Guide to tastes of our town and D.C.

December 11, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Does a critic's power to make or break a restaurant irritate you? Especially when you don't agree with his or her taste anyway? Then the Zagat Survey of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore restaurants is for you, with its reviews based on the opinions of over 2,200 restaurant-goers.

The 1994 Zagat ("Rhymes with begat or kill the cat," says publicist Allan Ripp) is out just in time for the holidays. It's not a new survey, but an update of last year's, with a new foreword and notes on openings and closings. (Of the 24 regions covered, only New York and Los Angeles get new surveys each year.)

In the update, 14 new Baltimore area restaurants are listed but not rated in a separate section: Citronelle, Champagne Tony's, Cochini, Donna's Coffee Bar, Due, Eureka (which has already closed), Hoang's, Lista's, McCafferty's, M. Gettier, New No Da Ji, Sfuzzi, Stone Mill Bakery, Vanguard Cafe. Conspicuously absent the Eager House, which Washington/Baltimore editor Olga Boikess was uncertain would survive until the guide was published.

Features like the list of Baltimore's most popular restaurants -- topped by Tio Pepe, the Prime Rib and Hampton's -- and the various indexes ("Types of Cuisine," "Neighborhood Locations") have been held over unchanged from last year's guide.

"It's a brush-stroke look at major openings and closings," says Mr. Ripp.

Seven places that are no longer open are still in the guide but marked "closed." They include Churchill's, the Conservatory, Harvey House, L'Auberge, Mediterranean, Telltale Hearth and Truffles in Annapolis.

Important changes are noted, such as the fact that Connie Crabtree was chef at Pier 500 when the survey was taken but has since left. Some major ones, however, have been missed. Cafe Troia is still described as "an unpretentious neighborhood bistro," although it's been a full-fledged, upscale restaurant since last Thanksgiving.

Editor Olga Boikess feels that the Baltimore restaurant scene is changing so quickly that a new survey every year -- rather than every other year -- wouldn't be a bad idea. Even with the recession, she says, "People aren't not eating out as much, they're eating out a little differently." Coffee bars, drop-in places and casual food have become much more popular here.

Baltimore has always been a value-conscious town, she says. And judging from the Zagat surveys of the past few years, we're now also more responsive to newer cuisines, lighter meals and updates of old favorites. She predicts that in next year's survey "we'll notice how important takeout has become." Carryout places, in fact, may be the newest category to be added to the guide.

Ever wondered where the restaurant-goers that participate in the Zagat surveys come from? Some are members of food and wine societies and other organizations, but many are just interested foodies. If you eat out frequently and want to take part in the next one, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

Zagat Survey

1227 25th St. N.W.

Suite 700

Washington, D.C. 20037-1198

In January you'll receive a survey form in the mail, and you'll have about a month to complete it. Zagat won't pay for your meals, but you will get a free copy of the new guide when it comes out next fall.

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