''People in the United States have an enthusiasm about food that we English just don't have,'' says Egon Ronay, author of many hotel and restaurant guides. ''Americans love to explore new restaurants,'' he continues. ''Any person you meet in a shop can recommend a good place to eat at the merest mention of food. And the American waiter is ready to tell you about everything on the menu. He just normally assumes that you want to dine well.''
Although Mr. Ronay speaks glowingly about the immense interest Americans have in food, only a few restaurants fare well under his gastronomic scrutiny.
In his new restaurant guide and guidebook, Egon Ronay's TWA Guide 1984 (St. Martin's Press, New York, $12.95), inspectors and a team of food authorities gave a two-star classification to only 12 of the 70 American restaurants surveyed. The criteria were the same they had used in rating the cooking of 18 other countries.
Forty-seven others received one star. None received the top three-star rating granted to a dozen restaurants overseas. The book does, however, list restaurants that are recommended although not rated highly, a helpful guideline in each city.
The United States restaurants accorded two-star culinary value are Le Perroquet, Chicago; L'Ermitage, Spago, and Valentino, Los Angeles; K-Paul's Kitchen, New Orleans; The Four Seasons, Lutece, Le Perigord Park, and the Quilted Giraffe, New York; Le Bec Fin, Philadelphia; Le Trianon, San Francisco; and Le Lion D'Or, Washington.
The guidebook was launched at a luncheon at the Hotel Pierre here with an unusual formula for serving.
Head chefs and their teams from four US restaurants highly rated by the guidebook cooked the luncheon for 80 people, each cooking a four-course meal for 20.
''I don't think one team can cook a really good meal for 80 people,'' Mr. Ronay says. So the four courses were mixed and matched so guests got a course cooked by each of the four chefs. And the written menu was color-keyed according to chef.
At my table we started with Lobster Madrilene with Maltese sauce, cooked by Chef-Patron Jovan Trboyevic of Le Perroquet, Chicago. The second course was Timballo ai Fiori di Zucchini, cooked by the team of Chef-Patron Piero Selvaggio and Guiseppe Pasqualato from Valentino restaurant, Santa Monica, Calif.
Our main course was veal with capers and horseradish, cooked by Chef-Patron Barry Wine with Noel Comess of New York's Quilted Giraffe. Our dessert was Sweet Potato and Pecan Pie, by Owner-Chef Paul Prudhomme, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, New Orleans.
For the future, Mr. Ronay predicts the publication of more guidebooks for women who travel, especially now that more women are managers in hotels.
''This hotel, the Pierre, has a woman who is assistant manager,'' he says. ''I think women are excellent in this kind of work. They are hospitable, good organizers, and make great maitre d's. My grandfather's hotel in Hungary had a woman chef who was very highly respected, and it never occurred to anyone that it was unusual.''
Mr. Ronay is also thinking about writing a book based solely on American restaurants, maybe next year.
He is known for his Lucas Guide to Hotels, Restaurants, and Inns in Great Britain and Ireland. He also produces a guide to pubs and budget restaurants.