Elliot, Amanda. Best Served Hot. Berkley, 2022. 386 pp. ISBN 978-0593335734 $17.00
Two restaurant critics go about their reviews in very different ways: Julie is a built from scratch go-getter with 50,000 followers on social media, pays for all her meals, and takes a photo of everything she eats, favoring ethnic food and hole in the wall spots. Bennett is an ivy-leaguer fan of fine dining who takes longhand notes at his expensed meals–and he’s just landed a coveted column at the New York Scroll that Julie applied for and didn’t get. When their competitive natures collide at a food festival and their argument goes viral, the newspaper’s marketing team decides a little friendly competition is in order, and in hopes of boosting both their print subscribers and followers, offers to pair them together and send them to joint review a bunch of eateries. They agree, with reservations, and develop a grudging respect for one another as they break bread at a number of establishments. A particular fine and funny moment is when they challenge one another to a cook-off, decide to make burgers, and the comedy of errors ends at ShackBurgers.
Far from a superficial book about food, Best Served Hot explores themes of class, wealth and privilege, social media and image, job satisfaction. I also felt a little thrill when Bennett references Thomas Keller’s Per Se loss of a michelin star and review downgrade from 2 to 4 stars–and I knew when it occurred, and why; and I chuckled when I realized I had read Pete Well’s scathing takedown of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar. There is an art to timely allusions that make the reader feel smart when they get them (as opposed to alienated or worse, stupid, when they don’t), and Elliot hits the right note.
As in Sadie on a Plate, the food is front and center, and it’s the lush descriptions of what they eat that will make your heart pound and elicit your envy, admiration, and longing: “The bread was earthy and chewy, crunchy on the bottom and meltingly soft on top, and rather than rubbing the bread with tomato as in a traditional pan con tomate (yes, I’d done my research), the raw tomato had been shredded and mashed and spread on top, a cool, sweet, tangy contrast to the bread. A hint of garlic spoke up in the back of my throat; anchovies whispered somewhere underneath, the salt and the brine making everything else taste sweeter.” If that isn’t a metaphor for the individual features of their complex relationship Julie and Bennett have that creates a perfect whole, I don’t know what is.
The sex was more descriptive that in Elliot’s previous book (the single flaw I found was Julie’s boasting about her anatomy’s allowing for the capability of multiple orgasms and Bennett not pursuing that particular challenge).
I received an advance reader’s review copy of #BestServedHot from #NetGalley.