One star, three diamonds, thousands of opinions … here’s how to navigate the world of restaurant review sources.Not surprisingly, the history of culinary associations began in France, circa 1900. Andre Michelin, then co-owner of Michelin Tire Company, provided handy travel information for motorists, including where to eat. By 1920 the food section became a must-read and led to the creation of an inspector-rated one- to three-star system.
More recently, a survey of friends’ favorite restaurants led to the creation of Zagat (a kind of precursor to Yelp.com, where everyone has an opinion). And AAA, which began in 1902 as a federation of independent motor clubs, started dishing out restaurant diamonds (one to five) in 1986.
Today’s Internet-savvy foodies may scoff that these guide entries are not always on the money, but given our over-information age, the simplicity of a time-tested rating system offers a great place to start. That, plus a dash of input from trusted friends, and you’re likely to have a very memorable meal.
The original restaurant rater, Michelin, relies on anonymous, professionally trained experts and rarely doles out three stars. One place that deserves every star in the sky: chef Christopher Kostow’s The Restaurant at Meadowood, possibly the best dining experience in the country. michelinguide.com, meadowood.com
Formerly known as the Mobil Travel Guide, Forbes Travel Guide is considered the industry’s unbiased gold standard thanks to its panel of anonymous expert inspectors. Its top rating, Forbes 5 Stars, was bestowed on a very deserving The Inn at Las Dos Brisas, a gem in the heart of Texas Hill Country. forbestravelguide.com, dosbrisas.com
Founded by Tim and Nina Zagat and covering more than 100 countries worldwide, Zagat is
the ultimate democratic culinary resource — a synthesized collection of real diners’ opinions. A must: Manhattan’s Per Se, with a 28 out of 30 score bringing it close to “perfection.” zagat.com,
AAA, whose reviewers dine at around 25,000 restaurants in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean to rate establishments, doles out between one and five of its diamonds based on pre-set quality standards. Connecticut’s Winvian was the only U.S. restaurant added to the list of five-diamond establishments in 2011. aaa.com/diamonds, winvian.com
Considered the Oscars of the culinary world, the James Beard foundation Awards are the industry’s ultimate pat on the back, with panels made up of industry experts. The 2011 winner for best new restaurant, ABC Kitchen, stars famed owner/chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. jamesbeard.org, abckitchennyc.com