One of my favorite things about this food-writer gig, not counting the free dinners, is my official mailbox at the RFT. A designerish galvanized-metal thing nailed to the wall, it is segregated from the shabby pigeonholes assigned to the editors and hardcore investigative reporters. My box, in fact, has its own cubicle, which I don't mind sharing with the copy machine. Once every couple of weeks, when I need a good laugh, I wheel on over to the office, squeeze past the person making copies and collect my accumulation of press releases, menus and hate mail. My last visit revealed an interesting development. Someone, apparently mistaking me for a literary critic, had sent me a couple of books.
The first was Tender at the Bone (Broadway Books, $13, paperback), a memoir by former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl (she has since become editor of Gourmet magazine). Reichl has been described as the most powerful woman in New York; an unfavorable review from her could topple a million- dollar enterprise like a fallen soufflé. But Tender at the Bone does not concern itself with Reichl's elaborate disguises and big-budget escapades at Le Cirque 2000. Instead, it heartwarmingly chronicles the coming of age of the decade's most feared foodie. Regaling the reader with feel-good anecdotes about the many colorful characters populating her youth (notably her bipolar mother, who was "taste-blind and unafraid of rot"), Reichl sympathetically reveals her younger self against a cozy backdrop of dorm-room pizzas and Thanksgiving dinners pulled from Dumpsters.
All memoirs are fiction.
The other book was Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, $16, paperback). Authored by 25-year-old Kevin Mills and featuring "mom tips" from his wise mater, Nancy Mills, it is a treatise on entertaining for the futon-and-cinderblock-bookshelf set. I am suspicious of any cookbook author who considers the existence of his dining room a source of astonishment, and was annoyed by Kevin's frat-boy allusions to Dumb and Dumber and his wife's "estrogen-fests." However, most of the recipes are hassle-free, and anyone who is foolhardy enough to host dinner parties despite an overarching inability to cook might find it useful.