The New Zagat’s Out of the Bag

Yes, the goofy title of this post only makes sense if you know that it’s pronounced “Zah-GAT”. Sorry. As you may or may not know, that restaurant-rating staple arrived hot off the presses last week;  and we ended up with the Jersey guide (as well as the cute little Jersey Shore guide) in our hot little hands, thanks to those Zagat folks (re: a cool and necessary, freebie). After a quick perusing of the contents, we felt that we had to share some thoughts on this year’s guides.

First of all, we always get a kick out the guide. We enjoy going through it and seeing what eateries got top ratings. And the tops in Jersey is Nicholas in Middletown with a 29(!!!). Sapori in Collingswood and The Washington Inn in Cape May were tops in South Jersey with a 28 each. La Esperanza in Lindenwold and Tortilla Press in Collingswood were 1-2 in the Mexican category. And how about A Little Cafe in Voorhees (with a 27) getting top honors in the Eclectic category!

We all know that a Zagat’s tag on the door to a restaurant kind of makes you want to sit up and take notice, as in:  “Wow, it’s that good? It made it into the guide?” And most of the time, I have to agree. DeLorenzo’s at the top of the pizza listings at a 24? Sure (Hell, I’d give it a 30). The no-longer-a-secret Chef Vola (Atlantic City) a 26? Awesome. And nice to see Girasole (Atlantic City) at all, coming in at a 26. We also usually agree at the ones that are, well, towards the bottom of the list. Ugly Mug in Cape May a 15? Yeah, that’s about right.

But we couldn’t help but notice a number 0f places that are missing and really should be here as well, in our humble opinion. The list of places in Toms River is still pretty small. Where is Siam Spice? Or Shut Up and Eat? Brasas BBQ? Or even Wolfie’s? And there are a few ratings that were puzzling, like the amazing Azucar in Jersey City getting a lower rating (20) than Cuba Libre (21). Really? And Izakaya in AC only rates one point higher for food than Seasons 52 in Cherry Hill? Don’t know about that…

But there is something that does stick in our craw a bit: why, oh, why are national chains included? OK, I can see local, small chain faves such as Surf Taco or Windmill…but The Melting Pot? Benihana? Baja Fresh? Wouldn’t you just venture to guess what you’re getting based on their TV ads? Sadly, I feel it takes up precious space, eliminating gems like West Side Gravy in Collingswood, for instance. Using Toms River again, two of the eight restaurants listed are national chains. Now, some people may appreciate having chains listed, but we could do without them.

I guess, however, we only have ourselves, as consumers, to blame. After all, every single rating comes from votes cast from ordinary diners like you and I. How adventurous are we being? Are we willing to give the new place up the street a try? When we’re in Atlantic City (or anywhere else where tourists gather to play), do we go beyond the obvious, get off the boardwalk, and see what adventures await?

Well, OK, maybe you just don’t have the time or want to take the risk of having a lousy meal. I can understand that. I guess that’s what keeps us and Zagat’s in business. But please, if you happen to hear that your best friend’s cousin wants to put in a vote for the local P.F. Chang’s, please have them “discouraged”. And I might mean that in the full Sopranos sense. OK, maybe not quite that way.

Stay tuned, as we also had the opportunity to grill Tim Zagat, the co-head-honcho of the guide this week, and we will be posting the results of that interview soon!

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