Good thing I looked up embargo!
  • Good thing I looked up "embargo"!

Portland finally got its own Zagat guide, which is one of those weird feelings not unlike hearing that INXS is coming to play. What is Zagat, you might ask? Well, it's kind of like a party where everybody gets an A and if you couldn't pin the tail on the donkey, you get a 28 for Service. ("Adorable!") I sort of kid. Zagat is a crowdsourced restaurant guide, with a ratings scale of 0-30 for Food, Decor, and Service. Their pithy write-ups are fully of tiny quoted tidbits that "turn" your "brain off" and "are like playing tiddledy winks with Gene Shalit." ("Fantastic tiddle, Chris!")

Let's look at one listing to see how this guide can help someone unfamiliar to Portland. "Tanuki, you say? 28 out of 30 for food! Incroyable! I think Le Bernardin has a 28! And decor, 21 out of 30, which the key says is very good to excellent. Let's take mother!" Twenty minutes later mom has a hot lap cheong in her mouth and she's watching SAM THE ANGER RHINO GAMBLES BETWEEN BREAST on Janis's wide screen TV. "But when the guide said 'Cult asian films,' I thought they meant Kurosawa! I am disowned!" Etc.

That's just one of many (most?) micro-reviews that will confound someone looking for a realistic lowdown on a particular Portland restaurant. Never mind that Gustav's was rated most popular and, I would then think, most representative of how we like to eat. Never mind that the restaurant rated Top Food in Portland is twenty-eight miles from Voodoo Doughnut, down in Newberg. (The Painted Lady - beware the automuzak that plays upon loading.) Never mind that Hungry Tiger Too gets a better food score (25) than Departure (23). At the end of the day, when an estimated 95% of Portland restaurants score over 23—including teriyaki gobble-troughs and defiantly mediocre stoner pizza—what does any of it mean?

Take it with a grain of salt, I guess. Read between the lines? If you want to hear the skinny on a place, do your homework, ask around. Write me, for heaven's sake. Then, if you need the restaurant's physical address, Zagat has your back.

This initial edition hit wide of the mark; time will tell if the Zagat data collection platform and minimalist format can provide truly useful information about a city whose restaurant scene is such a rich and dynamic moving target. At best, it's a good but not great list to consult when you can't think of any place to go... just don't go looking for fried chicken, because George's Corner Tavern and Reel M Inn aren't listed in Dining or Nightlife.