Zagat gives Charleston and Woodberry Kitchen top honors

About a third of those surveyed report economy hasn't affected how often they dine out

August 03, 2010|By Richard Gorelick, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Zagat released its 2011 Washington, DC/Baltimore Restaurants Survey last week. Across the four major categories of top food, top decor, top service and most popular, the top-ranked restaurants for Baltimore and surrounding areas were, respectively, Charleston, Charleston, Charleston and Woodberry Kitchen.

Charleston placed a far-from-shabby second in that last category, most popular, which I guess allows for a little je ne sais quoi: We don't know why we love you so much, Woodberry Kitchen, considering we didn't rank you among the top five in food, decor or service; we just love you!

The survey winners in the food category, following Charleston, were Volt (in Frederick, yes, but it counts as the "surrounding area"), the Prime Rib, Samos and Di Pasquale's. There was a tie for second place in the decor category between Pazo and Scossa, an Italian restaurant in Easton. Rounding out that category were two classics, the Milton Inn and Taneytown's Antrim 1844. Tops in service behind Charleston were Volt, Prime Rib, Tersiguel's and Linwoods. And the most popular restaurants behind Woodberry Kitchen and Charleston were Volt, Cinghiale and Prime Rib.

The survey also reveals diners' reflections about the impact of the economy on their dining habits and their attitudes about the importance of health and "green" issues. The results show that people in general will say one thing but do another. For instance, while 68 percent of responders said that eating "green" (i.e., locally sourced, organic, sustainably raised) it is at least "somewhat important," and a similar 63 percent said they'd be willing to pay more for this kind of food, only 34 percent typically seek out restaurants with "green" menus.

As to the economy, when asked to think of a positive effect the rotten economy has had on their dining habits, 52 percent responded that they were finding better deals at restaurants. While 38 percent admitted that they eating out less, a healthy 33 percent insisted that the economy hadn't affected their dining habits at all.

Far and away, the No. 1 most irritating thing about dining out for participants in the survey was service — it annoyed 68 percent of them. They were far less annoyed by noise, food, prices, parking and crowding, in that order. The survey, it should be noted, did not offer "bargain-hunting diners who are always getting irritated by service" as a choice of irritant.

Restaurant week Baltimore Summer Restaurant Week begins Aug. 13 and runs through Aug. 22. As always, participating restaurants are offering customers fixed-price three-course dinner menus, and more than half of them are also offering fixed-price lunch menus. The going price this year is $35.10 for dinner and $20.10 for lunch.

Most restaurants are showcasing a version of their regular menu-in-miniature, which is what most Restaurant Week diners are hoping for. But a few adventuresome restaurants are featuring nonce menus, flights of a chef's fancy created especially for the promotional period.

It's always fun to scroll through the menus on the Restaurant Week website (baltimorerestaurantweek.com) to see who's doing what. The two fastest-growing categories appear to be "Yes, This Again" and "We Can't Be Bothered."

Aldo's is in its own category, which is "We Care a Lot, But Please Don't Make Us Crazy." Among its posted disclaimers is "This menu is NOT available for take out," which means, of course, that some slob came in last year demanding the menu for takeout.

Correction Last week here, I misidentified the daughter of Baltimore Pho owner Jim Collins. Her name is Madeleine Collins. I also said that Cockey's Tavern at Hollins would be taking over Baltimore Pho's phone number. It won't be. Baltimore Pho is keeping 410-752-4746, and Cockey's will be reachable at 410-752-4816.

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