Food Critics vs Surveys (Zagat, Michelin, Mobile,etc)
Who or what is more reliable???...Chowhound, the NYTimes, Zagat or um Michelin??? Some argue that the surveys like Michelin re-rate every year while the individual critics do not and the review stick for years.
When you go to a new destination, HOW DO YOU decide on what places to eat at???
(Besides word of mouth of course)
I find that Chowhound is the most reliable source for restaurant reviews. The people who live and work in the neighborhoods I'm in are usually the first to know what's good or what's bad.
I also think the average chef/owner/server pretty much know all the local critics (including the NY Times) and a critic may get a little bit better service than the average diner. Critics are not as anonymous as they believe they are.
As for Zagat...IMO they have become a cliche. They will rate anything. Next up is the Zagat guide to laundry detergent.
It's all really just data: bulk, refined, lists, rated, verbed...with the real work being the analysis, reading between the lines and using personal preference.
My method is to do a couple of passes with the various info/data available and make a first list, look for repeats/patterns and what looks cool. Then I make a short list. When I actually get somewhere everything gets adjusted due to time, obligations, how I feel, if I'm lazy or with someone.
The only big consideration I give outside of the norm is what I can't get elsewhere or where I live or regional stuff. If I can hit 3-5 places I'm pretty happy.
For me, it depends entirely on the type of restaurant I'm considering. There are absolutely some restaurants I would go to just to enjoy the tradition, regardless of whether the quality of food has slipped or not. But in "class" restaurants -- example: Tour d'Argent, Paris, high tea at Claridge's, London, a really top ryotei in Tokyo -- the only criteria is that I want to go.
For less fabled places, I look at their menu on the internet (if they don't have one, chances are I won't go), then I check out the ratings by locals on the "city" web pages. I find them a lot more reliable than a food writer's comments or a Michelin style guide. SOMETIMES AAA's ratings are helpful. At least as helpful as anything from Michelin, and they rate everyplace in the U.S.!
I also use recommendations from "locals." Often as not that will tell me whether the local and I have similar tastes, such as when a place gets rave reviews from said local and I find the food totally intolerable. Different strokes.
But no matter what I do, there is a huge factor of chance in any restaurant choice. It all comes down to "pot luck."
Not always true. There are a whole bunch of factors that go into any given individual's evaluation of "good food." Especially things like age, where people live, and how much they have travelled.
For example there is a high probability that anyone under 30 will prefer wet cured beef to dry cured. That makes a huge difference in evaluating a good hamburger, not to mention a steak or roast!
Region also plays heavily into what someone thinks is good. I moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area from El Paso two yeaars ago, and prior to that lived in California, Turkey, Greece, Mississippi, and Ohio. In the two plus years I've lived here, I have yet to find what I consider decent Mexican food, but it's not me and it's not the DFW Mexican restuarants. It's a regional thing.
Then there's "evolution," aka "fusion" in the food industry. I really hate this fusion thing. I don't like basil in my sushi, or miso in my polenta, and I damn sure don't want salsa on my saurbraten! But it's a movement that seems unstoppable, so we are all sliding down the slippery slope to Universal Stew. And I'm very near having to stay home and cook myself if I want "pure" ethnic foods. Well, as long as I can still find a supply of nori that doesn't have basil processed into it. <sigh>
Maybe I need to change my handle to Food Curmudgeon?
I find Michelin pretty useless - bought the one last year and vowed never to buy it again. Just couldn't believe some of the places that got stars, and the descriptions of places sounded more like pr pieces to me than anything else. I do use Zagat as a reference - but CH is my main source, as well as just trying new places that I see that look promising.
Michelin isn't much help in Boston, a city it doesn't yet rate.
I've found myself agreeing with the NY Times critic more often than not, at least on the places I've managed to visit. He seems like a pretty thoughtful, uncapricious reviewer, and I enjoy his writing.
Other old-media critics I evaluate on a case-by-case basis. I have some of my own favorites in Boston, others I can't abide. A lot has to do with how trustworthy (i.e., free from commercial pressures), adventurous, knowlegeable, free of food/drink aversions, and truly anonymous I think they are. Being an entertaining writer helps.
Zagat's ratings are effectively useless to me: they're an average of the opinions of hundreds of anonymous reviewers about whom I know nothing, presumably some significant proportion of which I wouldn't take advice from if I did know their tastes.
Chowhound is extremely useful to me, especially for the opinions of certain regular posters whose expertise in areas I'm less schooled in is highly valuable, and others whose tastes I've come to learn are pretty consonant with mine. There are even a few who are valuable because I tend not to like the places they do; they're reliable negative barometers.
I like limster's approach to exploring, though newer places get a bit more of my attention than they probably should, as I do some freelance old-media restaurant criticism and food/drink writing. I also do a *lot* of reading of many sources: the dailies, weeklies, monthlies, many online review boards and blogs, my own network of food-obsessive friends, national and regional pubs, and so on. I read a lot of food books. About the only thing I don't spend a lot of time on is the Food Network and its ilk: most programs are too infotainment-y for me.
I scour the internet, read reviews, check menus and then when I get there I ask the "common" folk what they think about my choices. I have found that if you ask the concierge where to eat, he will send you to a more trendy spot, or recommend whatever restaurant is affiliated with the hotel, but if you ask the bellhops, they will give you much better advice.
I also take care to note the dates of the reviews. If they are old I disregard them. Asking on this board helps, too!