The Challenges of Writing a Restaurant Review Inside a Novel

Ruth_and_ms

In my novel, the main character, Tia, has many voices -- her interior monologue, her spoken dialogue, her blog, and the restaurant reviews she secretly writes for the New York Times.

I researched lots of food writers to get in the right flow. I love Frank Bruni’s withering asides and appreciated his tips on navigating a menu in his last column as restaurant critic. I read Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires, in which Ruth undergoes personality shifts and crises with each disguise. I love her lyricism, rooted both in memory and an insistent appreciation of now. In Insatiable, Gael Greene does just the opposite -- she's all muscle and verve, a “do-now-apologize-later” sort of attitude.  And I find great joy in Sam Sifton’s wackadoo exclamations.

But the real challenge, especially for a self-proclaimed culinary coming-of-age, isn't just style or "artistic merit." Tia's restaurant reviews had another challenge: tell the story of a singular meal -- plus -- move the plot forward.

This is a little bit of what I came up with:

    ...The monkfish wrapped in yuba is an elegant pleasure, accented with gingerbread puree and a cranberry bean "soil." She's the cool girl at the party, chic yet challenging, a dish that's statuesque in its own indecipherability.
    Tellicherry proves you can have clean flavors with something else -- something musky and unknowable, something maybe a little dangerous.
    Other dishes stand out for their inventiveness: quail eggs steamed in banana leaves with mint and lime; pork crusted with wattleseed and a macadamia nut rub; polenta with olives, feta, and topped with sage stained potato chips. If this sounds like a crazy, reckless menu to you, they you are absolutely right. But the danger suits Tellicherry very much.
    The meal comes to a crescendo at dessert, when the tension of the amuse, appetizers, and entrees comes to a screaming conclusion. One can do much worse than to pile them on thick. The shaved ice with candied tropical fruits takes you on a vacation you never want to return from, while the curry ice cream with mini brioche puffs makes you think, well then again, I might want to just stay here.
    Tellicherry comes at you unexpectedly, with a new aroma at every corner. It's a restaurant that foretells a new future, and should be closely watched and lavishly commended.

I won’t tell you how many stars Tellicherry ends up getting, who Tia is thinking of when mentioning the “cool girl” monkfish, or what love interest “foretells a new future.” There’s just too much to say, and besides it’ll spoil the book.