Yesterday, following a completely useless day at work, I had a lovely pedicure and dinner with a lovely co-worker. When I got home, there were no bills in the mail, but there was a birthday gift from college roommate Janet - she sent me a copy of Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, which is a memoir about her time as the New York Times' food critic. Thanks to Reichl, the Times finally started reviewing sushi, Chinese, and Indian restaurants. And since food critic for the New York Times is my dream job, I was very pleased to have received this.
The other surprise in the mail was my free copy of Zagat's New Jersey restaurants survey. Last fall, during a really slow day at work, I became a surveyor for Zagat's. At the time, they weren't surveying New York, but they were taking votes for the Jers. I have been very disappointed with past Zagat's reviews for New Jersey, so I saw this as my opportunity to put in my two cents.
My complaints about the New Jersey Zagat's are the same as they ever were, unfortunately. It seems like every restaurant, good or bad, is getting over a 20 rating for food, which simply can't be true. Apparently New York reviewers are more critical, which I like when it comes to food. Second, they insist on giving excellent reviews to restaurants that I think are over-priced and mediocre - New Brunswick's Frog & the Peach anyone? One of the worst meals I've ever had. Same goes for Soho on George. Strangely, both of these places get better reviews than Makeda's, which is the restaurant love of my life. On the plus side, I thought that the reviews of Clydz (in New Brunswick), The Irish Pub (AC), Indigo Smoke (Montclair) and Origin (Morristown) were very good and pretty much nailed each place.
The true shocker, though, is how many great places get left off of the survey. American Bistro, which may be my favorite restaurant in New Jersey, and continually serves up solid Italian classics, along with a nice wine list, cozy atmosphere, good service, and the sweetest complementary antipasto, is a gem and has once again been left off the survey. I mean, come on, if the Times has reviewed it, shouldn't it be in the survey? I even wrote it in, but to no avail.
Another left off shocker - Tawara in Ramsey. In my sushi-eating opinion, you just can't get a nicer cut of fish, or better fried tofu. Savini's in Allendale was left off. These aren't hole in the wall places.... all the restaurants I've rattled off are full every night of the week. Go figure. Collins didn't make the list either, although second-rate Arthur's is on the list. And Newark is almost completely ignored, except for Ironbound restaurants. Granted, Ironbound has some great places to eat, but it is possible to get other types of food besides Spanish/Portuguese.
Anyway, the survey is currently taking votes for New York restaurants until May 15. I really recommend trying it out if you have the time. At the very least, you'll get a free guide out of it!