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Ken Oringer
Zagat's new guide to Boston-area restaurants puts Clio, owned by Ken Oringer, at No. 3 in the top food ratings. (Jonathan Wiggs/ Globe Staff)

Zagat: New look, a few surprises

Sporting a new look with streamlined, two-color type, the 2007/08 Zagat guide to Boston restaurants hits bookstores tomorrow. The familiar slender wine-red guide, compiled from the views of 6,100 respondents, has a few surprises in the top food ratings, although most in the top 10 just switched positions from the past guide. The biggest change is the easier-to-read redesign and the full set of maps of Metro Boston, including a pull-out color map of Eastern Massachusetts with the restaurant locations marked.

L'Espalier was ranked No. 1 for food, with Oishii taking the second spot (though this Japanese restaurant has three locations, the guide doesn't differentiate in the top ranking), and Clio rising to No. 3 after a No. 11 listing in the last guide. Others that moved up or down were Lumiere in West Newton, which rose from No. 26 to No. 6, and Hamersley's Bistro , which slipped from No. 6 to No. 17. Because the guide isessentially the opinions of whomever fills out the surveys, there are always fan favorites that pop up in the top food rankings. This year's surprises are La Campania inWaltham, which jumped from No. 25 to No. 7, and Saporito's in Hull, which rose from No. 20 to No. 9.

In the most popular category, Legal Sea Foods was first in line, with Blue Ginger next, then Hamersley's Bistro. Aujourd'hui won the top spot for service, repeating the last guide, with L'Espalier second, also the same as last year. And 1369 Coffee House in Cambridge gained the top spot in affordability.

In a phone interview from New York, Tim Zagat, who with his wife Nina, started the first guide of New York restaurants more than 25 years ago as a hobby, says the redesign "cost a fair amount of money," but says it was well worth it. He had to be persuaded, however. "I'm sort of wedded to the old look," Zagat says. "I was the last to come around." As well as the type changes and maps, the guide has removable stickers in the front of the book so that readers can mark favorites.

Zagat Survey LLC, publishers of this and the other 45 guides for cities in the United States and abroad, has local editors in each place. The Boston guide's editor was Ruth Tobias, with Maryanne Muller the local coordinator, and Bill Corsello the staff editor. The price went up $1 from last year to the present $14.95. Zagat also has an online service that is regularly updated and requires a fee.

The dining scene has changed in Boston as well as elsewhere, says Zagat. "When we first did Boston, I don't think we had more than 400 restaurants. Now it's getting up to 1,100." Zagat calls this explosion a "fair measure of how far Boston has come." In fact, he adds, the whole country is involved in a culinary revolution.

Boston restaurant prices are slightly below the national average, he points out, $30.78 compared to the $32.94 average. Diners here are more generous to the wait staff than their counterparts in Los Angeles. Bostonians tip an average of 19 percent compared to LA's 18.4 percent.

Here, as elsewhere, the bulk of complaints are about service, Zagat remarks. Even so, of those surveyed for the Boston guide, 67 percent said they were spending more money dining than they did two years ago.