November 12, 2019

The Book of Eating

By Adam Platt
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In The Book of Eating, longtime New York magazine restaurant critic Adam Platt offers a delicious peek behind the scenes of a storied career.

A diplomat’s son who grew up eating the best dumplings, ramen and dim sum Asia had to offer, Platt clearly loves food. But unlike his famous peers, such as Ruth Reichl, A.J. Liebling and Craig Claiborne, Platt doesn’t take too seriously his role as one of the “serious restaurant critics . . . still operating under the ancient, slightly tattered Kabuki rituals of the trade, with our ironic faux reservation names, our dwindling expense accounts, and our discreet though mostly useless disguises.”

He knows he has the rare luck of being a professional eater, and his love for and slight amazement at his job come across in this riot of a book.

While much of The Book of Eating focuses on Platt’s decades at the magazine, the most mouth-watering chapters focus on his childhood living in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He and his brothers were raised on traditional Asian meals, which he recalls all these years later with delightful clarity: “Communal beef and lamb barbecue buffet tossed with scallions and different sauces by the cooks on a giant, curving, charcoal-heated brazier and then served, with messy ceremony, between fresh-baked sesame seed buns.”

Platt dishes a genteel helping of gossip about the New York restaurant scene, where chefs and restaurant owners are not afraid to speak their minds. The “mercurial king of the New York brasserie, Keith McNally,” did not take kindly to a mediocre review of his new pizzeria, writing in an open letter that Platt was bald, overweight and out-of-touch. (Though it should be noted this was mild compared to what Mario Batali said about Platt, which cannot be repeated here but is the colorful name of a very funny chapter in the book.)

Platt’s greatest insights come when he ponders the evolving role of the restaurant critic. He writes that, “after the social media meteor obliterated the old ways of doing almost everything, those of us who’d managed, by some divine miracle, to survive the waves of magazine shutterings and print media layoffs, not to mention the clickbait food crazes that seemed to sweep over the landscape like biblical plagues every week, were adapting to our new environment the best we could.”

Restaurant critics may have to compete these days with top 10 listicles and filtered Instagram photos of your cousin’s brunch, but Platt delivers a generous, hilarious case for the restaurant critic’s enduring significance.

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