A copy of The 100 Best Restaurants of North America and Europe, New York-based food blogger (Opinionated About Dining) Steve Plotnicki's new self-published guide, arrived at the Reader office yesterday. Chicago doesn't feature prominently in the ambitious attempt to move into Zagat and Michelin's territory, to say the least. Alinea does show up in slot six with an impressive score of 106 out of 120 (which puts it in the category of "worth planning a trip around"), but the only other Chicago restaurant that makes it in is Avenues, and its score of 99 only qualifies it as an "important local choice."
With California and New York taking up 32 out of the 50 slots for North America, though, there's not a lot of room left for other areas, and nowhere else in the midwest even ranks in the slim volume. Plotnicki didn't intentionally neglect the Chicago area, as evidenced by a post on LTH forum soliciting participants in his survey. The guide is aimed at "destination diners," or people who arrange their travel plans around dining out, and maybe Chicago just isn't enough of a culinary destination. But it seems more likely that the survey is unintentionally skewed towards New York City because most of the restaurants Plotnicki reviews are there, so most of his fans (read: survey participants) are also likely to be there.
The survey weights the opinions of "experienced diners"--those who review the most restaurants--more heavily than those of less experienced ones, an attempt to add more authority to the populist approach of a survey. (The 100 restaurants included in the guide were whittled down from a list of 1,600, based on the opinions of 900 participants.) Reading Plotnicki's blog, there's no question that he believes that more experience with eating out equals more authority, especially on his part (see his culinary CV, for example). In a blog post yesterday, he slams New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni for overrating Dovetail: "Let me tell you, I have been to a lot of restaurants in my life (likely many more than Mr. Bruni) and I could sense that the restaurant didn't warrant the 3-star review as soon as I walked in." Really? Before even tasting anything?
According to the New York Sun, Plotnicki makes no attempt to dine anonymously--his goal, he says, is to "elicit the best possible meal that a restaurant has to offer and in that context anonymity actually hurts instead of helps." Of course it does. That's the point--if you're reviewing a restaurant, you should try to have the experience most diners are likely to have. Even if the quality of food and service are likely to vary from customer to customer, seeking preferential treatment is pretty sure to skew a review. Or a restaurant guide.