People often ask me how I determine the star ratings for restaurants.I work with a 5-star scale, and I base my ratings on quality of food, service and atmosphere. There’s no exact formula for this. Food counts the most, but service and atmosphere are also extremely important and can sometimes help push the rating in one way or the other. I review restaurants. I don’t review merely the chef. A restaurant can employ a great chef who creates wonderful food, for example, but if the waiters are idiots or if the restaurant just isn’t comfortable or attractive, those things can greatly impact the overall rating–and often do—because those things affect how people interact with and/or enjoy a restaurant. That was certainly the case recently at a restaurant called Gjelina. I really enjoyed what the chef was trying to do (potentially 3- or 4-star cooking), but the waiters were so arrogant and clueless that I couldn’t give the restaurant more than 2 stars. You can’t separate what’s happening in the front of the house with what’s happening in the kitchen. In other cases, the food might be in the 3-star range, but everything else about the restaurant works so perfectly and beautifully, the restaurant can end up with a 4-star rating. There’s certainly something to be said for restaurants that know how to make the customer feel like a king. Subjective? Yes, of course. Dining out is always subjective. Taste is subjective. Fun is subjective. No two restaurant experiences are ever the same, so all I can do is comment on and rate my own experiences. It doesn’t mean I’m right or wrong. It’s just a measurable reaction to what I’ve experienced. Here’s what my stars mean. 0 = poor, unacceptable; 1 = fair, some noteworthy qualities; 2 = good, above average; 3 = very good, well above the norm; 4 = excellent, among the city’s best; 5 = world-class, extraordinary in every detail. It’s disappointing that we don’t have more 5-star restaurants in L.A. I had given 5 stars to L’Orangerie and Sona, but both of those places closed (Sona is supposed to return in 2011.) I think Providence is almost five stars. Almost. I think Urasawa serves better food than any other restaurant in California, but it’s not what I’d call a 5-star restaurant (the lighting’s too bright and the bathrooms are shared with the mall, etc). I had hoped that Gordon Ramsay would aim higher when he came to town, but he tanked it. I had hoped that Patina would be able to overcome the awkwardness of existing primarily for the pre-theater crowd. But so far not. It’s disappointing. But it’s comforting to know that there are so many 4-star restaurants in L.A.