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January 11, 2010

Take part in the Zagat survey of local restaurants

PortallisinEC.jpgZagat makes it well worth your while to participate in the voting for the local restaurants to be included in the 2011 guide. The survey is going on at Zagat.com from now until Feb. 21.

If you register and complete the survey, you get one of the following:

* The Washington DC/Baltimore Restaurants 2011 guide

* A 90-day subscription to Zagat.com

* An entry into the $500 Night On The Town Sweepstakes ...

By participating in the nightlife survey, you're entitled to a 90-day subscription to Zagat.com.

"I was able to include more places on the list this time," Editor Marty Katz wrote me, "and tried to be very up to date with openings,  previously overlooked spots and stay current with new, hot openings and discoveries. Plus people can write in places I didn't list."

As an aside, Marty's been following our discussion of Restaurant Week, and he passed along this tidbit, which was on the Zagat Web site. It may explain the origins of the promotion nationally:

Back in 1992, Tim Zagat and renowned restaurateur Joe Baum conceived of enlisting top Manhattan restaurants to offer $19.92 lunches as a promotion while the Democratic National Convention was in town. NYC's popular Restaurant Week was born. Given the success, cities around the nation gradually started their own versions of the promotion.

My question is still: Has Restaurant Week outlived its usefulness to both restaurants and customers? Or not?

(Algerina Perna/Sun photographer) 

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:44 AM | | Comments (21)
        

Comments

I did the survey last year, and the Zagat Guide is really a nice handy little publication. It really makes it worth your time.

About RW. My misgivings now are the same as they've always been. Although it's a good opportunity to dine at places I couldn't ordinarily afford (in most cases), it's way too much food and no wine. I'd be far more interested if the deal was just an entree and a bottle of wine, or 2 glasses of wine each. But, that's just me...

First, anything to improve the Baltimore/DC Zagat guide is ok by me. I'm so sick of seeing the exact same review each year (even when a chef or menu has completely changed), restaurants listed as too new for rating for too long or closed restaurants still listed. Zagat is user driven so anyone who visits many restaurants or a few restaurants often should take the time to include their opinions so that it can be more helpful to those who use it.

As Restaurant Week in DC begins today I can't help but marvel at the disparity in attitude about the event in DC and Baltimore. I know several people who schedule business trips to DC so that they can take advantage of RW. There are always threads on Chowhound discussing favorite locations and suggestions. The only people who don't talk about RW are those who want to be sure they can get reservations at their favorites. In most cases, both the restaurants and the customers view RW as a boon. I (tend to take advantage of the lunch deals at some of the more expensive places in DC. To have a great lunch for 20.00 at a place that might cost 60.00 for dinner is a great. The restaurants that embrace this with full lunch sized portions made up of some of the better items on their menu or create special new menus thrive. The ones who give half portions or otherwise lessen the experience don't. Instead of turning 50 they may do 200 (for lunch). Many of those people have never been in the restaurant before (and many may never return) but some will and even if they don't, the small profit per person can help take an otherwise slow time and make it bearable. The servers have the opportunity to make more, and God forbid some of the people actually order more than just what's on the special list or add wine more opportunity for everyone. Most of the restauranteurs I have spoken to about this feel very positive. Because of the success in DC some of the restaurants in Bethesda/Chevy Chase began joining the DC week (an eventually created their own).

However, all that seems to be opposiite in Baltimore. Both the customers and the restaurantuers seem to do nothing but complain. The customers complain because it's too much (even before the new 35.10). The restaurants complain that not enough people come in to make it worth it. Both are wrong.

As I scan the menus of the Baltimore RW several things seem evident. First, many of the more expensive or new (and to some the better) restaurants that might not be visited by some customers often are participating: Salt, B&O, Alizee, the Wolf/Forman (minus Charleston) even Tio Pepe. However, very few are open for lunch and frankly their evening menus rarely offer either value or specials. You may get your dessert for $5 instead of $8. Some like Petite Louis which is open for lunch already offers a 20.00 fixed price menu anyway. Some like Wine Market have been offering a 33.00 nightly fixed price for a litlle while. I'm sure there are others. Even Volt (which is in DC RW) offers a 20.00 fixed price lunch every day so there's no real advantage

For those of you looking for value the much derided tapas seem to be the way to go. La Tasca (not a restaurant I like) offers unlimited tapas from a relatively long list and one dessert. Go eat 50 tapas for 35.09 if you feel the need to get a great deal in order for RW to be worth it to you. Tapas Adela according to the web menu is doing something with multiple tapas (however no one there knew whether the web was correct and haven't returned a call for several days).
Can't quite tell what Pazo is doing, because they talk about a 70.00 tapas menu and list one selction only choices.
I agree with Joyce W that those who offer some sort of wine special are better and Corks has reduced glasses and others probably do too. One place which seems to have an interesting menu compared to its standard is Yellow Dog Tavern and for people like me who don't like dessert , more apps/mains no dessert.

On an odd note I think that Hudson Valley Farms should be listed as a sponsor. Happily for me, their duck confit is being offered at Brewer's Art and Corks, and Crush, B Bolton Hill, Meli and B&O are all offering duck confit (although without the source listed).

A few years ago (before Howard County had a RW) I asked the manager of one the the restaurants now participating if they had thought about being part of Baltimore RW (as Bethesda was in DC). He didn't even know there was a Baltimore RW. When they first decided to have a HoCo RW they had great difficulty finding restaurants to participate. It was a great failure. No customers knew about it and no restaurants knew what to do. Other restaurant owners and managers told me what a waste it was and vowed not to do it again. Last Summer was much better Bistro Blanc created a special menu just for restaurant week that was not a deal but offered dishes that otherwise were not available, like a New Year's menu and they were full nightly. Others took items from their regular menus and put them together at prices from 10.00-40.00. Much more friendly to those not wanting to spend 30.00+ and in many cases more in keeping with the style of their food.

Yesterday, I was at one of the HoCo restaurants participating and asked if the menu was available yet. It led to one of the staff talking about how HoCo has piloted onto the baltimore dates, just to keep HoCo people from going into Baltimore. Stupid how about trying to entice some people from Baltimore to visit HoCo.

Finally, I'm all in favor of all three RW and will patronize many places in each, but I will pick and choose where I go based on the both the best choice and best value. BTW order lots of that Hudson Valley duck for me.

Sorry EL for the length but I've been thinking about this for a week.

I'm delighted someone had something intelligent to say about the subject. Length is not a problem on the internet. :-) EL

There was a big expose on Zagat a few months ago in the Washington City Paper. Very interesting read.

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/display.php?id=37797&page=1

My husband and I would love to take part in restaurant week... but I'm a vegetarian. Most of the restaurants offer nothing for me, much less something interesting enough to be worth my while... especially at $35...

Mitch, didn't that article basically boil down to "Zagat won't tell anyone how they compile their results, so they are the old fashioned evil, and will be replaces by Yelp?"

You know, I'm over 40, carry (and use, frequently) a smartphone, am on Facebook and still think there is a place for paper guide books.

And Yelp is full of self-important hipsters whose opinions are only of interest when I need a giggle.

Yep, chowsearch, everything is tainted.

I've also heard of highly rated yelpers basically extorting free food and drinks from places. Not pretty.

Lissa, I suspect you agree some things are still pure--Nick's expression handing off a big plate to a server at Samos, the small smile of Gabriel at Zorba's watching a big order served at the tables he can see through the smoky window over the charcoal pit, the joy cooking for new friends brings to the Li's at GG, the earnestness of the Waverly market producers (farmers explaining tomatoes and apples, Don and Rene extolling spelt flour brownies, Barbara of Neopol detailing her wood choices for smoking), Mr. Steve commanding the crab ship at Mr. Bill's...and the devotion of EL followers. Nice we have a place to discuss finding them.

Trip- Great rundown of the pros and cons of RW as it exists today. Looking at things from a restaurateur's perspective, I can honestly say that I love Howard County's RW, and this is a promotion that should be embraced wherever it's taking place. Here are my feelings:

- HoCo tourism puts a lot of marketing out there that directs people to their website, which in turn leads to hits on the participating restaurant's sites. Well worth the $200 fee for that kind of exposure. We seriously couldn't be happier about the effort HoCo Tourism puts into Restaurant Week, and we usually end up doing at least 50% more business during the first week of RW.

- It gives people a reason to eat out when they normally wouldn't. I think all restaurant operators would agree this is a good thing, especially in a time when people are cutting out discretionary spending. This is an opportunity to convert 1st time guests into regulars if you can knock their socks off with what you're offering.

- Diners (foodies, especially) need to understand that restaurants, while trying to impress you with value, aren't necessarily going to offer their most creative dishes for RW. The goal is to offer: 1) dishes that are easily executable due to the high traffic of RW, and 2) dishes that will have broad appeal. As a diner, I am often disappointed with the conservative route restaurants take during RW, but it would be foolish to put dishes out there that some will find off-putting, even if prepared perfectly (grilled calamari, for example). At both of our places we try to offer something for the foodie during RW, but in the end it's still going to end up being somewhat conservative.

- My only knock on RW is that it lasts 2 weeks. I just don't get it. Most diners that want to get out for RW will find time to do so during the first week and then the novelty will wear off. I understand that there are a handful of people that want to try several participating restaurants and 2 weeks allows them to do so, but those diners are too few and far between to make it worth carrying it out for a 2nd week. Diners are usually all fooded out by the end of the first week. From a promotions standpoint I'd much rather end it after week 1 and leave some people wanting more rather than letting it linger on too long (think the McRib). I could be way off base here and if I am feel free to chide away.

Just my thoughts.

Ok, Marty, shall we change that to nothing corporate is pure?

Although I'd disagree with you on Samos. I've had two very mediocre meals there. Ikaros, though...nothing but love for that place.

I know Samos has to be timed to avoid 11:46AM-12:55 hospital lunch rush and Friday and Saturday slamtime after 6:30, was it one of those slots? When I see a line, I walk right to Zorba's, should I be detouring to Ikaros for a particular dish?

Nope, been in weekday evenings 3 times, around 5 or 6.

At Ikaros, I particularly enjoy the calamari. The spanokopita is quite good, too.

I'm just happy that, for the most part, Greektown is in much better shape than Little Italy.

Ikaros does a good whole fish, also.

Ikaros isn't perfect (we once had fried calamari there which was obviously cooked in old oil), but we've found it pretty good most of the time.

It is an old-fashioned kind of place, but we like that.

Yeah, I'll admit that Ikaros is comfortably old fashioned. It is the kind of place I'd have taken my late grandmother (for whom Greek food was wildly ethnic).

I was surprised to see that the Zagat's survey included Isabella's, DePasquale and Chicken Rico. This gained them much cred with me.

That Isabella's is a Spanish place on the main street of Frederick--just asked them to note it as such to distinguish it from the 3-table L.I. one...which is nice, but so small. You can write that one in, or any place. But we did add Piedgrotta, if that helps in the cred department--they've expanded their weighty sit-down meal items since they moved and just added by-appointment/reservation weekend dinners...and may go public if there's demand.

Thanks, Marty. I didn't notice the address. Better go edit my review .

I haven't been to Piedgrotta since they moved. I thought I hated cream puffs until the woman at the counter handed me one while I was waiting...a little ball of tasty cloud, it was.

Part of the charm of Isabella's (here) is the size. I've had folks offer to let me sit at their table more than once, or been offered a piece of pizza. If it were bigger, it'd take longer than 5 min. to become a regular there.

Ever since I took part in Zagat's Washington/Baltimore survey a few years ago, I've been getting Zagat's E-mails, featuring the latest news on area restaurants. Washington area restaurants, that is. Batltimore may be a fine place to sell guidebooks. But as far as Zagat's updates are concerned, it doesn't exist. I'm sorta' fond of my adopted home town. And seeing it treated as a culinary afterthought dampens my enthusiasm for participation in Zagat's surveys.

Ah, what fun. One can't remove an evaluation, one can only change it. Since I'm not about to rent a car to drive to Isabella's in Frederick and there is no e-mail address I can find on the site to report problems, I don' t see a way to fix it.

It occured to me that rather than make a random complaint, I should have addressed my gripe to Marty Katz who has intelligently answered other comments here. So here goes, Marty. How come the E-mails sent to local Zagat participants are chockful of Washington dining news but nary a word about what's happening in Baltimore?

Lissa, the response from the surveymaster was: In Step 2/Confirm Votes one can delete the vote; email questions about the survey to dc@zagat.com.

MAG, as their online services expand, DC was one of the first metro areas for a local editor news feed. It was thought we'd be interested as it's so close. Some Baltimore news of interest to DC diners is covered, like RW. Also, the news velocity and quality from Ms. EL and her crowdsourced sandbox network makes for quite a strong media entity. I hope her bosses appreciate this as much as readers do.

Marty, thank you. I haven't gotten to step 2 yet, as I'm going to be eating in a couple more places before the deadline.

I'm not sure Elizabeth's bosses really appreciate her or us. When that guy in Chicago asked if she had any regulars...we all had a good laugh over that.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.
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