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Can U.S. Food Guide Conquer Paris?

July 21, 1998

PARIS (AP) _ For a Paris chef, Edouard Carlier should be pretty content. His Montmartre restaurant, A. Beauvilliers, is one of the most lavish and romantic spots in this lavish and romantic city.

But there’s one thing Carlier isn’t happy about. Not at all.

It’s a little burgundy-colored book that just hit Paris. It rates restaurants not with stars or little chef’s hats, but with quotes _ from real customers. It’s called the Zagat guide.

``It is kind of a joke,″ Carlier says, though clearly he’s not very amused.

``It’s not objective at all,″ he continues. ``And the paper is cheap, and the type is bad.″

Could this have something to do with his review? A. Beauvilliers is ranked 27th out of 825 restaurants _ not shabby at all. But along with praise for the ``delicious″ food come these admonishments:

``Pretentious.″

``Odiously expensive.″

``Irreproachable″ service _ ``when they recognize you.″

The Zagat guides are hugely successful in the United States, used like bibles by urban foodies from New York to Chicago to San Francisco. There’s one in London, too.

But Paris _ well, that’s a whole different affair. In this food-worshiping town, ``the customer is always right″ is not a well-known concept.

Foreigners can wither under the gaze of a waiter who insists the bloody meat is really ``medium.″

Send a dish back to the kitchen in New York, and you’ll likely get an apology and a new one. In Paris, you might get an indignant look, or more: recently in the Marais district, a chef plopped down at the complaining customer’s table and ate the dish himself _ to prove it was edible.

Carlier says he objects to the anonymity of the amateur critics. ``Imagine somebody doesn’t like me,″ he said. ``All they have to do is send a letter to Zagat.″

So can a food guide by the people and for the people survive in Paris?

Emmanuel Nguyen, 28, was fingering the new guide at a Champs-Elysees bookstore Tuesday, trying to decide whether the upstart or the trusted Michelin would be more useful in planning a friend’s birthday outing.

``This would be good for things you wouldn’t normally think of,″ he said of Zagat’s. But he was still undecided.

Authors Tim and Nina Zagat say they’re pleased with the reception they’ve gotten in the Paris food world.

``People have been much friendlier, much more accepting than we thought,″ Tim Zagat said recently over a sandwich in the courtyard of the Crillon Hotel. (He was safe; its restaurant ranked 13th.)

To compile the survey, editors sent questionnaires to law firms, banks and the like. About 1,700 people responded, grading eateries on cuisine, decor, service and wine.

The result is a guide that includes categories like ``Hip-Intellectual,″ ``For Expense Accounts,″ and ``See and Be Seen.″

It was supposed to include a list of places that allow dogs, so beloved to Parisians. ``But the list was too long _ it turned out almost everybody allows dogs,″ Nina Zagat said.

Priced at $13, the guide has sold about 25,000 copies of an initial 40,000-volume printing since it debuted a month ago, says its distributor, Alain Flammarion. ``That’s pretty good,″ Flammarion said. ``This is a new concept in France.″

The New York, Zagat’s sells 50,000 copies a month.

The Paris guide includes pizza joints and cafes, but its top rankings include the usual greats. In first place is the venerable Taillevent, described as ``simply the best.″

Naturally, its chef is quite pleased.

``I think it’s a sensational concept _ letting the customer decide,″ said Philippe Legendre.

``I think I’d say that even if my place ranked third or fourth.″

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