Ah yes, October. The air gets a little crisper, the leaves on the trees turn colors, and restaurant publicists everywhere salivate over the 2008 restaurant guides that start hitting their desks. It’s become an annual fall tradition in the foodie realm, nicely paired with cider presses and pumpkin pies.
Michelin recently released their New York guidebook, and the Zagat guide is also hitting the shelves in most of the areas of the country that they cover. The level of hype surrounding each of these events would make it seem as if James Beard and MFK Fisher have given their thumbs up on the restaurants praised in each of these books.
If you want to know my opinion on these books, it’s best represented by the following paragraphs found in this New York Times article:
Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC made its debut in the Michelin guide with two stars. It was named the top newcomer in Zagat, but got 25 points and was not even in the top 50 for food. Neither was Del Posto, which also received two Michelin stars, along with Bouley and Picholine.
Whether you swear by Zagat’s consensus ratings from thousands of diners or the stars awarded by Michelin’s small team of professionals, there is also the question of consistency.
“Three stars in Michelin in New York are the same as in Paris or London,” said Jean-Luc Naret, the director of the guides. Michelin gave stars to 42 New York restaurants, up from 39 last year.
Zagat’s top 50 restaurants all scored 26 to 28 for food, but unlike restaurants in Zagat guides for other cities, none scored 29. Does that mean that Thomas Henkelmann in Greenwich, Conn., and Nicholas in Middletown, N.J., each of which scored 29 in their states’ guides, serve better food than Per Se or even Guy Savoy in Paris, which also scored 28?
Clearly there’s some disagreement here between the Zagat folks and the Michelin folks, and I’m sure if you were to press a representative from either one of these guidebooks, they would say that it is the other guidebook that got it wrong.
The truth is that both of them are wrong (or right, if you’re a “wine glass is half full” kind of a person). Here’s a quick thought experiment for you to prove my point – Name your top five favorite foods. While many of you can give answers to this question, most of you may add the caveat of stating that this list is likely to change based off of your mood, while others may simply say that the question is flawed because it has set an unrealistic parameter.
Here’s the big secret that guidebooks don’t want the consumers to remember – taste can’t be quantified. It’s near impossible to say why Restaurant A deserves a 29, while Restaurant B deserves a 28, and even more difficult to get a consensus on that 1 point differential. While these books provide a nice reference on where to eat, let’s not imbue these books with any more credence than the restaurant guide found in the back of your weekly tabloid.