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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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April 2, 2008 2:00 PM

The criticial eye: New York, San Francisco, Seattle -- same diff?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Here's an interesting query, just in via e-mail from that fine fellow Jon Rowley, who asks:

"Do you think Seattle restaurant review stars should mean the same thing here as in New York and San Francisco, or are resaurants here subjected to a lower bar?"

The long answer? Don't get me started.

I loathe having to star-rate restaurants as I explain at length in this column written eight-plus years ago. But there are many people who think a specific star-rating distills the critic's message into a quick, user-friendly symbol. And while that is most certainly true, I still don't like doing it. When I read a restaurant review (and I read all of 'em, locally), I'm far more interested in what each writer has to say about the restaurant experience than whether they've given it a specific rating.

I love going to restaurants in New York and San Francisco, but I've never viewed (nor rated) Seattle restaurants through the standards of those cities. Or any other cities, for that matter. Because, really: What are those "standards?" Every city is different. And the same can be said for every publication in that city, and every reviewer in that city. Which is why, as I always say: "the key is key." Our ratings key explains that "ratings reflect their assessment of food, atmosphere and service, taking price into consideration." Which is to say, in my critical opinion, that if Pecos Pit BBQ would get some real silverware, put some cushions on those picnic benches and open on the weekend, they'd get four big fat stars from me.

Anybody want to chime in here? I'm all ears. Rowley? You started this.

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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