Each year since 2002 I have been putting together a list of the restaurants that I have visited over the course of the year. For each restaurant I include a capsule review as well as a letter rating which reflects how strongly I am recommending that restaurant within that particularcategory of dining. I would typically post the list on various Internet forum discussion forums. But this year for the first time I am posting the list exclusively on the Opinionated About Dining weblog.
There are a few other things about the list that are important. For those of you who would like to read a full review of any of the restaurants on the various lists, if you click on the name of the restaurant, it will take you via link to the Opinionated About Dining Discussion Forum (registration required) where you will be able to read the full reviews as well as other reviews that were posted by our members. And in those instances where I have posted a photo of a dish at a restaurant, there will usually be many more photos on the site. I should add that once you become a site member, you will have access to all of the other restaurants reviews that our members have posted, including many restaurants that I haven't visited. For example, I haven’t visited the French Laundry in a number of years, but you will find a few dozen reviews on the site, many with photos of the dishes. You will also find reviews of other top restaurants in the U.S. and Europe.
Let me take a moment to explain my letter rating system. The letter rating is a reflection of how strongly I am recommending a restaurant, relative to other restaurants in that category. The highest score is an A+, and the lowest an F. Included in each rating is an assessment of the many variables that factor into the dining experience, such as an evaluation of the quality of the ingredients, the level of proficiency that each kitchen applies in preparing those ingredients, and in cases where it matters, an assessment of the level of creativity that you will find in the restaurant’s kitchen. It also takes into consideration, though it impacts the final rating to a far lesser extent, what the décor, welcome, and service is like and how that might impact on the meal. But it is important to note that the ratings are discrete to each category. For example, if a delicatessen gets a score of A and a multistar Michelin restaurant in Paris scores a B, do not assume that I am saying that the delicatessen is a superior dining experience. I assume that experienced diners know the difference between the quality of ingredients and the culinary skill used to prepare them at a Michelin-starred restaurant and at a delicatessen. And as a result, they should understand that an A score for a delicatessen simply means that it is the zenith of the delicatessen experience.
A simple way to look at the lists is to view any restaurant with a rating of C+ or above as being recommended within its sphere of dining. Obviously, as the individual ratings go higher than C+, so does the strength of the recommendation. But restaurants with ratings of B+ or higher should be on your list of must-go-to restaurants. It is also important to note that the ratings for restaurants in similar categories are discrete to their geographic location, and are not calibrated across different cities and regions. For example, when a French restaurant in New York City gets a rating of A and a three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris gets a B+, that isn’t a statement that the New York restaurant is better. Experienced diners should know the difference between New York and Paris dining. More importantly, a score of B+ or higher means that a restaurant displays excellence within its category. And when a Michelin three-star restaurant that should normally get a rating of A gets B instead, the score is communicating that the restaurant was a disappointment relative to what our expectations are for a three-star restaurant.
I also need to explain that my year is more of a biblical year. For restaurants in New York City and the surrounding area, the list of restaurants extends from ones I visited from late in 2003 up until the date that the list is posted. And for places outside of the New York City area, there is a listing of all of the places I have visited in the last two years, providing I visited that city or region at least one time in 2004. In addition to rating the restaurants I visited this year for the first time, I have included tasting notes of the various wines I have been fortunate enough to drink over the course of the year.
I hope you find this list useful. And I hope that it encourages you to join us at Opinionated About Dining. The key to a flourishing and vibrant dining scene is to talk about dining and restaurants in a way that helps increase the number of people who are interested in taking up dining as a hobby. If anything, I hope this list will encourage people to do that, as well as to reinvigorate those who have been veterans of the dining scene for decades. Maybe if we are all lucky, a few chefs and restaurant owners will read these reviews and it will inspire them to improve their restaurants.