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While reporting out this week’s column on the 2011 Zagat guide, I talked to Michael Landrum, who’s something of a student of the biennial survey. He surprised me early in our conversation when he said:

Ray’s the Steaks never deserved to be a 27-rated restaurant, as much as I’d like to say this, but it received a Zagat’s 27 rating for six years running, which to me was embarrassing on a personal level, to see my Zagat rating being at the same level as something like Restaurant Eve or Corduroy or people who do much stronger culinary work from what we do at Ray’s the Steaks. This year, we dropped to 26, which I think is a more appropriate level and still very very complimentary to us…

I was somewhat surprised by Landrum’s comment, given the nature of the democratic Zagat survey, in which any restaurant, regardless of its complexity, can technically score 30 points. I told Landrum that if a more casual restaurant, like Ray’s, performs its job to perfection, no matter its limited culinary ambitions, the place should be rewarded 30 points. That’s how Zagat should work.

Landrum clarified his stance:

“I think like in diving, there’s a degree-of-difficulty factor.”

But there’s not, I interrupt Landrum.

“But there should be,” he counters. “Ray’s the Steaks is an outlying example, because we do excel at what we do to a very, very high standard that does warrant a 27, but where I said ’embarrassment,’ I mean that sort of in comparison with some of my peers, where the degree of difficulty in what they do is much higher than what we do, and that’s not necessarily reflected in the Zagat’s score.”

“In diving,” Landrum continues, “they rate whatever points the judges give you, the 9 or 8, and they multiple that by the degree of difficulty factor and what that dive is rated at.”

But they don’t do that with Zagat, I interrupt again.

“If there was a degree-of-difficulty factor in the Zagat rating for the food quality, a place like Corduroy would be rated a little higher and a place like Ray’s the Steaks would be rated a little lower.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery