Decor and service, though, are less glorious.
The Zagat 2005 Survey of New York City Restaurants acknowledges 20 kosher places to eat in the city.*
Receiving the highest rating for food, among the places Zagat calls kosher, was the Second Ave. Deli, with a 23. Prime Grill, stomping ground of kosher bankers and lawyers, took a 22, as did Pongal and Chennai Garden. Le Marias took the bronze with a 21.
Though all 5 of these places scored very well for their food, they did not do very well at all in Zagat's two other categories. Pongal's "unreliable service" earns a 13; their "minimal decor" takes a 15. Channai's "no decor decor" gets a 12; LeMarias' interior receives a 14, and their service a 16. Even Prime Grill, gets hit for "spotty service" and can only muster a 17, to go with the 18 it received for decor.
Now let's be fair: I presume a deli doesn't try to compete on decor and service, so I am not surprised the Second Avenue took a 10 for decor and a 15 for service. And I've never been to Channai or Pongel, so perhaps they, too, aren't trying to be top-flight restaurants. I don't know. But Prime and Le Marias are thought, by Jews, to be among the better restaurants in the city. Their food, despite the kosher restrictions, is within spitting distance of the very best in the city. So isn't it a little sad that their decor and service, comparatively, is so poor?
The best non-kosher restaurants in the city score high 20s in all three of Zagat's categories. Daniel, my first stop after I am reincarnated as a non-Jew, is typical with a 28, for food, 27 for decor and 27 for service. I understand Prime Grill's 22 for food: They can't serve shellfish, or pork or rabbit. They can't mix milk and meat. Those are real limitations. But what's limiting the decor and service at kosher places? I can't pin Prime's 18 for decor and a 17 for service on the kosher laws. And it isn't the prices, either. Though Daniel is much more expensive than Prime, plenty of restaurants in Prime's price range take mid and high 20s on decor and service. Meanwhile, Darna, is the only kosher restaurunt I saw that cracked 20 in either of the two non-food categories, with a 21 for decor.
So what is it? Why don't kosher restaurants compete on decor and service?
* I don't know how Zagat defines kosher. I am not certifying any of the establishments under discussion here as kosher. Then again if you rely on an anonymous blogger to tell you what's kosher, you probably don't really care.