Published: May 24, 2016
“Appetite is not a symptom,.. It’s a state of being, and like most, has its attendant moral consequences.”
Sexy, racy, indulgent, shallow.. .an enlightening dive into life within a restaurant. It felt authentic and raw, a full sensory & gustatory experience.. for which reason, I recommend this book be read accompanied by a glass of wine. With all the drinking, drugging, and embarrassing mistakes made by the protagonist, you will need it. She bares her soul and the soul of the restaurant industry. I have not had the pleasure of working in a restaurant, but have had friends who have and this novel definitely sheds light on the subject.
“Sweetbitter” was written by Stephanie Danler drawing on her own experience as a backwaiter in NYC. The protagonist in the novel, whose name you do not learn until half-way through is Tess. She presents herself as naive, unpretentious, inexperienced and unworldly, but is out to prove herself to survive and achieve in the restaurant which is modeled after Union Square. She comes under the wing of Simone, who is older, experienced, worldly and uncomfortably close to the bartender that Tess is fixated on. Tess learns about terroir, and develops an appreciation of food and wine. She gets swept up in the late night partying, which is part and parcel of working in the restaurant. She becomes involved in a love triangle. She makes ridiculous choices. She is a character you root for, though. Through her, you gain insight into the secret life of a restaurant, how it becomes all-encompassing, lending itself to late nights with drugs and alcohol, to relationships that lack depth, and self harm.
I felt transported to the time after college where there is so much to learn, to experience, where anything can happen, where so many relationships are fleeting. I cannot imagine being Tess, alone and new to a city without any friends or family nearby, not returning home for the holidays. My heart ached for her loneliness, her desperate yearning to fit in, her poor choices. However, I also felt the energy and excitement of this time in life, the possibilities, the opportunities, the relationships.
I loved the book for the most part. It’s an exciting and fun read. I recommend it to anyone interested in the restaurant industry, who enjoys reading about food and wine, who’s looking for a spicy book to read.
Wines & Spirits discussed during the book
Fernet – an Italian type of amaro, made from a number of herbs and spices with a base of grape-distilled spirits & colored with caramel coloring. It is often served with coffee or espresso.
Manzanilla – a variety of fino Sherry made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Cadiz Andalusia (Spain)
Champagne – sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. The primary grapes used in its production are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meaner, but white Chardonnay is also used.
Beaujolais – generally made of the Gamay grape (a cross of Pinot Noir & the ancient white wine variety Gouais); light bodied red wine with high amounts of acidity.
Sancerre -grown in the eastern part of the Loire valley; made from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir; described to have flinty, citrusy and spicy notes.
Pouilly-Fume – vineyards are in the Nievre (east of the Loire); made purely from Sauvignon Blanc, described as “smoky bouquet”
Pouilly-Fuisse – from Burgundy region in south of France; grown from Chardonnay grapes; Hints of oak and clay
Discussion Questions: Please see the back of the book for some great ones. No need to add more.