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FEELING HUNGRY

What’s missing in the new Brooklyn Zagat survey

The Brooklyn Paper
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The Zagat Survey claims to have written the book on Brooklyn’s dining and nightlife scenes.

The first ever "Zagat Survey: Brooklyn" (Zagat Survey LLC, $9.95) guide was launched at The Grocery restaurant on Smith Street July 11, when Borough President Marty Markowitz and the award-winning restaurateurs in attendance clapped and proclaimed that it was a book whose time had come - and in fact was long overdue.

The Zagat guide to Brooklyn follows the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s own publication, "Brooklyn Eats," GO Brooklyn’s dining guide at www.brooklynpapers.com, as well as Time Out New York’s annual "Eating & Drinking" guides - not to mention the numerous books written on dining in Brooklyn.

So why is the Brooklyn Zagat guide missing what the Manhattan version is famous for: all of those restaurants that you wouldn’t know about had you not checked the book.

Instead it tells us what we already know - River Cafe and Peter Luger’s are good, famous restaurants. But it is by no means a complete listing of all the restaurants in Brooklyn. In fact, it only has 15 pages of restaurants. By contrast, "Brooklyn Eats" has more than 120 pages.

The Zagat guide does have a far-reaching list of gourmet shops, which is an unusual and handy resource for foodies who enjoy cooking at home. But the Zagat guide is thought of as a guide to good restaurants, and being left off the Manhattan list has been equated with falling off the culinary radar.

While the Zagat guide is predicted to be a boon to Brooklyn tourism - it is hoped the maps and attractions sections will bring tourists to the borough - there is a negative connotation to not being listed in the guide. And most of our borough’s restaurants are not.

Tim Zagat told the audience Thursday that 30,000 people voted in the survey, but "you should tell us if we missed something."

Mr. Zagat, you’re new book is missing a lot of Brooklyn restaurants.

On Thursday, Zagat explained to me that his company isn’t in the business of hurting restaurants, so if a restaurant gets bad ratings, it gets left out of the book. (Conversely, he said, as he plunged his fork into my chocolate fig cake, if a famous restaurant, gets bad reviews, he feels he owes it to the public to let them know the food is in fact famously bad.)

"We try to find every decent, good place," said Zagat. "We’re not interested in beating up restaurants. If a famous restaurant like Sardi’s gets a bad review, we feel we owe it to the public to tell them. We’re more interested in finding good places. Elaine’s - everyone’s heard of it and they think it’s fantastic. You may see Gay Talese eating there, but he must have lost his tastebuds in the war!"

So with this informal system in place, is the Brooklyn Zagat guide useful to Brooklynites, or does it simply leave us hungry for more?

For example, the Italian restaurant Red Rose, the first restaurant to open on Smith Street, 19 years ago, is missing from the book. In their introduction, however, Nina and Tim credit "the 1997 success of Alan Harding’s Patois on Smith Street that really got things cooking."

Casa Rosa, on Court Street at Carroll Street, has been open 20 years. It is also missing from the list of restaurants. Shouldn’t a restaurant like this make the guide because it’s a neighborhood stalwart - regardless of whether or not it has the most spectacular fettucine Alfredo? (Which it does, by the way.)

Editor Benjamin Schmerler is a Carroll Gardens resident and a self-proclaimed Brooklyn booster. Did he just not see these two restaurants when he walked home from the train? Or are they considered indecent and not good by Zagat?

The missing restaurants go on and on of course. What about Italian restaurant Sotto Voce in Park Slope? Open three and a half years, it’s good enough for famed Slope residents Steve Buscemi and John Turturro, but not good enough for Zagat?

And what about Bay Ridge restaurants Casa Pepe, Griswold’s Pub & Restaurant, Hunter’s Steak & Ale House, Ponte Vecchio and Thristino’s? They too are all missing from the guide and yet they’ve been open a total of 115 years.

The Zagat team quite openly admitted they recycled these listings from their 2002 New York City restaurants guide, so restaurants such as Montague Street’s Coq Hardi and Tinto on Henry Street are both listed - and they are both out of business.

Another glaring omission is Kino restaurant at 1 Main St. in DUMBO. The 2-year-old restaurant, with breathtaking views of Lower Manhattan and a quality French bistro menu, was relegated to the Nightlife chapter and left off the restaurant listings. Similarly, Eamonn Doran on Montague Street, now Eammon’s, is listed under Nightlife when it’s clearly an upscale Irish pub-restaurant with a full menu.

The guide lists 140 restaurants, 75 nightlife properties, 250 shopping venues and "almost 20 attractions."

But the restaurant chapter doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

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