The people have spoken. And with the release of the 1999 Zagat Survey, they have been heard.
Each year restaurant-goers are invited to complete a lengthy Zagat questionnaire critiquing eateries they have frequented.
Once submitted, the averaged results are tallied and each restaurant is rated on a scale of 0 to 30 in the categories of food, decor and service.
Would-be critics can also submit commentary, some of which finds its way into a summarized, descriptive paragraph for each restaurant.
Started in 1979 by New Yorkers Nina and Tim Zagat as a hobby among friends, the survey has become an indispensable tool for foodies, industry professionals and travelers. There are many editions, each tailored to specific cities and regions across the United States and beyond. The publications are perennial bestsellers, boasting more than 100,000 participants who rate and review restaurants.
Keep in mind these people's-choice-type reviews are accepted from anyone who feels like submitting one. (Though employees of restaurants are not eligible to participate.)
Bias aside, the survey's annual release is eagerly awaited by those in the food industry, and by patrons looking for a convenient reference for phone numbers, addresses and thumbnail sketches of cuisine and ambience.
"I used the guide long before I was in the business," said Sandra Shinall, who along with her mother Suzanne Roll, own Suzanne's Cuisine in Ojai.
The 1999 Zagat Survey release marked the fourth consecutive year that Suzanne's Cuisine was acknowledged in the Los Angeles / Southern California edition. Since there is no "Ventura County" designation, Suzanne's is listed under the Santa Barbara area.
Shinall and chef Roll have proven to be worthy competitors in the region. In the food category, Suzanne's mark of 26 ranked second only to Downey's in Santa Barbara, which received a 27. Suzanne's other scores: decor, 22; service, 23.
The survey release "comes at the end of the year, so it's like our Christmas bonus," Shinall said. "It reflects the consistency of your business."
Didier Poirier's 71 Palm Restaurant in Ventura also made it into the 1999 survey, a welcome acknowledgment for a 14-month-old business.
"People sometimes wait for years and years to be included," he said. "It was a great honor to be in it our first opportunity."
71 Palm's scores across the board were in the "good to very good" designation (food, 19; decor, 19; service, 18).
Poirier said he anticipates the Zagat exposure is likely to attract more customers.
Indeed, Shinall said Suzanne's first listing "gave our business a good kick in the pants."
Other Ventura County restaurants in the survey were the Ojai Valley Inn (food, 21; decor, 23; service, 21) and the Ranch House in Ojai (food, 22; decor, 25; service, 22.)
For more information about the Zagat Survey or to learn how to participate, visit the Internet site at http://www.zagat.com
If there is one aesthetic that defines Juro'Cho Sushi in Ventura, it might be its intimate setting--which might be compared to a sardine can. And while coziness has long been a part of Juro'Cho's charm, the time has come for the 16-year-old sushi institution to do some growing up.
Nestled, almost anonymously, among the quaint seaside shops and food joints near the end of Seaward Avenue, Juro'Cho will soon be moving down the street a couple hops and a skip to the old Seaside Johnny's location (which also was home to Eric Ericsson's before it moved to the Ventura Pier).
"I'm making this move for my customers," said owner George Lee.
Lee had a problem. "We were losing customers," he said. "They would come by to eat and see a bunch of people waiting in line to get in. They don't want to wait an hour, so they just keep on driving."
Lee's roomier digs, which he expects to open in about a month, will also provide the establishment a higher profile: The restaurant is at the end of Seaward Avenue, with only a small city parking lot and sandy beach between it and lapping ocean waves.
"This is the perfect spot," Lee said. "I always wanted to come down here. I just had to wait for the right opportunity."
The gutted building is beginning to take shape with Lee's vision of a contemporary Japanese motif.
Patrons will sit on benches with tatami mat padding. There will also be two, private enclosed booths that will seat as many as 10 customers. "We're calling them our 'little clubhouses,' " he said.
There will also be a full bar area with access to outdoor patio seating through two large wood-and-glass doors.
And the sushi bar: those lucky enough to get a spot at an expanded bar will be rewarded with a postcard view of the Pacific Ocean. Loyal customers will not only appreciate the extra space, but also Lee's intention to maintain the homey feel of his original restaurant.
"That was my main goal," he said. "I didn't want to lose that intimate feeling."
With a larger kitchen, the menu will increase in size as well, Lee said, but slowly. The additions will include contemporary Asian dishes. "We're going to broaden our menu, but we're going to ease in to it."
Lee has plans for the current Juro'Cho site, too: a taco bar. Though he hasn't decided on a name for it, Lee said the menu has already been decided. There will only be three types of tacos: carne asada, carnitas and fish. Plus, a fresh salsa bar.
Rodney Bosch writes about the restaurant scene in Ventura County and outlying points. He can be reached at 653-7572, by fax at 653-7576 or by e-mail at email@example.com.