Twenty-six year old Tess goes to The Big City from the provinces and unexpectedly lands her first job at a renowned New York restaurant. Her tastes are unformed, but the manager senses something in her that will lead to her becoming a “fifty-one percenter,” someone who exceeds expectations. Chef tells her it “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.” As Tess learns to love oysters, develops her wine palate, and is introduced to the world behind the scenes of a famous restaurant, she also falls in with the staff, who after a frenetic night of making diners happy, retreat in the small hours to a local bar. There there are drugs, lots of booze, and romantic and sexual intrigue. The novel follows Tess in her first year in Manhattan and Williamsburg as she comes into her own and learns some hard lessons. The book won’t necessarily make you want to eat in a restaurant anytime soon. 352 pp.