Let's be candid about this business of rating restaurants. Most
publications rate with stars. Daily newspapers and city slick magazines rate
with stars with one exception from such outfits as Mobil Guide. Newspaper and
magazine reviewers write about the food they eat. And they sign their name,
thus giving the reader some perspective as to the human behind the opinion.
Mobil Guide is faceless and somewhat suspect as to whether the inspectors are rating napery, the parking lot or the dishwasher.
And then there is Zagat, the vox populi approach to restaurant compilation. At least Zagat provides a bit more information than Yellow Pages.
The world's most reliable restaurant resource is Guide Michelin. Food information is supreme, very accurate. Unfortunately, Michelin does not perform in the USA. How does Michelin gather information and update yearly? The guide has a stable of full timers covering France and fanning out across the Continent. Today, Guide Michelin rates restaurants in Great Britain.
In the United States, the informed dining out public tends to rely on newspaper and city magazines for accurate and legitimate opinions. (My home plate, The Columbus Dispatch, has two reviewers; Columbus Monthly has two reviewers, all legitimate. My city also has a plague of the freebie guides pawning off advertorial copy as legit restaurant reviews. Sad, but legal.)
Only one time has a real attempt been made in this country to provide Michelin-like restaurant opinions. In 1986 food writer and restaurant reviewer John Mariani pulled together 48 legitimate restaurant reviewers from as many cities. Mariani took the most important -
his New York City.
Mariani, in a measure, duplicated Guide Michelin but on a massively expanded scale. Examples: He retained Lois Dwan, the Los Angeles Times, to review and suggest restaurants in her city. Ellen Brown of the Cincinnati Enquirer covered her city. Other matchings: Elaine Tait reprised her opinions that had then appeared for 22 years in the Philadelphia Inquirer; Tom Fitzmorris for years had written about New Orleans food in his own publication, Menu, and certainly had a following that trusted his opinions; and to cover San Francisco, Mariani required two trusted reviewers, Patricia Unterman and Stan Sesser, both San Francisco Chronicle reviewers.
Mariani just this one time duplicated Guide Michelin, but with one exception. Mariani's Coast-To-Coast Dining Guide (Times Books) gave name credits to those expressing opinions under his name. He wrote this in his introduction:
“The United States is just too darn big to be covered successfully in a guide book along the lines of France's Guide Michelin, which, I'm told, has 12 inspectors to cover a geographic territory smaller than the state of Texas. Then again, how do you cover a country whose gastronomy ranges from spiced Maryland crabs to oysters Rockefeller, from haute cuisine to down-home cookery, from Dagwood sandwiches to 'dirty rice'? In France 99 percent of the restaurants are French, in China 99 percent are Chinese, and in India 99 percent are Indian. America's ethnic heritages makes the idea of classical standards an exercise in frustration. This country is just too darn diverse.”
This Web site does not attempt to duplicate Guide Michelin in this country. Neither will it come close to producing guidelines similar to the Mariani work.
As this Web site builds, you will be able to click onto 50 cities - and a few hamlets for off-the-eaten path experiences. Remember this one thing - there is a human name attached to every opinion.