2.9 17
by Stephanie Danler

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INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER  *  A thrilling novel of the senses and a coming-of-age tale, following a small-town girl into the electrifying world of New York City and the education of a lifetime at one of the most exclusive restaurants in Manhattan.  Perfect for readers of Kitchen Confidential and Blood, Bones and


INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER  *  A thrilling novel of the senses and a coming-of-age tale, following a small-town girl into the electrifying world of New York City and the education of a lifetime at one of the most exclusive restaurants in Manhattan.  Perfect for readers of Kitchen Confidential and Blood, Bones and Butter

Twenty-two, and knowing no one, Tess leaves home to begin her adult life in New York City. Thus begins a year that is both enchanting and punishing, in a low-level job at “the best restaurant in New York City.” Grueling hours and a steep culinary learning curve awaken her to the beauty of oysters, the finest Champagnes, the appellations of Burgundy. At the same time, she opens herself to friendships—and love—set against the backdrop of dive bars and late nights.  As her appetites sharpen—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess is drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle that will prove to be her most exhilarating and painful lesson of all. 
Stephanie Danler deftly conjures the nonstop and purely adrenalized world of the restaurant—conversations interrupted, phrases overheard, and suggestions below the surface. Evoking the infinite possibility of being young in New York with heart-stopping accuracy, Sweetbitter is ultimately about the power of what remains after disillusionment, and the wisdom that comes from experience, sweet and bitter.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
Sweetbitter…[is] an unpretentious, truth-dealing, summer-weight novel…that reads like a letter home from a self-deprecating friend…Ms. Danler is a sensitive observer of the almost wartime camaraderie among workers at a restaurant that's humming at full capacity, of the exhaustion, of the postshift drinking in dive bars until dawn, of the sex and other stimulants—the biggest one simply being young and alive and open to the animal and intellectual possibilities that New York offers…Ms. Danler is a gifted commenter…on many things, class especially…Sweetbitter grows darker than you might expect, in terms of where Tess's desires lead her. It's a book about hunger of every variety, even the sort that can disturb you and make you sometimes ask yourself, as does Tess, "Was I a monster or was this what it felt like to be a person?"
The New York Times Book Review - Gabrielle Hamilton
…outstanding…Stephanie Danler's first novel, Sweetbitter, is the Kitchen Confidential of our time, written from the cleaner and infinitely more civilized front-of-the-house perspective…It would be a tired story if it weren't so, well, for one thing true and for another so brilliantly written. A coked-out girl who sees the sun come up as many times as Tess does might cause her writer to run out of metaphors for unwelcome daybreak…but Danler never does, and her description of the panic of the unannounced health department inspection was so engrossing to read, I missed a flight even though I had already checked in and was waiting at the gate…Tess is a character you root for and collude with. Danler has a deeply endearing habit of inviting you, the reader, to participate in Tess's own becoming.
Publishers Weekly
★ 12/07/2015
This debut is a quintessential coming-of-age story set in a remorseless, unusual city. Time and place are superbly established: the setting is the behind-the-scenes milieu of a celebrated restaurant in 2006 Manhattan. Propelled by “unbridled, unfocused desire” but still essentially naive, 22-year-old Tess has fled an empty life in the Midwest and landed a coveted job as a server in a restaurant that strongly resembles the famous Union Square Café. At first crushingly lonely and exhausted by the arduous routine, Tess is mentored by longtime senior server Simone. Despite warnings to avoid falling for bartender Jake, and willfully blind to the strange relationship between Jake and Simone, Tess begins a passionate affair with him. Meanwhile, she becomes an accepted member of a select society of overworked, terminally tense and bone-tired wait staff. Danler writes about food with sensory gusto as Tess learns how to distinguish the fine points of every wine, how to identify an heirloom tomato or oyster, how to shave a truffle. Tess also learns how to get seriously drunk and snort lines of coke. Early on, she defines the foods and condiments that are sweet and those that are bitter—and her relationships with Simone and Jake are ultimately just that: a sweet time of consummate happiness followed by bitter betrayal. Throughout, Danler evokes Tess’s voice—intimate, confiding, wonderstruck, depressed—with deft skill. This novel is a treat, sure to find a big following. (May)
From the Publisher
“Brilliantly written… Sweetbitter is the Kitchen Confidential of our time.”
—Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter and Prune, New York Times Book Review

“Danler’s sexy, astute debut is really a love story about the addictive pull of restaurant life… Anyone who’s ever tied on an apron will think, “Finally, someone wrote a book about us.” And nailed it.”
People (book of the week)

“An unpretentious, truth-dealing novel… about hunger of every variety. Ms. Danler is a sensitive observer… and gifted commenter on many things. Sweetbitter is going to make a lot of people hungry.”
—Dwight Garner, New York Times
“… perfectly captures the raw possibility of a young woman’s first year in New York, opening up to a whole new world of wine, food, love and heartbreak.”
—Mackenzie Dawson, New York Post   
"...a raw, shucked, pungent, wild love story."
Marie Claire 

"Danler... quickly draws you into the sparkling surfaces and the shadowy underbelly of the city... [Tess's] insatiable hunger for tactile, sensual satisfaction dares you to tag along. The journey is high-minded and dirty, beastly and bountiful."
“Danler’s ravishing debut is like inhabiting the heady after-midnight hours of a city drunk on its own charms… [her] descriptions of food and drink go beyond mouth-watering, verging on orgasmic… a first novel [that] tantalizes, seduces, satisfies.”
Leigh Haber, O Magazine

Library Journal
Tess is a Midwestern 22-year-old who escapes to New York City to discover herself. She lands a job at a Union Square restaurant and begins her search for a place to belong. The "new girl" in every sense, Tess is certain of her immortality; she works, studies to learn about wine, drinks excessively, and counters the alcohol with cocaine—all with the diner staff who become her family. She falls for a 30-year-old bartender and is befriended by a server who runs the restaurant. There is a backstory between these new friends, but Tess doesn't quite understand it. In her naïveté, she believes her new love can erase the past, until she discovers otherwise. Danler's debut captures the wild abandon of youth set free in a environment where there are no rules. The characters are well drawn, realistic, and enigmatic. Tess's fresh outlook contrasts with the jaded lives of the other employees. VERDICT This first novel is recommended for general fiction readers, especially those with an interest in food and wine. Public and academic libraries will want to purchase. [See Prepub Alert, 11/23/15.]—Joanna Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-02-04
An ingénue from the Midwest learns the ways of the world, and the flesh, during her year as a back waiter at a top Manhattan restaurant. A flurry of publicity surrounded the acquisition of this book, which was pitched by an MFA-grad waitress to an editor dining at one of her tables. Danler's debut novel takes place behind the scenes of a restaurant in Union Square whose rigid hierarchy, arcane codes of behavior, and basis in servitude and manual labor makes it less like a modern workplace than the royal court of 18th-century France—but with tattoos and enough cocaine to rival Jay McInerney. There's even a Dangerous Liaisons-type love triangle with the beautiful, naïve young narrator at its apex, batted between the mysterious, brilliant waitress who teaches her about wine and the dissolute, magnetic bartender who teaches her about oysters. The older woman says things like, "I know you. I remember you from my youth. You contain multitudes." The older man "was bisexual, he slept with everyone, he slept with no one. He was an ex-heroin addict, he was sober, he was always a little drunk." What 22-year-old could ever resist them? The writing is mostly incandescent, with visceral and gorgeous descriptions of flavors, pitch-perfect overheard dialogue, deep knowledge of food, wine, and the restaurant business, and only occasional lapses into unintentional pretentiousness. From her very first sentences—"You will develop a palate. A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-obsessed. You will never simply eat food again"—Danler aims to mesmerize, to seduce, to fill you with sensual cravings. She also offers the rare impassioned defense of Britney Spears. As they say at the restaurant: pick up!

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt


You will develop a palate.

A palate is a spot on your tongue where you remember. Where you assign words to the textures of taste. Eating becomes a discipline, language-­obsessed. You will never simply eat food again.

I don’t know what it is exactly, being a server. It’s a job, certainly, but not exclusively. There’s a transparency to it, an occupation stripped of the usual ambitions. One doesn’t move up or down. One waits. You are a waiter.

It is fast money—­loose, slippery bills that inflate and disappear over the course of an evening. It can be a means, to those with concrete ends and unwavering vision. I grasped most of that easily enough when I was hired at the restaurant at twenty-­two.

Some of it was a draw: the money, the sense of safety that came from having a place to wait. What I didn’t see was that the time had severe brackets around it. Within those brackets nothing else existed. Outside of them, all you could remember was the blur of a momentary madness. Ninety percent of us wouldn’t even put it on a résumé. We might mention it as a tossed-­off reference to our moral rigor, a badge of a certain kind of misery, like enduring earthquakes, or spending time in the army. It was so finite.

I came here in a car like everybody else. In a car filled with shit I thought meant something and shortly thereafter tossed on the street: DVDs, soon to be irrelevant, a box of digital and film cameras for a still-­latent photography talent, a copy of On the Road that I couldn’t finish, and a Swedish-­modern lamp from Walmart. It was a long, dark drive from a place so small you couldn’t find it on a generous map.

Does anyone come to New York clean? I’m afraid not. But crossing the Hudson I thought of crossing Lethe, milky river of forgetting. I forgot that I had a mother who drove away before I could open my eyes, and a father who moved invisibly through the rooms of our house. I forgot the parade of people in my life as thin as mesh screens, who couldn’t catch whatever it was I wanted to say to them, and I forgot how I drove down dirt roads between desiccated fields, under an oppressive guard of stars, and felt nothing.

Yes, I’d come to escape, but from what? The twin pillars of football and church? The low, faded homes on childless cul-­de-­sacs? Mornings of the Gazette and boxed doughnuts? The sedated, sentimental middle of it? It didn’t matter. I would never know exactly, for my life, like most, moved only imperceptibly and definitively forward.

Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open.

SOUR: all the puckering citrus juices, the thin-­skinned Meyer lemons, knobbed Kaffirs. Astringent yogurts and vinegars. Lemons resting in pint containers at all the cooks’ sides. Chef yelled, This needs acid!, and they eviscerated lemons, leaving the caressing sting of food that’s alive.

I didn’t know about the tollbooths.

“I didn’t know,” I said to the tollbooth lady. “Can’t I squeeze through this one time?”

The woman in the booth was as unmoved as an obelisk. The driver in the car behind me started honking, and then the driver behind him, until I wanted to duck under the steering wheel. She directed me to the side where I reversed, turned, and found myself facing the direction from which I had just come.

I pulled off into a maze of industrial streets, each one more misleading than the next. It was irrational but I was terrified of not being able to find an ATM and having to go all the way back. I pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts. I took out twenty dollars and looked at my remaining balance: $146.00. I used the restroom and rinsed off my face. Almost, I said to my strained face in the mirror.

“Can I get a large iced hazelnut coffee?” I asked. The man wheezing behind the counter masticated me with his eyes.

“You’re back?” He handed me the change.

“Excuse me?”

“You were in here yesterday. You got that same coffee.”

“No. I. Did. Not.” I shook my head for emphasis. I imagined myself getting out of the car yesterday, tomorrow, and every day of my new life, pulling into the Dunkin’ Donuts in motherfucking New Jersey, and ordering that coffee. I felt sick. “I didn’t,” I said again, still shaking my head.

“I’m back, it’s me,” I said to the tollbooth woman, rolling the window down triumphantly. She raised one eyebrow and hooked her thumb into her belt loop. I handed her money like it was nothing. “Can I get in now?”

SALT: your mouth waters itself. Flakes from Brittany, liquescent on contact. Blocks of pink salt from the Himalayas, matte gray clumps from Japan. An endless stream of kosher salt, falling from Chef’s hand. Salting the most nuanced of enterprises, the food always requesting more, but the tipping point fatal.

A friend of a friend of a friend, his name was Jesse. A spare bedroom for $700 a month. A neighborhood called Williamsburg. The city was in the grips of a tyrannical heat wave, the daily papers headlined with news of people dying in Queens and the outer boroughs where there were blackouts. The cops were passing out bags of ice, an evaporating consolation.

The streets were wide and vacant and I parked my car on Roebling. It was midafternoon, there wasn’t enough shade, and every business seemed closed. I walked over to Bedford Avenue to look for signs of life. I saw a coffee shop and thought about asking if they needed a barista. When I looked through the window the kids on laptops were thin lipped, pierced, gaunt, so much older than me. I had promised myself to find work swiftly and unthinkingly—­as a waitress, a barista, a whatever-­the-­fuck-­job so I could feel planted. But when I told myself to open the door my hand objected.

The waterfront skyline was plastered with skeletons of high-­rises, escalating out of the low buildings. They looked like mistakes that had been rubbed out with an eraser. Creaking above an overgrown, abandoned lot was a rusted-out Mobil gas sign—­all around me ambivalent evidence of extinction.

This new roommate had left the keys at a bar near the apartment. He worked in an office in Midtown during the day and couldn’t meet me.

Clem’s was a dark spot on a bright corner, the air conditioner rumbling like a diesel motor. It anointed me with a drip when I walked in, and I stood blinking in the airstream while my eyes adjusted.

There was a bartender leaning heavily against the back counter with his boots up on the bar in front of him. He wore a patched and studded denim vest with no shirt underneath. Two women sat in front of him in yellow print dresses, twirling straws in big drinks. No one said anything to me.

“Keys, keys, keys,” he said when I asked. In addition to his body odor, which hit me in the face on my approach, this man was covered in terrifying—­demonic—­tattoos. The skin of his ribs seemed glued on. A mustache as defined as pigtails. He pulled out the register, threw it on the bar, and rummaged through the drawer underneath. Stacks of credit cards, foreign change, envelopes, receipts. The bills fluttered against the clamps.

“You Jesse’s girl?”

“Ha,” one of the women said from down the bar. She pressed her drink onto her forehead and rolled it back and forth. “That was funny.”

“It’s South Second and Roebling,” I said.

“Am I a fucking real estate agent?” He threw a handful of keys with plastic colored tags at me.

“Aw, don’t scare her,” the second woman said. They didn’t look like sisters exactly, but they were both fleshy, rising out of their halter necklines like figureheads on the prow of a ship. One was blond, the other brunette—­and now that I was looking, their dresses were definitely identical. They murmured inside jokes to each other.

How am I going to live here? I wondered. Someone is going to have to change, them or me. I found the keys marked 220 Roeb­ling. The bartender ducked down.

“Thank you very much, sir,” I said to the air.

“Oh, no problem, madame,” he said, popping up and batting his eyes at me. He opened a can of beer, pushed his mustache up, and ran his tongue around it while looking at me.

“Okay,” I said, backing away. “Well, maybe I’ll come in again. For like . . . a drink.”

“I’ll be here with bells on,” he said, turning his back on me. His stench lingered.

Just before I stepped out into the heat I heard one of the women say, “Oh god,” and then from that bartender: “There goes the fucking neighborhood.”

SWEET: granular, powdered, brown, slow like honey or molasses. The mouth-­coating sugars in milk. Once, when we were wild, sugar intoxicated us, the first narcotic we craved and languished in. We’ve tamed, refined it, but the juice from a peach still runs like a flash flood.

I don’t remember why I went to that restaurant first.

I do remember—­in perfect detail—­that stretch of Sixteenth Street that gave away so little: the impersonal, midcentury teal of Coffee Shop, the battalion of dumpsters between us and Blue Water Grill, the bodega with two small card tables where they let you drink beer. Always uniformed servers buying Altoids and energy drinks.

The alley where the cooks lined up to smoke cigarettes between services, the recesses of the alley where they smoked pot and kicked at the rats tearing through the trash. And just beyond our line of vision we could sense the outlines of the scrawny park.

What did the Owner gaze at when he built it? The future.

When I got there they told me a lot of stories. Nobody went to Union Square in the eighties, they said. Only a few of the publishing houses had moved down there. That city has been replaced by another city. The Whole Foods, the Barnes & Noble, the Best Buy—­they got stacked right on top of it. In Rome, they dig for a subway and find whole civilizations. With all the artists, the politicians, the tailors, the hairdressers, the bartenders. If you dug right here on Sixteenth Street you’d find us, younger, and all the stale haunts, and all the old bums in the park younger too.

What did those original servers see when they went to the first interviews in 1985? A tavern, a grill, a bistro? A mess of Italy, France, and some burgeoning American cuisine that nobody really believed in yet? A hodgepodge that shouldn’t have worked? When I asked them what they saw, they said he’d built a kind of restaurant that hadn’t been there before. They all said that when they walked in, it felt like coming home.

BITTER: always a bit unanticipated. Coffee, chocolate, rosemary, citrus rinds, wine. Once, when we were wild, it told us about poison. The mouth still hesitates at each new encounter. We urge it forward, say, Adapt. Now, enjoy it.

I smiled too much. At the end of the interview the corners of my mouth ached like stakes in a tent. I wore a black sundress and a pilled cardigan, which was the most conservative and professional thing I owned. I had a handful of résumés folded up in my purse, and my loose plan—­if that’s even the right word for the hesitant brand of instinct I forced myself to follow with a sense of doom—­was to walk into restaurants until I got hired. When I asked my roommate where I should look for a job, he said the best restaurant in New York City was in Union Square. Within a minute of getting off the train I developed giant wet half-­moons of sweat in the cardigan, but the top of my dress was too revealing to remove it.

“Why did you choose New York?” asked Howard, the general manager.

“I thought you were going to ask me why I chose this restaurant,” I said.

“Let’s start with New York.”

I knew from books, movies, and Sex and the City how I was supposed to answer. I’ve always dreamed of living here, they say. They stress the word dreamed, lengthen it, to make it sound true.

I knew so many said: I came here to be a singer/dancer/actress/photographer/painter. In finance/fashion/publishing. I came here to be powerful/beautiful/wealthy. This always seemed to mean: I’m stopping here to become someone else.

I said, “It really didn’t feel like a choice. Where else is there to go?”

“Ah,” he said. “It’s a bit of a calling isn’t it?”

That’s all. Ah. And I felt like he understood that I didn’t have endless options, that there was only one place large enough to hold so much unbridled, unfocused desire. Ah. Maybe he knew how I fantasized about living a twenty-­four-­hour life. Maybe he knew how bored I had been up until now.

Howard was in his late forties with a cultivated, square face. His hair receded finely, emphasizing bulging eyes that told me he didn’t need much sleep. He stood squarely on athletic legs, balancing a prominent belly. Judicious eyes, I thought, as he tapped his fingers on the white tablecloth and assessed me.

“You have nice nails,” I said, looking at his hands.

“It’s part of the job,” he said, unswayed. “Tell me what you know about wine.”

“Oh, the basics. I’m competent in the basics.” As in I knew the difference between white and red wine and it couldn’t get more basic than that.

“For example,” he said, looking around the room as if plucking a question from the air, “what are the five noble grapes of Bordeaux?”

I pictured cartoon grapes wearing crowns on their heads, welcoming me to their châteaux—­Hello, we are the noble grapes of Bordeaux, they said. I debated lying. It was impossible to know how much honesty about my ignorance would be valued.

“Mer . . . lot?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s one.”

“Cabernet? I’m sorry, I don’t really drink Bordeaux.”

He seemed sympathetic. “Of course, it’s a bit above the average price point.”

“Yep.” I nodded. “That’s totally it.”

“What do you drink?”

My first instinct was to list the different beverages I drank on a daily basis. The noble grapes were back in my head, dancing, telling him all about my Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee.

“What do I drink when?”

“When you purchase a bottle of wine, what do you tend toward?”

I imagined myself purchasing a bottle of wine, not based on price or proximity to the checkout line, not based on what animal was on the label, but by an internal matrix of my own taste. That image was as laughable as my noble grapes, even if I was wearing a cardigan.

“Beaujolais? Is that a wine?”

“It is. Beaujolais, c’est un vin fainéant et radin.”

“Yes. That.”

“Which cru do you prefer?”

“I’m not sure,” I said, batting my eyelashes forcibly, falsely.

“Do you have any experience as a server?”

“Yes. I’ve been working at that coffee shop for years. It’s on my résumé.”

“I mean in a restaurant. Do you know what it means to be a server?”

“Yes. When the plates are ready I bring them out and serve them to customers.”

“You mean guests.”


“Your guests.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant.” He scribbled on the top of my résumé. Server? Guests? What was the difference between a guest and a customer?

“It says here you were an English major.”

“Yes. I know. It’s generic.”

“What are you reading?”


“What are you reading right now?”

“Is that a job question?”

“Perhaps.” He smiled. His eyes made an unabashed, slow circle around my face.

“Um. Nothing. For the first time in my life, I’m reading nothing.” I paused and looked out the window. I don’t think anyone, even my professors, had once asked me what I was reading. He was digging, and though I had no idea what he was looking for, I decided it was better to play. “You know, Howard, if I can call you that, when I was leaving for here I packed a few boxes of books. But then I really started looking at them. These books were . . . I don’t know . . . totems of who I was. . .  . I . . .”

My words had a point, I had just felt the point coming, I was trying to tell him the truth. “I left them behind. That’s what I mean.”

He rested his cheek on an aristocratic hand. He listened. No, he perceived. I felt perceived. “Yes. It’s startling to look back on the passionate epiphanies of our youth. But a good sign perhaps. That our minds have changed, that we’ve evolved.”

“Or maybe it means we’ve forgotten ourselves. And we keep forgetting ourselves. And that’s the big grown-­up secret to survival.”

I stared out the window. The city passed on, obliviously. If this went badly I would forget it too.

“Are you a writer?”

“No,” I said. The table came back into focus. He was looking at me. “I like books. And everything else.”

“You like everything else?”

“You know what I mean, I like it all. I like being moved.”

He made another note on my résumé.

“What do you dislike?”

“What?” I thought I’d misheard him.

“If you like being moved, what do you dislike?”

“Are these normal questions?”

“This isn’t a normal restaurant.” He smiled and crossed his hands.

“Okay.” I looked back out the window. Enough. “I don’t like that question.”


My palms were damp. That was the moment I realized I wanted the job. That job, at that restaurant specifically. I looked at my hands and said, “It feels a little personal.”

“All right.” He didn’t skip a beat, a quick glance at my résumé and he was on track. “Can you tell me about a problem at one of your last jobs? At that coffee shop, I suppose. Tell me about a problem there and how you solved it.”

As if I had dreamed it, the interior of the coffee shop dissolved when I tried to recall it directly. And when I tried to remember punching in there, tried to remember the sink, the register, the coffee grinds, the objects faded. And then her fat, gloating, vindictive face appeared.

“There was this awful woman, Mrs. Pound. I mean it, she was insufferable. We called her The Hammer. From the second she walked in everything was wrong, the coffee scalded her or it tasted like dirt, the music was too loud, or her blueberry muffin had poisoned her the night before. She was always threatening to shut us down, telling us to get our lawyer ready each time she bumped into a table. She wanted scrambled eggs for her dog. Never tipped us a cent. She was dreaded. But then, this was a little over a year ago, she had her foot amputated. She was diabetic. None of us ever knew, I mean, why would we know? And she would wheel by in her wheelchair and everyone was like, Finally, The Hammer is done.”

“Finally, what?” Howard asked.

“Oh, I forgot that part. We didn’t have a ramp. And there were stairs. So she was finished, more or less.”

“More or less,” he said.

“But, the real part of the story. We met eyes one day when she was wheeling by, and she was glaring, I mean, hateful. And I don’t know why, but I missed her. I missed her face. So I made her coffee and I ran after her. I wheeled her across the street to the park and she complained about everything from the weather to indigestion. From then on it was our thing. Every day. I even brought the scrambled eggs in a to-­go container for her dog. My coworkers made so much fun of me.”

The Hammer’s swollen, varicosed legs. Flashing her stump at me from under her housedress. Her purple fingers.

“Does that answer your question? The problem was not having a ramp, I guess. The solution was to bring out the coffee. I’m sorry, I didn’t explain it very well.”

“I think you explained it perfectly. That was a kind thing to do.”

I shrugged. “I really liked her actually.”

The Hammer was the only impolite person I knew. She put me in that restaurant. I felt it then but didn’t understand it. It was her niece’s daughter who was a friend of a friend of my new roommate in Williamsburg. Our goodbye had been tearful—­on my end, not hers. I promised to write her letters, but the weeks were eclipsing our small relationship. And as I looked at Howard and the perfectly set table and the tasteful hydrangea arrangement between us, I understood what he meant by guest, and I also knew that I would never see her again.

“Did you move here with anyone? Girlfriends? A boyfriend?”


“That’s very brave.”

“Is it? It’s been two days and I feel pretty foolish.”

“It’s brave if you make it, foolish if you fail.”

I wanted to ask him how I would be able to tell the difference and when.

“If you’re hired here, what do you want the next year to bring you?”

I forgot that I was being interviewed. I forgot about my negative bank account, my pit stains, and the noble grapes. I said something about wanting to learn. About my work ethic.

I was never good at the future. I grew up with girls whose chief occupation was the future—­designing it, instigating it. They could talk about it with so much confidence that it sounded like the past. During those talks, I had contributed nothing.

I had visions, too abstract and flat for me to hang on to. For years I saw a generic city lit up at night. I would use those remote, artificial lights to soothe myself to sleep. One day I was quitting my job with no sense of exhilaration, one day I was leaving a note for my father, pulling out of his driveway, slightly bewildered, and two days later I was sitting in front of Howard. That was the way the future came to me.

The vision that accompanied me on my drive was a girl, a lady actually. We had the same hair but she didn’t look like me. She was in a camel coat and ankle boots. A dress under the coat was belted high on her waist. She carried various shopping bags from specialty stores and as she was walking, pausing at certain windows, her coat would fly back in the wind. Her boot heels tapped on the cobblestones. She had lovers and breakups, an analyst, a library, acquaintances she ran into on the street whose names she couldn’t call to mind. She belonged to herself only. She had edges, boundaries, tastes, definition down to her eyelashes. And when she walked it was clear she knew where she was going.

As I thanked him and we reviewed my contact information, I didn’t know what had transpired, whether it was good or bad. It took me a moment to even remember the name of the restaurant. He held my hand too long and as I stood, his eyes traveled down my body, not like an employer’s, but like a man’s.

“I dislike mopping. And lying,” I said. I don’t know why. “Those are the two that come to mind.”

He nodded and smiled—­what I wanted to call a private smile. The backs of my legs were damp with sweat and as I walked away I felt his eyes unabashedly on my ass. At the door, I rolled my cardigan off my shoulders, and arched as if stretching. No one knows how I got the job, but it’s better to be honest about these things.

TASTE, Chef said, is all about balance. The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter. Now your tongue is coded. A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.

Meet the Author

STEPHANIE DANLER is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the New School.

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Sweetbitter 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Boring. Jumps around. No idea if there is a story. Not sure I cam force myself to finish the book.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Thought I was going to read a fun inside look at being in the restaurant business, sorry, this is a snore. Could not get past 2 chapters, writer loves words but isn't a storyteller.
michelle524 11 months ago
this book started out great, tess was easy to like and root for, however the last part (spring) was like a completely different book, turned into a badly written soap opera. baffling
Anonymous 29 days ago
I enjoyed the NYC setting and the main character's struggle with learning the city and her high pressure job. And, the dynamics of assimilating into the restaurant culture. I liked her growth and ability to recognize and articulate changes that needed to be made in the restaurant. Not a 5 story but certainly absorbing and interesting. I ever thought not to finish it.
Piney10 7 months ago
This book was touted to be one of the best summer reads of 2016. I also had really liked Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain on the insides of the restaurant business so I actually was looking forward to this. Perhaps Anthony Bourdain set too high of a standard but I found this book lacking in anything, boring, and disappointing. Generally this is a story of a Midwestern college educated young woman who comes to NYC to perhaps find herself and lands a job at what apparently is a top end restaurant. I understand there is a lot that goes on inside restaurants from drugs, sex, harassment, etc. However what the author hoped to achieve in this novel I found was totally lacking and disappointing. All characters were unlikeable, the protagonist in my view the most, with really no attempt to make things better. I guess I am more of an optimist but the novel depicted almost everything and everyone r in a very dark light. Very disappointing read!
Anonymous 8 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
Depressing and terrible ending.
Anonymous 8 months ago
I couldn't wait to read ad the storyline sounded amazing but what a disappointment . Overwritten . Laborious to read... couldn't wait for it to be over (I will always read to the end).
Anonymous 10 months ago
Terrible.....what a waste of my time. I kept waiting for something to happen.......snore.....
SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
Wow, what a waste of time
Anonymous 10 months ago
Anonymous 12 months ago
Good read! First time author could hold the pretentious prose and literary references and rely more on her page-turning story, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had me by page 1. Loved writers wit. Was very involved with characters. Felt like I was in NYC. Truly wanted it to go on forever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not put it down. Great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sensual, gripping, gritty, decadent, true. Loved it.
PBozanich More than 1 year ago
a cacophony of sensual pleasure, deftly painted by newcomer Stephanie Danler, makes this book a must-read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago