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Southern food is hot as Zagat releases NYC guide

The South will rise again — at least on the New York City restaurant scene.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The South will rise again — at least on the New York City restaurant scene.

According to the 2012 Zagat guide to city dining, Southern food tops this year's trends, thanks to newcomers like Marcus Samuelsson's celebrity magnet Red Rooster and The Cardinal, an East Village eatery dishing up okra, smothered pork chops and fried green tomatoes.

Other trends include on-site gardens providing roof-to-table ingredients, according to the guide released Wednesday.

This edition is the first New York guide since Zagat Survey LLC was acquired by Google last month. Tim Zagat, who founded the company with his wife, Nina, said readers won't notice the difference.

"The survey was largely completed before the deal closed," Zagat said.

The survey is also the first since New York City's letter-grade system for sanitation forced every restaurant to post an A, B or C in its window. The letter grades were just being rolled out when the 2011 guide was published.

More than four out of five surveyors said they approved of the grading system and 35 percent said they would eat only at A-rated restaurants. Zagat said that creates "a huge pressure on the restaurant to maintain their high grade."

The most popular restaurant was Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert's French seafood temple. Surveyors said its "starchy" service, "reverential" crowd and "civilized" milieu combined for an "unforgettable" experience. They added that the $70 lunch is a relative bargain.

The guide is indexed by categories including Gluten-Free Options, College Centric, Critic Proof, Hipster, Offbeat, Quick Bite, Stargazing and Tough Tickets.

The Zagats started their survey in New York 32 years ago and have since expanded to more than 100 cities.

A total of 2,111 restaurants were reviewed by 41,604 surveyors for the 2012 New York survey.

According to the survey, the average cost of a meal was up 4.1 percent to $43.46 from $41.76 last year.

The average cost of a meal at the city's 20 most expensive restaurants was $163.34.

Zagat said there were 135 notable restaurant openings and just 68 closings in the past year. "The restaurateurs are betting on the future, because they're spending millions of dollars to open these places," he said.