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Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Speaking of Rankings . . .

This week, Michelin came out with its first Red Guide of New York dining and hotels. The dining guide had some surprises in its inclusions and omissions. Michelin uses a three-tier, star-based rating system. Michelin’s methodology is not clear from press accounts; what is known is that Michelin “surveyed” 507 New York restaurants in all five boroughs, and only 39 placed. Of those 39, only four achieved a 3-star rating:

Alain Ducasse
Jean-Georges
Le Bernardin
Per Se

And four achieved a 2-star rating:

Bouley
Daniel
Danube
Masa

The remaining 31 were each lucky enough to receive one star.

The Michelin restaurant guide competes with the ubiquitous Zagat survey, which is not red, but maroon and similar in size. Zagat provides scores of up to 30 for three categories (food, décor and service). There are no scores for peer assessment, expenditure per customer, acceptance rate for last minute reservations or bar pass out rate. Zagatsummarize[s] the honest opinions of the thousands of people who share their experiences” and “mandates the completely honest and objective gathering and compiling of . . . surveyors’ ratings and reviews.”

When it comes to elite restaurants, one would think that there is likely some measure of subjectivity in the comparisons.  The consistency among the results provides some proof, however, that the rankings could be scientific. For example, Le Bernadin scored three stars from Michelin, and it received “best food in New York” from Zagat.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali, whose restaurant, Babbo, received one star from Michelin, was not happy with his ranking, which put him on the same tier as the Spotted Pig, “a small gastro-pub in the Village.” The N.Y. Times reports:

"They're blowing it," [Batali] said of the reviewers. "They can't put the spotted on the same level as Babbo."

He blames the loud music he plays, a possible bias among the inspectors against Italian cuisine and a style of dining that New Yorkers embrace and Europeans don't.

"It will certainly be controversial for a couple of weeks," Mr. Batali said. "With that few restaurants in the two-star category, people will not take it seriously."

Maybe Batali should rally for specialty rankings: loudest music, best simulation of the Northern Italian dining experience, smallest portion for highest price, most likely to pass health inspection. . .

The question left open, narrowly presented: come next Michelin reviewing season, will the “surveyors” receive a glut of glossy self-promoting brochures about the restaurants?

[Meredith R. Miller]

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