Oh, Zagat. Why do you even bother with guidebooks in cities other than New York? You obviously don’t have a clue how to moderate the findings of your famous surveys.
Zagat has just released the 2013 Orlando City Guide. Technically, it’s the first one, though it is not the first Zagat publication to feature Orlando. I should know, I was an uncredited editor of a couple of editions of Zagat Surveys that included Orlando several years ago.
I say included Orlando because the New York based Zagat folks did not think that Orlando warranted a guidebook of restaurants of its own –never mind that at the time we had over 4000 restaurants in the immediate area. So they lumped Tampa, Daytona Beach, Sarasota and St. Petersburg along with Orlando into one volume. From a practical standpoint, it was unusable. I was pleased that my name wasn’t on it.
The new Orlando City Guide apparently still takes the stance that we don’t have enough restaurants to fill a guidebook, so in addition to the usual food ratings, the City Guide has ratings of attractions, museums and other distractions.
But the New York editors still don’t understand the area. Take, for example, rating as the number one restaurant in the Orlando City Guide Cress restaurant in DeLand.
Now I don’t disagree with the rating, which is determined by diner surveys. Hari and Jenneffer Pulapaka’s restaurant is indeed one of the best restaurants in the area, and I, too, include it in my list of “local” restaurants.
But consider this: you will not find in the Orlando City Guide any restaurants in Sanford, including Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe, which has garnered national recognition as one of the country’s best German restaurants. And it should be noted that one must drive 29 minutes northeast from Sanford to reach DeLand. (That according to Google Maps; Google is now the parent company of Zagat.) Theo Hollerbach told me that he sent numerous email requests to Zagat asking that his restaurant be added to the list of businesses that could be rated for the City Guide but did not receive an answer.
So then, how should you view the results of a City Guide that excludes big chunks of the area? Let’s take a look at the other Top 10 restaurants in the new guide.
Number 10: Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar. A fun place; a favorite “dive” restaurant. But one of the area’s best? No, I don’t think so.
Number 9: Texas de Brazil. A churrascaria chain restaurant that does a good job but offers nothing much more than the opportunity to gorge oneself silly.
Number 8: Jiko – The Cooking Place (listed on the site only as Jiko). The food here is very good, and service is the usual Disney standards. It arguably deserves a place on the list.
Number 7: Viet Garden. The food is rated just as highly as Jiko’s — 28 out of a possible 30.
Number 6: Christner’s Del Frisco’s. Also a good call.
Number 5: Norman’s. Certainly deserves to be on the list.
Number 4: Chatham’s Place. Definitely on my list of the area’s better restaurants.
Number 3: Nagoya Sushi. Certainly a favorite of the flog.
Number 2: Victoria & Albert’s
Number 1: Cress
Where’s Ravenous Pig? Where’s K? Where’s Luma on Park? Where’s Rocco’s Italian? Chef’s Table at the Edgewater? Rusty Spoon? Citricos? Tap Room at Dubsdread? Primo? Chez Vincent? La Luce?
Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar? Give me a break.
The ratings are done by average diners, not professional critics. Back when I was involved, there was no option of filling in an online form. Participants were mailed — postal service mail! — paper surveys with tiny spaces to fill in ratings and comments. Those surveys were mailed to Zagat central and compiled into spreadsheets that were bound and sent to the editors. We received binders full of restaurants, if you will. It was easy to stuff the ballot box. Now, voters rate restaurants online at zagat.com, which is now owned by Google, the same company that mapped the half-hour route from Sanford to DeLand for me. But anyone who knows anything about computers knows that it’s still easy to stuff even the virtual ballot box.
So you get an oyster bar or a Viet Garden listed at the top with the more deserving winners.
But the fact that Zagat doesn’t even give the option to vote on restaurants such as Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford is truly curious. But I shouldn’t be surprised — it is part of the stereotypical view New Yorkers have of the rest of the world.
It reminds me of when I was in negotiations to do the old guidebook. My co-editor and I flew to New York to meet with Tim Zagat and discuss the project. We met at the Zagat offices, which overlooks Columbus Circle. It was a beautiful view, and as we waited for Zagat to join us for lunch down the street at San Domenico, I commented to one of the senior editors what a great vista they had. He agreed, and he mentioned that there was an annual parade that was happening that Thursday that would go right by the office, and that all the workers bring their families in every year for the view of the parade.
It was November, the Monday before Thanksgiving. But this guy had no inkling that anyone outside of New York would know anything about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
What a moron.
What are your thoughts on the list? Leave your comments below.