Most everyone I know who loves food has what I’d call a “hate/like” relationship with Zagat: either they hate it with a passion or they might grudgingly admit its utility.
I’d like to point out an alternative. Not in the sense of a guide that replicates Zagat; but a guide that represents for Canada what a good nationally focussed food guide could be here in the States. It is called Where to Eat in Canada and has, for the past 32 years been produced by Anne Hardy.
I first discovered the book while staying at Sooke Harbor House in Sooke, BC. The way I judge whether a food guide is any good is by reading a review of a restaurant I know well. If the review is on the money, then I have a sense of the judgment of the particular guide. Just for the hell of it, I decided to look up the review of Sooke Harbor House in Where to Eat in Canada. Not only was it right on the money, it was quite literate and made for a most enjoyable read. Now, that’s my kind of food writing. I remember thinking: ‘If only there was something like this in the U.S.!’
For some sample reviews, check out : ‘Where to Eat’ Sample Reviews.
Now, I understand that the goals and methods of Zagat and Where to Eat are different. Zagat aims to be the people’s guide and Where to Eat is a more traditional reviewer driven guide. But what I like about Where to Eat and hate about Zagat is that the former focuses on food and the dining experience, while Zagat sexes up its reviews. Zagat aims to tell you what’s hot and what’s not in the world of food. That’s why it loves those pithy, sexy oneliners that its reviewers throw in to describe the restaurant. All that stuff I can do without.
Of course, in the U.S. you could never write a single guide that could encompass every major restaurant in the country (as Where to Eat attempts to do). But you could write guides for the major cities (as Zagat has done). I quite like the New York Times Restaurant Guide. But I’d like to see something of that quality for all the major U.S. cities. Any of you food writer/entrepreneur types out there listening?