Touring New York's Restaurants With Mr. Zagat Himself

In his just-released book, The Man Who Ate the World, restaurant critic Jay Rayner explores the oft-overblown luxury dining of the world. In a scene from New York, the man behind the Zagat Survey—Mr. Tim Zagat himself—takes him on a whirlwind tour. It's fun to watch brash American Zagat embarrass Rayner, a Brit with a sense of propriety. Who do they run into at Meatpacking District monstrosity Buddakan other than America's favorite "One Tough Cop," private investigator Bo Dietl—who tells them that he came for the food, but stayed for the "pussy":

"He leads me into a pan-Asian restaurant called Buddakan, which is exactly how I imagine hell would look if the devil went into catering. It is a grotesquely large restaurant of bare brick walls, and over inflated chandeliers, made up of interlocking echoey chambers reached by huge staircases, and I can't help but think that somewhere is a final staircase which leads to a fiery pit, full of horne'd beasts, serving only ‘Belarus Home Cooking'.

We shuffle through the crowd. ‘A girl could get pregnant on the way to the bar here,' Zagat barks into my ear, above the noise. Young people wolf down plates of chilli rock shrimp and spiced tuna tartar as though their lives depend upon it and my ears consider haemorrhaging in time to the music.

Suddenly Zagat spots some friends at a corner table. He introduces me to ‘everyone's favourite old time cop,' a late middle aged man, with stubble over his fat-pleated chin. Bo Dietl, a former New York policeman, is reputed to have arrested more felons during his career than any other, and is now a private investigator. His suit, with its stars and stripes lapel pin, shines under the light, and his receding hair is slicked back. With him is a media-friendly Harvard law professor who shares his name with the playwright Arthur Miller, and a silver-haired class action lawyer called Mel Weiss who is under investigation by the Federal government for allegedly paying plaintiffs to bring law suits.

They shout questions about restaurants and food at Zagat, who shouts back. Dietl makes apologetic noises about their choice of restaurant that night.

Zagat waves them away. ‘You're not here for haute cuisine,' he says to Dietl.

The former cop grins up at him. ‘No. We're here for pussy.'

Zagat, startled, rocks back on his heels.

‘Oh yeah,' he says, awkwardly.

I can't help but look down the table at the two young women, wearing shiny dresses in primary colours with plunging necklines, who are sitting with these old men."