where do I keep the reader’s attention when I have it? What do I want to make them think about? Pleasure is a way in, this delicious food is a way in, hopefully good writing is a way in — and then you have the reader’s attention, and what are you gonna do with it?”

Watch the entire panel conversation:

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

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&aposs 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&aposre 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 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 were twofold: one, she wanted to cover a wider range of food than the previous "snooty French" coverage the NYT had tended to, thus necessitating not only developing a way to consistently evaluate cross-food-ethnicity, but also a way to convince Yr Av'g Noo Yawka that these cuisines were worthy of attention -- but more importantly, two, it was impossible to evaluate what kind of dining experience a "normal" person would have in the cut-throat, status-based New York City restaurant scene.

Reichl's solution -- create alternate 'selves', complete with their own personalities and quirks, and take them out to a meal (she deliberately built her personae to not encode for the status that would guarantee her a world-class experience) -- is simple and elegant, and the book itself is an engaging interaction with the idea of national privilege and identity as it plays out on restuarant tables. Her examples are well-chosen, and she writes beautifully: clear, direct, and entertaining. She also prints recipes and reprints several of the colums that resulted from the anecdotes she relates in the book, which serve as excellent bonus material.

But where the book shines is what it makes you think about. Because as Sarah (who read it first) came across a reference to a particular dollar amount for a meal, she turned to me, read that bit out loud, and said, "Is there something wrong with me that I don't think this is particularly exorbitant for a meal like that?" And I answered no -- because it didn't strike me as exorbitant either food is one of the pleasures of life, dammit. (My operating assumption is that life is too short to put up with bad food, bad friends, a lousy job, or uncomfortable clothing.) And after it was my turn for the book, I put it down upon completion, and I started to think about Reichl's main thesis: that money and status are two entirely different things, and how the differing levels of privilege we all carry influence and shape us.

It's something I'm going to keep thinking about for a long time, particularly the next time we sit down to eat out -- whether it be at a hole-in-the-wall family-owned joint, a Major National Chain (tm), or a Dining Experience (tm) -- because Reichl has a lot of very smart, savvy, and interesting things to say, reading between the lines (and sometimes more overt than that) about American national identity, relationship to food, and concepts of service, status, and privilege. This is a no-holds-barred look at the best and the worst of us, and Reichl has the writing chops to pull it off. . more

A bit more sapphire than garlic.

Ruth Reichl&aposs 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 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 to read the book's subtitle, The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. I guess I've gone too far in my efforts not to judge a book by its cover. Reading and believing what the title says is kind of important.

Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy reading about Reichl's ridiculous hoop-jumping with wigs, make-up, clothing and personas in her successful efforts to fool the waitstaff of NY's finest eateries, even if her insights were nothing earth-shattering. I mean, most people know by now that bossy, demanding people get what they want while the meager among us get the scraps, if anything. But just the same, Reichl's stories and storytelling were quite entertaining, I also voyeuristically enjoyed her descriptions of fancy NY restaurants, and there was just enough meat on dining to whet my appetite (<--wow, that was cheesy). . more

Some books languish on my TBR list forever it seems. It&aposs 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&aposs 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&aposs columns when she was editor at The New 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 York Times but was fascinated by this memoir about her time there. I never thought about what it must take to try to eat a meal that you will rate honestly if the restaurant staff is on the lookout for you. Reichl comes up with new identities, clothing, make-up, wigs which allow her to blend as just a diner on her forays to some of the best and other times, little known restaurants in New York.

I may never actually get to dine at any of the places Reichl writes about or rates. Frankly even if I could some would never make my list after reading about her treatment when she visits in costume. Reichl's expertise makes me savor the smells, the delight in the first bite, the eloquence in presentation, the impeccable service of a good meal.

The layout of the book worked well for me. Narrative, Review, Recipe. I enjoyed learning a bit about Reichl's background, her family, her friends, and the women she becomes to remain anonymous. The recipes range from simple like Matzo Brei to a full fledged roast leg of lamb dinner. I love how her son, Nicky, goes with the flow, always recognizing his mom through the outrageous get-ups she comes up with. Reicihl also gains insight from these women she becomes.

If I were participating in a book discussion. Chapter 7 would lead me to query others. Heading home from an elaborate meal at La cote Basque, encounters a hungry homeless man on the subway. He is begging for food, anything, even the crumbs left in the bottom of a chip bag. Reichl, as Betty, hands the man her doggie bag. She expects that he will tear into it but he goes to the end of the car, spreads his scarf on his lap like a napkin and proceeds to remove the wrapping, appreciating his windfall. "Roasted Duckling!" he croaked. "An then, very delicately, he picked the leg up in his fingers and ate it slowly, savoring every morsel." Having just watched a segment of Extreme Cheapskates where a man moves through a restaurant asking diners if he can have their leftover food and another dumpster dives for food. Both these left me bit grossed out. I wonder why the homeless man's story touches me and the cheapskate makes me a bit ill.

Reichl has written other memoirs, always with a touch of food, so much of her life. Hopefully some of these will work their way up on my list.
. more

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&aposs stint as the New York Tim 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 Times chief restaurant critic. Although she accepts the position, she has reservations about the elitist implications of the job, and vows to write for the masses--those million readers who can't afford to spend $100 for a meal at a four-star French restaurant. Part of her mission is to expose the poor treatment many of these restaurants heap on the "common man." But in order to accomplish this lofty goal, Reichl must eat in disguise. For if she is recognized as New York's premier restaurant critic, she'll be treated like royalty. (Although this obviously has no bearing on the quality of the food, it has a great deal of bearing on the quality of the experience. Personally, I eat for the food.)

The idea is cute, and for the first few chapters it was fun. But Reichl shows her true colors right from the start when she heaps disdain on a bearded ignoramus (wearing Birkenstocks. unforgivable!) for having the audacity to dip his sushi rice-side down, thereby "ruining" the "clear transparent flavor," the "taut crispness," and the clam that was "almost baroque in its sensuality." (I have yet to meet a sensual or almost baroque clam, but I'll take Reichl's word for it.) Reichl then reminisces about her trip to Japan, in which she is first exposed to the proper way to eat Japanese food. (I'm pretty sure the guy in Birkenstocks could not afford to go to Japan for eating lessons.) In her other encounters with diners at top-notch restaurants Reichl indulges in so much blatant one-up-manship that you simply can't sympathize with her concern for the "simple folk" no matter how much she tries to dress like them. The verbal food fights with the poor guy she picks up in a bar as the vampish Chloe (what's up with THAT??), and with the self-avowed "food warrior" were downright churlish. After proclaiming that there is no right way to eat food, Reichl clearly demonstrates that it's her way or the highway. Even Reichl's portrayals of other diners, who are merely innocent bystanders, are dreadfully stereotyped, sometimes to the point of cruelty. (She assumes that a "loud, brassy blonde," who is disturbing her expensive meal, is a prostitute. Apparently, sitting next to the "masses" isn't nearly as much fun as pretending to write for them.)

Even Reichl's disguises lacked credibility. Reichl's claims that she had an instant personality transformation with each new disguise are simply unbelievable. She BECOMES the 'little people,' taking on their imagined attributes, their voices, their very lives. She comes up with histories for each of the women she invents, and, with just a wig and some makeup, is so amazingly convincing that she can even fool her husband! Either Reichl is schizophrenic, or she takes method acting entirely too seriously. She certainly takes herself too seriously.

If the book had been well written I could have forgiven the snobbery, but, with the exception of one chapter, "The Missionary of the Delicious," in which Reichl was somehow able to get a grip on herself, purple prose abounded. (As her editor I would have crossed out half of her adjectives.) The inclusion of reprints of her published reviews was redundant, and the recipes were mediocre. (There was no clue in these recipes that Reichl was an expert in the kitchen. But, hey, she was writing for the "huddled masses yearning to eat free." What do we know? We can't even dip sushi right.)

If Reichl hadn't been so intent on wallowing in her ego, this book might have had possibilities. She loves food, and she has dined in some truly fabulous restaurants. The fact that most of us can't afford them is irrelevant. She had a duty to go to these marvelous places, enjoy herself to the max, and then take the rest of us with her. . more

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 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 during that time.

This was the second Reichl book I've read — I had previously enjoyed "My Kitchen Year" — and I was tempted to pick up this earlier work about her food critic years because Reichl will be visiting my town later this spring to promote her new book, and I wanted to read more of her oeuvre before then.

I listened to "Garlic and Sapphires" on audio, and it was a pleasant narration by Bernadette Dunne. Recommended for foodies. . more


Old Ebbitt Grill

Washington’s oldest saloon, Old Ebbitt Grill is said to have been founded in 1856 in a boarding house—one where President McKinley lived during his time in Congress, and Presidents Grant, Johnson, Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, and Harding frequented the bar. The restaurant changed locations often over the years, but landed in its current spot, across from the Treasury Building on 15th Street NW, in 1983. Today, it remains one of the city’s most popular places for Sunday brunch, power lunches, and, most importantly, raw bar happy hour.

Segway-riding tour groups may come here to see the collection of historic memorabilia—taxidermy supposedly acquired by Teddy Roosevelt, wooden bears allegedly from Alexander Hamilton’s private bar—but locals know to drop in any day between 3 and 6 p.m. or 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., when oysters are half price. Ebbitt takes its bivalves so seriously that it even has an “Oyster Eater’s Bill of Rights,” which includes such promises as every oyster will be shucked and presented traditionally on an ice platter within five minutes of being opened. Another is that the menu will always be offered alongside a selection of oyster-friendly wine and beer, so you can count on a crisp sauvignon blanc to pair with your Kusshi from British Columbia. If you’re feeling especially indulgent, go for the Orca platter, which comes loaded with one pound of lobster, six Jonah crab claws, six clams, 24 oysters, and 12 jumbo shrimp.


Share All sharing options for: How to Design a Tasting Menu That Flows Like a Symphony

Naomi Pomeroy has a fair amount of experience designing tasting menus. At her Portland restaurant Beast, which will have been open 10 years this September, she and her staff create new, six-course set menus every two weeks, and when the restaurant started, they turned out a new menu every week. Pomeroy recently stopped by the Eater Upsell and chatted with hosts Helen Rosner and Greg Morabito about her strategy for designing tasting menus that flow like classical symphonies.

Pomeroy builds her tasting menu with the goal of having the finished six-course menu resemble a piece of music, or a bell curve. “You have the buildup, and then there is the peak moment, and then you are coming back again,” she says.

At Beast, the peak moment arrives at the third course. This is the richest dish on the menu, and for Pomeroy, this is also what she calls the “meat moment.” Right now, the meat moment at Beast is coriander-brined pork loin with pocha beans and a buttermilk-fried onion ring. Previously, it’s been dishes like rack of lamb with roasted romanesco, chili-date vinegar, and celery root puree or roasted squab breast with smoked celeriac puree and celery salad.

According to Pomeroy, the beginning of the menu should include lighter dishes that lead to this hearty focal point. At Beast, that used to mean starting with a soup followed by a charcuterie plate, but recently, Pomeroy has revamped the menu to cut down on feelings of repetition. “Even though it was a different soup every week, it doesn’t matter. If people have soup every time they [start] to feel like it’s the same thing,” Pomeroy says. Like soup, the charcuterie plate, which became something of a signature for Beast, looked the same every time because of “the way that [the items] were arranged,” Pomeroy says.

Now, an early course at Beast may include a pasta, or a composed cheese dish, before rising to a meaty crescendo, then mellowing out to finish in a sweet coda. Of course, this isn’t the first time a tasting menu has been compared to a symphony. In a 2012 Pete Wells column, the New York Times critic praised the tasting menu at Alinea in Chicago, saying, “Grant Achatz composes meals that are almost like symphonies in their skillful manipulation of complexity, volume, tempo and harmony.”

Hear the complete interview with Naomi Pomeroy below, as she discusses her rules for running an empowering kitchen, adapting to a changing Portland, and being robbed of a win on Iron Chef. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes right here on Eater.


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Jonathan Gold was the restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize in criticism in 2007 and was a finalist again in 2011. A Los Angeles native, he began writing the Counter Intelligence column for the L.A. Weekly in 1986, wrote about death metal and gangsta rap for Rolling Stone and Spin among other places, and was delighted that he managed to forge a career out of the professional eating of tacos. Gold died July 21, 2018.

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