Zagat, the annual survey that ranks restaurants on a confusing scale of zero to 30, has named Shuko, the Union Square sushi spot that was left out of the Michelin Guide's starred selections last month, New York's best new restaurant. It's a scenario that recalls last year's sushi standoff, where Nakazawa, the subject of glowing reviews by local critics, was named Zagat's top newcomer after a Michelin snub.
Michelin and Zagat are two very different guides. Michelin, founded over a century ago by the namesake tire maker, employs a cadre of professional inspectors to rate restaurants across the globe on a scale of one to three stars. Zagat, owned by Google, is a survey that asks everyday folks about their dining habits, spending patterns, and favorite restaurants. For its 2016 New York edition, Zagat collected the votes of 34,178 respondents.
Michelin's inspection team has been famously stingy about bestowing stars on our city's sushi most popular sushi spots, sometimes waiting five years or more before awarding a star to venues like Sushi Yasuda (a distinction it finally achieved this year), while Zagat has chosen to put Yasuda near the top of its list for most of the last decade.
Here are some of the other highlights from this year's Zagat guide:
- Newbies: Rounding out the top eight newcomers list, in order, are Almanac, the shitshow Javelina, Tuome, Andrew Carmellini's Little Park, Delaware & Hudson, Justin Smillie's chicken liver-pasta emporium Upland (graced with an Obama visit), and Cosme, the Mexican restaurant that everyone loves except for Michelin.
- Openings: Zagat counted 119 restaurant openings in the reporting period, a number that's about on par for the past half-decade, with the exception of 2014, when there were 160 openings, which constituted the biggest quantity of debut restaurants since pre-recession 2007.
- No-Show: Semilla, awarded a Michelin star, named one of the country's best new restaurants by Bon Appetit and Eater, and the subject of a four star review by this critic, did not earn a spot on the best newcomers list with its 26 food rating (the same as Shuko) because it did not receive enough votes for that score to be conclusive.
- The Triple Ripert: Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze's temple to fancy French seafood, retains its top spot spot for best food, an honor it has held for 10 of the past 12 years (it lost only to Daniel in 2008 and Per Se in 2009). Le Bern also took over the top service award (from Bouley) and "most popular" accolade from Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern, giving it the rare Zagat Triple Lindy, an honor that's redeemable for a girthy margarita and a free animal ballon at Senor Frog's.
- Fancy Digs: The landmark Four Seasons won top decor. Think it'll retain that award when The Torrisi Boys take over?
- Closings: Zagat's closings clocked in at 53, ranking just behind 2013 as the year with the fewest shutters in over a decade. With the exception of 2014, the number of closures has more or less steadily decreased since a recession-era high of 102 in 2009.
- New York Is Expensive: Diners spent $48.44 per person on average, up from $48.15. That means Zagat voters spend $97 or thereabouts on a diner for two. Nationally, diners spent $36.30 per person, or $73 for two.
- Best Mexican: Casa Enrique. Sutton Says: Intriguing choice. Michelin and Zagat are in agreement that this is New York's finest Mexican spot, as opposed to Cosme or Empellon Cocina.
- Best Pizza: Paulie Gee's. Sutton Says: Not a terrible choice.
- Best Asian: Pig & Khao. Sutton Says: Incorrect, no offense to Leah Cohen's fine restaurant but Asia isn't a cuisine, it's an area of earth comprising billions of people speaking hundreds of languages. If Zagat can afford the space for best Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai, and ramen does it really need this watered-down category?
- Best Burger: Burger Joint. Sutton Says: Incorrect. This is a Midtown hangout to get a quick, serviceable bite, not a Minetta or Spotted Pig-quality spot with compelling beef blends and expert burger cooking.
- Best Barbecue: Fette Sau. Sutton Says: Incorrect. Hometown is better.
- Best Ramen: Chuko. Sutton Says: Incorrect. Ivan Ramen, Mu Rumen, and Momofuku Noodle exhibit the city's most studied broths and noodles.
- Best Chinese: Decoy. Sutton Says: Clever choice. The oft-overlooked Cantonese-Jewish-American Peking Duck house is trying to have as much fun with the notion of what Chinese food is, in the West Willage, as Danny Bowien is at MCF on the Lower East Side.
- Gratuities: Diners tipped 19.2 percent on average, about even with last year's 19.3 percent. Nationwide, that average is at 18.9 percent, down from last year's 19.3 percent.