Zagat 2010: Gramercy Tavern and Le Bernardin Topple Per Se, USC

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Zagat is one of those things, like the Grammys, that we don’t really care about, but kind of care about. The 2010 results are in, and lo and behold, a Danny Meyer restaurant is again Most Popular (this year Gramercy Tavern overtakes Union Square Cafe, and they’re followed by Peter Luger, Le Bernardin, and Babbo). Also of note: Le Bern topples Per Se in the Top Food category (Daniel and Jean Georges also eke past Per Se, which is still top dog in Service, where it’s followed by Daniel and Jean Georges). Asiate holds on to No. 1 for Décor (followed by Daniel, The Four Seasons, Per Se, and Gilt). Marea is the top newcomer (followed by Porchetta, Buttermilk Channel, Txikito, and Char No. 4).

There are new victors in the categories of Burger (No. 1 Burger Joint and No. 2 Shake Shack move past DuMont), Japanese/Sushi (Sasabune moves past Yasuda), Italian (No. 1 Trattoria L'incontro and No. 2 Il Mulino slide past Babbo), Spanish (Tía Pol beats out Casa Mono), Noodle Shops (Ippudo and Soba-Ya beat Momofuku Noodle Bar), and Pizza (Di Fara, the only non-fine dining restaurant to place in the top ten in Food, wins back the top spot over Lucali).

It’s notable that Rhong-Tiam (this year’s controversial Michelin pick) didn’t make Zagat’s list of top Thais. And here, for the sake of discussion, are the restaurants in Zagat’s Top 50 in Food that didn’t make Michelin’s list: Di Fara, Sasabune, Sugiyama, The Grocery, Nougatine, Le Grenouille, Trattoria L'incontro, Il Mulino, Babbo, Nobu, Sripraphai, Mas, Estiatorio Milos, Kuruma Zushi, 15 East, Degustation, Lucali, Roberto, Al Di La, Il Giglio, Sushi Seki, Sushi Sen-nin, Tomoe Sushi, Sistina, and Scalini Fedeli.

You can see the new top ten lists here. And finally, your press release:

New York, NY. October 7, 2009 /PRNewswire/ — The results of Zagat’s 2010 New York City Restaurant survey, released today on ZAGAT.com (and at ZagatBuzz on Twitter) and covering more than 2,000 eateries across the five boroughs, offer a detailed picture of how the past year’s financial turmoil has affected the city’s dining scene.

The Bad News: Based on feedback from 38,868 avid local diners, the survey shows a dramatic drop in dining out, with surveyors eating out an average of 3.0 times per week, down from 3.3 to 3.4 times per week during the four prior years. And when they do eat out, they’re changing their approach: 43% are being more attentive to prices; 41% are eating at less expensive places; 21% are skipping appetizers and/or dessert; and 19% are cutting back on alcohol. Adding to the industry’s woes is the fact that corporate entertaining has largely evaporated. Only 22% of New Yorkers claim their dining habits have been unaffected by the weak economy.

“There’s no doubt that the recession seriously affected the New York restaurant industry,” said Tim Zagat, CEO and Co-Founder of Zagat Survey. “Yet the survey also illustrates that the picture is far more nuanced than many reports suggest. It may come as a surprise, but the number of restaurant openings this year still exceeded the number of closings. Also, there’s a silver lining: restaurateurs are responding by offering better value and service.”

The Good News: From the customer’s point of view, there are upsides to the downturn: 56% of surveyors report finding better deals; 37% say it’s easier to land a table; 38% feel “more appreciated”; and 18% are eating more healthfully, probably as a result of cutting back on all those desserts and drinks. As further evidence of satisfaction, when rating the city’s overall dining scene on Zagat’s signature 30-point scale, surveyors awarded a 15 to Table Availability (up from 13 over the past four years) and a 16 to Hospitality (up from 15). Still, while 22% of surveyors may sense some improvement in service, overall it continues to be a sore spot with 60% citing poor service as the No. 1 restaurant complaint. On the other hand, complaints about noise, crowding and prices dropped, perhaps due to the presence of fewer diners and better deals.

Newcomers: The economy notwithstanding, this year’s survey shows 157 notable openings vs. 102 closings (compared to 119 vs. 88 last year). Top Newcomer honors go to Marea, serving up “inventive” Italian takes on seafood to a fashionable full house in luxe Central Park South digs. Following close behind are Porchetta, Buttermilk Channel, Txikito and Char No. 4. Also, SHO Shaun Hergatt, a “superb” Asian-accented French debuted in the Financial District and several big-name chefs added to their empires, with many offering innovative concepts and more affordable fare, as in Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, Terry Brennan’s Bar Artisanal, David Chang’s Momofuku Bakery and Michael Psilakis’ Gus & Gabriel.

Plugged-In: Technology continues to revolutionize dining out. According to the survey, 31% of diners say they typically make reservations online (up from 17% two years ago) and 79% report visiting a restaurant’s website before eating there. Avid diners have also taken to the Twitter-verse to track the ever-growing armada of gourmet food trucks. ZAGAT.com offers easy access to online reservations and websites and lets diners vote year-round on the restaurants (and now food trucks) they’ve sampled.

Scenes: On the heels of the Waverly Inn comes Monkey Bar, Graydon Carter’s celeb-infused revamp of a Midtown classic, where reservations can only be requested by e-mail, unless you’re a “F.O.G. — friend of Graydon.” But most of the hot-spot action was Downtown: Greenwich Village welcomed Keith McNally’s rejiggered Minetta Tavern, with its “swiveling-head” scene, as well as the “hipper-than-thou eatery” Hotel Griffou. And the Meatpacking District got a new surge of life thanks to the opening of the High Line and the Standard Hotel, known for its upstairs exhibitionism as well as its “happening” fashionista magnet, the Standard Grill.

Winners: Showing that top-of-the-line dining is still going strong, chef Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin wins for Top Food, with surveyors lauding this “world-class restaurant” as consistently “wonderful” and “civilized.” Asiate takes honors for Top Decor with “gorgeous” views of Central Park, and the Time Warner Center’s Per Se ranks as No. 1 for its “sublime” service. Danny Meyer’s perennial favorite Gramercy Tavern claims the Most Popular title.

Reinventions: It was a tumultuous year for some of NYC’s most storied restaurants. On the plus side, the aforementioned Minetta Tavern and Monkey Bar were reborn as instant hits. And a trio of modern classics — Aureole, Oceana and San Domenico (now known as SD26) — reinvented themselves by moving to splashy new digs. Tavern on the Green got a new owner and the Oak Room came back after a three-year renovation. However, the fabled Café des Artistes and the Rainbow Room closed, their futures uncertain.

Cuisine Watch: Pizza was hot, with an ambitious lineup of newcomers including Co., Emporio, Keste, San Marzano, Spunto and Veloce. Bahn mi was the sandwich du jour, turning up at An Choi, Baoguette and the ever-expanding Bôi chain. And seafood made an unexpectedly strong showing, with the arrivals of Butcher Bay, Fishtail, Flex Mussels, Fulton, Harbour and, of course, Marea.

Economics: The average cost of a meal in New York City this year is $41.81 — up 2.5% over last year. (If you think that’s steep, just be glad you don’t live in London, where meals average $65.63, or Paris, at $78.82, or Tokyo, at $93.33) Fortunately, options abound for budget-conscious New York diners. The survey includes 618 restaurants in New York with an average dinner cost of less than $30, and 398 restaurants coming in under $25. Lunch tabs average 25% to 30% less. Best Buys ranging from Alice’s Tea Cup to Zaytoons can all be found on ZAGAT.com. Best of all, many of the city’s finer restaurants, such as Artisanal, Jean Georges and the 21 Club, are sticking to their Restaurant Week menu prices. As for tipping, NYC surveyors report leaving 19.0%, a fraction below the 19.1% national average.

Other Findings: Environmental and health issues continue to be a concern: 65% say that eating “green” food is important; 68% care about having low-fat/low-carb/heart-healthy options on menus; and a resounding 83% are in favor of requiring restaurants to conspicuously post Health Department inspection letter grades.

The Survey in Detail: Ratings and reviews of New York City Restaurants are available in a full range of formats: ZAGAT.com, ZAGAT.mobi (for web-enabled mobile devices), ZAGAT TO GO for iPhone and smartphones and ZAGAT nru for Android. The 2010 New York City Restaurants guidebook ($15.95) was edited by Curt Gathje, Carol Diuguid and Larry Cohn and is on sale at all major bookstores or online at ZAGAT.com. For information about the survey and to find additional statistics, please visit http://www.zagat.com/presscenter. And remember to connect with Zagat via Facebook and Twitter!