Ephron Eaten for Breakfast

Users of eGullet had a snarky field day with Nora Ephron’s kvetchy New York Times op-ed (registration required) that ran a few weeks ago. In the piece, Ephron (the auteur of the film Sleepless in Seattle and sometime food writer) gripes about several common tropes of high-end restaurants—no salt or pepper shakers on the table, servers who upsell water, etc.—and she’s not funny. Not to most Gulleteers, anyway: For more than a week straight, they analyzed the piece in a thread that was a curious combo of nitpickiness and spot-on criticism. Yesterday, user Brendan Jackson returned to the thread, providing a link to the S.F. Chronicle’s Sunday style section profile of Ephron and announcing his undying frustration with the woman: “Her rant has spoiled me on her forever, since i was so annoyed with her, i couldn’t finish reading the article.”

Why all the counterkvetching? As Chris Holst, the poster who kicks off the thread, puts it:

Poor Nora is annoyed at sea salt, and at pepper grinders, and at glassware selection for her Pellegrino, and at the size of dessert spoons, and at servers who dare to speak to her and her dining companions. Her ‘problems’ only afflict those fortunate enough to dine regularly at white-tablecloth restaurants, and for more well-adjusted diners, I’d doubt they’re problematic. What possessed the Times to print this drivel? It belongs in her diary, where it will be safely locked away from the rest of the world, so nobody else has to put up with it … or do any of our fellow eGulletiers share her concerns?

Others immediately chime in with comments on Ephron’s self-indulgence and lack of humor. eGullet user Shannon Elise provides a good example of how Ephron might have done it better:

May I please have the 45 seconds it took to read that piece back? I could really use it to apply lip gloss or tie my shoe —both of which are activities I find more enjoyable than that. Does she really want to see the salt shaker, with its rice to keep it from clumping that looks like small bugs, on the table? And could she please insert the word Pellagrino[sic] in her piece one more time? I don’t think the 50 times it was included was enough.


The fact that this commentfest goes on for 54 more posts is perhaps indicative of the fact that Ephron’s piece touched a sore spot for eGullet members. As a recognizable name with a new book out, Ephron is afforded a level of access that most people don’t have, given license to say whatever she wants about food—even if it’s boring and tired (or simply wrong, like her confusion about sea salt versus kosher salt). And of course she blatantly advertises her ability to afford dining at places where there’s nary a salt shaker in sight.

But Fat Guy, eGullet’s head honcho, doubts that the overwhelmingly negative response on the thread will be mirrored in the general populace:

It was a weak and ignorant piece from the standpoint of the food-knowledgeable minority, however I bet it resonated with the majority. I hear all of those complaints, often. If I’m giving a presentation about my book to a live audience at a Barnes & Noble, you can be sure a middle-aged lady’s hand will shoot up and that she’ll gripe about the lack of salt on the table or something along those lines.

And he’s right: Most Times readers had only praise (registration required) for Ephron after the article ran.

Do you think the critics are right, or should people just leave Nora be (she already feels bad enough about her neck, for God’s sake)?