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Steven Shaw, aka">;'s "Fat Guy," is known in the food writing community as something of a rabble-rouser. Over the past four years, Shaw has simultaneously fashioned himself into a trustworthy restaurant critic, particularly of New York City-area eateries, and a watchdog of the culinary media. Browse through eGullet's forums and you'll find his scathing sideswipes at food critics with no restaurant background or tangible culinary experience (Frank Bruni of the New York Times is among his direct targets).

But in his first book, Turning the Tables (HarperCollins, $24.95), Shaw turns his keen-edged mind to the task of demystifying the restaurant dining experience. Sound a bit rudimentary? It ain't.

Much of the book draws on Shaw's previously published articles that illuminate the ins and outs of "The Life," as he notes insiders call the restaurant business. He recounts his evening posing as an assistant manager at Eleven Madison Park, one of New York's most popular restaurants. We follow his travails working in the kitchen of renowned Gramercy Tavern (a celery brunoise, we learn, is not such an easy technique to master) and shadowing a nerve-jangling evening with Richard Coraine, who heads operations for Union Square Hospitality Group. He travels to Mitchell's Barbecue in North Carolina to investigate the operation's controversial, high-tech methods.

What's particularly deft about the book| though| is how instructive he makes these investigative jaunts for readers. We learn how to snag a prime reservation| how to order at a sushi bar||how to ask for what we want when we don't get it. Trepid newbies|serious foodies alike will find value in reading Shaw's compact| passionate treatise even if his assessment of the food media (which he does address in one chapter) comes off as dogmatic.


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