October 25, 2011
Zagat's new national guidebook includes several local options

Zagat, the restaurant guidebook publisher known for its use-generated content, released its annual book on the best restaurants in the U.S., including several from the Sacramento area.

Among those scoring exceptionally high ratings for food - 29 out of 30 - are Ambience in Carmichael, Taste in Plymouth, and Mulvaney's and The Kitchen in Sacramento. Then there's the shocker, Sunflower Drive-in in Fair Oaks, a vegetarian restaurant that is apparently destined for the kind of cult status once reserved for La Bonne Soupe, whose popular owner, Daniel Pont, sold the small, beloved downtown cafe earlier this year. Under new ownership, La Bonne Soupe has struggled to find its footing and, once at the top of Zagat's list in the food category, is no longer included in the national guidebook.

That 29 rating, by the way, is the same as the French Laundry in Yountville and one point higher than Meadowwood in St. Helena, both of which have been awarded three Michelin stars and are considered world-class dining destinations.

Sunflower didn't do nearly as well in the "décor" category, scoring just nine out of 30. That's because it is a walk-up eatery in which you order at the window, often accompanied by one or more of the famous feral chickens that roam through the Fair Oaks village. Ella, by comparison, scored 27 for décor.

The book, 'Zagat: America's Top Restaurants," is 348 pages and costs $15.95.

Also of interest are results from Zagat's restaurant survey, including signs that dining out may be stabilizing in the midst of the recession. Americans ate out an average of 3.1 times per week, the same as last year but down from 3.3 times a week before the recession, according to the survey. The average bill spent on a meal in 2011 was $35.65, up slightly from last year's $35.37 - the lowest increase in the past five years.

While folks eating in New Orleans are the best tippers, leaving an average 19.7 percent, West Coasters, including Sacramentans, are the stingiest, tipping at 18.6 to 18.9 percent, according to the survey.

In Sacramento, the news is not entirely comforting for restaurants. The percentage of meals eaten out was 39 percent - the lowest in the nationwide survey of major metropolitan areas. Chicago was the highest at 52 percent, just ahead of New York and Miami at 50 percent of meals eaten out. San Francisco, perhaps surprisingly because of its reputation as a great restaurant town, was closer to the bottom at 43 percent.

Also of note was the response to questions about whether folks are eating out more or less than last year. In Sacramento, 57 percent said the same as last year, while 18 percent said more and 25 percent answered less - all close the national averages.

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