Young and Hungry

What Does Landrum Mean When He Says Ray’s the Steaks ‘Never Deserved’ Its 27 Zagat Rating?


While reporting out this week's column on the 2011 Zagat guide, I talked to Michael Landrum, who's something of a student of the biennial survey. He surprised me early in our conversation when he said:

Ray’s the Steaks never deserved to be a 27-rated restaurant, as much as I’d like to say this, but it received a Zagat’s 27 rating for six years running, which to me was embarrassing on a personal level, to see my Zagat rating being at the same level as something like Restaurant Eve or Corduroy or people who do much stronger culinary work from what we do at Ray’s the Steaks. This year, we dropped to 26, which I think is a more appropriate level and still very very complimentary to us...

I was somewhat surprised by Landrum's comment, given the nature of the democratic Zagat survey, in which any restaurant, regardless of its complexity, can technically score 30 points. I told Landrum that if a more casual restaurant, like Ray's, performs its job to perfection, no matter its limited culinary ambitions, the place should be rewarded 30 points. That's how Zagat should work.

Landrum clarified his stance:

"I think like in diving, there’s a degree-of-difficulty factor.”

But there's not, I interrupt Landrum.

“But there should be," he counters. "Ray’s the Steaks is an outlying example, because we do excel at what we do to a very, very high standard that does warrant a 27, but where I said 'embarrassment,' I mean that sort of in comparison with some of my peers, where the degree of difficulty in what they do is much higher than what we do, and that’s not necessarily reflected in the Zagat’s score."

"In diving," Landrum continues, "they rate whatever points the judges give you, the 9 or 8, and they multiple that by the degree of difficulty factor and what that dive is rated at."

But they don't do that with Zagat, I interrupt again.

"If there was a degree-of-difficulty factor in the Zagat rating for the food quality, a place like Corduroy would be rated a little higher and a place like Ray’s the Steaks would be rated a little lower."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Gene

    Seems to me that Landrum has forgotten, or chosen to ignore, the confidence, maturity and courage it takes to prepare simple, delicious food.

    Personally, I'm tired of being challenged to interpret a chef's intent when what I really want is a good meal.

    Degree of difficulty? Bullshit.

  • Mike on H Street

    Actually, I think Landrum is spot-on with this. He's not talking about the degree of difficulty of the dishes, necessarily, but rather about the overall effect that a restaurant is going for.

    I don't know if it's necessarily harder to execute white tablecloth tasting menu service perfectly than it is to execute family-style a la carte dining, but there are definitely many more moving parts that have the possibility of breaking down along the way. I think there's an argument to be made for recognizing that as part of the help put reviews in context relative to one another and to better allow for comparing apples to apples.

    Frankly, it's the reverse of the problem that plagues "Best" lists like Tim's and the Washingtonian Top 100. Do you set aside a slot for the best burger joint, the best noodle house, the best sushi counter, etc. or do you try to lump all cuisines and styles of dining together? In the former case you end up slighting some higher-end places in favor of the "best" of a niche, and in the latter case you end up with a preponderance of fine dining establishments and overlook some real hidden gems.

    I think Tim's approach - stipulating that there are a handful of places that are nearly universally accepted as 'bests' and then moving on to find 50 places that represent a mix of high-end, quick service and everything in between. He doesn't call them the "best," either. This year they were the "50 most fascinating" restaurants.

  • Gene

    I was referring to what takes place in the kitchen, not at the table.

    I get the notion Ray was shooting for, I just don't agree on its relevance to good dining. Good doesn't equal difficult, and it shouldn't.

    Good equals difficult only in the minds of those who don't know any better.

  • Gene

    I got the clear impression that he was speaking to the degree of difficulty in food preparation, or - at the least - considered the prep as a major component in the discussion.

    I'm certainly not convinced he was limiting his opinion to the front of the house, by any means...