New York minute

Sometimes I humor my consort on the rare weekend he’s in town and insists there is life beyond the tell-me-more Internets. Which is how we wound up, on a Sunday afternoon last spring, at the Studio Museum of Harlem, for one of its always-worth-the-journey/show-not-tell “3D is better than digital” exhibitions. The walk home was a revelation, since we took it down Frederick Douglass Boulevard — thanks to my online research into what we might find on this forced exile from Twitter/FB virtual heroin. And that stroll led not just to an actual story produced for cash money, plus a video for a few bucks more, but to expanded restaurant horizons.

We stopped at every one of the many eating opportunities we passed to check out the menu, but at Vinateria we were so taken by the space and the actually-hostessing hostess that we came back not long afterward for dinner. And if the cooking was only one step beyond what I would consider restaurant-school level, the whole experience would have rated a resounding yes to the old WIGB question. Which is why we just headed there straightaway after a stressful day when I needed to decompress and Bob wanted a good walk to/from dinner. Barely over a mile from our own kitchen I got new respect for restaurant-school cooking/conceptualizing.

The first time we split hmm-good fried artichoke hearts with lemon-”anchovie” dipping sauce, then I had respectable duck confit and Bob hoovered up very good chicken breast. We sat in a corner table in the front with a great view of both the street and the room, and the service was exemplary even though it took us several tries to get a bottle ready to drink (after the first were out, the next was not chilled). If I had come straight home and asked that old question, I would have said yes for the setting and proximity as much as the food.

But on this latest visit we scored a sidewalk table, the perfect place to watch one of the great evolving neighborhoods on promenade. Eating there really is like few other places in Manhattan, a harmonious scene that would scare the Pampers off most of the wingnuts out in “real” America. No wonder Harlem Shambles saw more potential there than over in the Nineties on Amsterdam.

As for the food, it was a night for bacon balls (croquettes, officially), which were almost liquid inside but with the richness offset by the mustardy swiping sauce. Bob had that chicken again, for all of $18, and the creamy mashed potatoes and pickled-tasting onions with it only amplified the juicy/crisp meat. I was looking for light and ordered the flatbread topped with brandade, which was Goldilocks-right and even better next morning. (The Cat agreed.)

Wine was a $42 bottle of Spanish rosé. Service was superb. The street show? Mesmerizing. Walking the 23 blocks home, I decided they should change the name of Frederick Douglass Boulevard to Central Park West Extended Northward. And noted that there are no restrictions on food & drink businesses once you get past that defunct gas station at 110th Street.

New York minutes

All through “Chef” I kept wondering where in holy hell we would go eat afterward. Between the food and the philosophy onscreen, there was no way we were going to, as my consort put it, risk a crappy Cubano. Luckily, the theater was only blocks from Momofuku Ssam, so we trotted there even though it was a Saturday night and seats might be lacking. Within five minutes of walking in, we were ensconced at the bar and ordering a food-friendly pinot bianco and a Gin No. 3 (with apricot, Campari and lemon). And of course the food was perfection. In my most fat-obsessed delirium I would never conceive of pairing tempura softshell crab with pimento cheese and sesame seeds, but the diced green tomatoes offset the potential overkill. Then, the kimchi was so pungent I could forgive the Mason jar it was served in (as I’ve often said: only those raised prosperous can appreciate that presentation). The Buffalo pork buns were outstanding, the fat crispy and enhanced by both hot sauce and blue cheese. And the seafood hot pot was so sublime, with a coconut-sambal brodo floating rice cakes and killer kohlrabi, that I ate it even though it contained human-of-the-sea. WIGB? The new double feature would be “Chef” and Chang, any day.

A few times, after dropping a hundred bucks at the Greenmarket or having a couple of $15 lobster rolls at Luke’s, my consort and I stopped to check out the menu of the newish Bustan, on Amsterdam Avenue, and always decided it was too pricy to bother with. But I kept reading about it and hearing about it and finally suggested it to friends from the neighborhood who wanted to meet up somewhere different. Another friend had warned me she didn’t think it was worth the money, and the wine was really pricy, but then she admitted she’s “cheaper and fussier” than we are. So the four of us ignored her and agreed to meet up for an early dinner. They got there at 6:30 and were warned the table would have to be surrendered by 7:45, which is always annoying, but that was enough time to decide the buzz was justified.

We only shared small plates rather than springing for entrées in the high $20s. Len wanted beef cheeks, but I noticed they were an option on the hummus bowl for only $18. And it was outstanding hummus and very tender meat. The “mazettim” we chose were fine tzatziki and good smoked eggplant spread and amazing spicy Moroccan turnips, easily the best turnips I’ve ever eaten. Falafel were superb as well, perfectly crunchy outside and just soft enough on the green inside, and they came with both tahini and a pickled mango sauce for dipping; the latter was killer, like liquid chutney. A “popover” stuffed with lump crab, spinach, feta and leeks was more like a puff pastry box; the combination sounded over the top but tasted fine quartered. And the roasted beet salad was a nice toss of kale, pomegranate, shaved fennel, celery, pine nuts and, the nicest touch, grilled halloumi. Both the mazettim and the hummus were supposed to come with house-made focaccia, but we only got one loaf and were charged for the second one we requested. One of those little things that piss you off. Still, WIGB? Absolutely. A bottle of Provencal rosé was $42, which now seems reasonable. And aside from the bum’s rush, the service was fine, and the place is attractive. The stylish crowd I’d read about, however, must have been home watching the World Cup that night . . . .

Another New York minute

Trying to force myself to realize a documentation of a thousand eating experiences can start with one post. So let this one be about our most recent Sunday outing to Flushing to connect with our Asian-eating/eating-Asian group, at a new spot specializing in Henan cooking. I deliberately do no research before jumping on the C train to the 7 train because a little knowledge can be a disruptive thing when the Lazy Susan leaders can speak and read Cantonese and have scoped out our destinations so smartly. And I keep my mouth shut except for regular infusions of hot tea as the ringleaders suss out the menu and decide on the order. Or, in this case, the over-order. For once we were at two tables (14 of us) and decided doubling up on everything was fairest. I cringed, especially when the waiter volunteered in English: “It’s too much food.” And he was right, but we still got away for the usual $20 a head (with generous tip).

The blowaway dish was the one I once would have vetoed because it was built on a nasty bird, but the “big plate chicken”/”chicken with special sauce” was fabulous, the leading flavor indicator being the star anise pods strewn over the top. I tasted the NB, which was great for NB, but it was the deep red sauce and the sublime noodles that pushed this over the top. Everyone asked for rice to sop up the sauce, but the smartest move was requesting more fresh noodles. Having just been to the food show, where everyone fantasizes about coming up with a liquid moneymaker, I’d say someone should start bottling this stuff ASAP.

I passed on the “sautéed chicken tripe with hot pepper” and tasted only enough of the “lamb soup with breast” to feel sickened (lamb is my deer meat). But the lamb-braised noodles were palatable to me and scarfed by everyone else. I also was underwhelmed  by the steamed whole tilapia despite the expert cooking — mud is mud to me. But the “stir-fried lecture” (crisp greens with wood-ear mushrooms) was outstanding and the braised tofu in brown sauce way better than it had any right to be. Pork dumplings with Chinese cabbage, landing too late in the rotation, were nicely executed but very bland, even with vinegar splashed on. And by the time the “wok vegetables” arrived, complete with meatballs in a stellar sauce, everyone looked over-satiated. That broth was amazing, though. WIGB? Absolutely, but only with someone who could communicate with the chef (in his coat emblazoned “celebrity chef”) and servers. While there are slick photos of the specialties festooning the walls, it really would be hard to know how to order. The place does not even have a name in English either on the sign or on the takeout menu (which does, however, list numbers for everything from Emergency to Public Housing Application, all those resources given in Chinese characters). 40-26 Union Street, 718 353 2816. Open daily.

New York minute/Mid-May 2014

The surprisingly good: Tavern on the Green in its new incarnation, where a friend treated my consort and me to dinner in return for my sorta helping her research a couple of stories and where we were amazed to find ourselves among what appeared to be mostly New Yorkers (including the Maroons, at the next table — and wouldn’t every dinner a business dinner be a tedious way to go through life?) Looks were clearly taken into account in the hiring, but everyone from the hostess to the runner was well-trained, to the point that we barely had to argue to get moved from a table right next to the servers’ station (Bob did say “kinda” when the hostess asked if we were in the bidness). So we wound up in the glass atrium as the sun was going down and a (nonunion?) crew was working on the lights outside, reminding me of one ostensible reason the old TOTG died. The menu is confusingly designed, to the point that Wally missed the whole “Hearth” section while distracted by the “Grill” and “Plancha” and “Salads.” But everything we shared was impressive, starting with the grissini and bread set down with labneh perfumed with lemon and thyme. As starters, surprisingly nuanced smoked bluefish paté came with (too few) juniper-seasoned toasts, while plancha’d cremini paired with blue cheese, basil leaves and chile-heated bread made for a very stealable idea. I think I scored with my $30 main, two whole-down-to-the-wings grilled quail laid over creamy grits with a surfeit of “homemade” chorizo, touched off with a garnish of roasted grapes. But Bob’s honkin’ huge pork chop was a close second, not least because its accoutrements included wood-roasted rhubarb and fennel. Not sure if I were paying I’d think Wally’s red endive salad with caramelized anchovies, roasted garlic, buttermilk and Parmesan was worth the $17, but it played well with her other small plate, fat grilled scallops with citrus butter, fried shallots and capers. The wine list was superb, too: interesting choices at non-25CPW prices, so we could indulge in an albariño after our verdejo and still wind up with a $200 tab for our too-generous friend to cover. WIGB? Absolutely, even on our own dime. The bar with its fireplace and booths looked quite enticing, although I’m not so sure about Siberia in the back room, where the strollers were parked. The kitchen alone makes you appreciate how transformed the place is. Back in the mid-Eighties when I got a tour thanks to a friend’s husband who was the short-term chef (two stars and he was out), the stockpots were Campbell’s-sized, which was a pretty clear indicator of how impossible it was to turn out great food in a feeding factory. Now you can see the cooks humping in an open kitchen that is so well-ventilated you see them through smoke you can’t smell.

Update: Yes, the place has apparently reverted to type, if you can believe all the reviews and online frothing. And I can’t really doubt it. Tourists are so easy to trap they ensnare chefs and managers, too. Sadly inevitable.

New York minutes/End of April 2014

When The Consort’s away, The Cat WCTLWAFW decamps from his bed on top of the refrigerator. He knows there won’t be any stove action, let alone any real kittybags landing. So when Bob got home from a week at a workshop out in real America, source of of Sysco spinach and other abominations, I was determined to be a little more careful about where we went out to eat. And it’s amazing what you can find in this town if you pay attention.

After walking every aisle at AIPAD, for starters, I might have suggested we head to our usual refuge in that restaurant wasteland, the can-get-expensive/we-know-the-menu-too-well Toloache 82. But I remembered the Writing Room had opened a while back in ridiculous old Elaine’s*, so we headed there at early-bird hour to find nearly empty dining rooms but ditzy hostesses insistent on giving us dark tables. We settled for the second, next to another couple of olds, but a manager came by and moved us, luckily — to right alongside the server stand. At least the staffers aside from the ditzes seemed to be that rarity, workers proud to be serving and enthusiastic as hell about making our meal happy. The New Yorker may have been underwhelmed by the Parkerhouse-style rolls, but we liked both them and the butter they rode in on. The salmon tartare we shared — flecked with everything-bagel spices, and creamy with onion mayonnaise — tasted quite lively when spread on warm grilled rye bread. We both had only salads, and I got the better one: spinach interspersed with blue cheese and pickled mushrooms and tossed with bacon vinaigrette, all laid over a CD-size crouton spread with bacon jam. Bob’s “farmer’s salad” read better than it tasted, and even then it was more of a grocery list: Romaine, radicchio, pepper, wild rice, avocado, broccoli and hearts of palm, all allegedly dressed with Green Goddess. Everyone else in the room as it filled seemed to be ordering the fried chicken for two, served with biscuits and coleslaw, but we’d split some chouquettes from Maison Kayser on the schlep north and passed on mains (which run $24 to $52). We did finish a bottle of $34 rosé, poured right. WIGB? Yep. It’s not just for the little old lady in Dubuque. And the bar seemed very alluring in early evening light.

*One of Seymour Britchky’s greatest lines was how Elaine strutted around that same space while “hoisting up her underwear.”

A couple of nights later I had to pass on the amazing “Lunchbox” with Bob and a couple of friends because I had to crash a story revision, and on my way to meet them afterward for the usual cheap-wine-and-pizza at Fairway got a call on my green-like-xmas phone that the menu there was Passover-only, for $40 — so I suggested the days-old Tessa. And what a find on that rain-blizzardy night. We snared one end of a communal table in the high-energy, well-designed bar and passed around fabulous plates: The array of house dips to start (tiny portions with huge flavors: smoked eggplant; hummus; ricotta, all with crunchy lavash, for all of $8), then a sensational asparagus risotto with ricotta for me (I ordered the appetizer size for $14 and still had enough to kittybag), lamb “porchetta” for Bob (the meat rolled, aggressively seasoned and roasted, with a plethora of garnishes, for $28), monkfish with a lentil-quinoa pilaf ($27) for Diane and intense braised pork cheeks with pecorino polenta ($27) for Len (The Cat loved the last bites bagged). The $11 chocolate “mouse” (cq on the check) was sensational, strewn with toasted almonds and caramelized fennel seeds and teamed with honey-anise ice cream. Everything was so happy-making, and the waiter was so engaging, and the weather outside was so awful, that we wound up splitting two fine bottles of white, a verdicchio and a Rousanne, for $45 and $40.

Three nights later Bob and I wound up making our way there again with another friend, after she and I caught up with “The Lunchbox” and Bob came along because he had liked the movie as much as the restaurant. Luckily, he called ahead and, even though all tables were reserved, the FOH was able to fit us in again in the bar, at a four-top, where the only downside was the debauched quartet partying on beside us. This time, after I’d confirmed the chef’s background at Peacock Alley, the cooking struck me as a little overwrought, but in good ways. The cod salad was billed as “for the table,” but it was hard to get all the elements in one coherent bite: cabbage, cucumber, lemon confit and pickled tomato. After popcorn, I only wanted an appetizer, but the $12 rouget could have been a main, the perfectly seared fillets teamed with fennel marmalade and seasoned with espelette (separatist paprika). Bob’s baked-juicy black sea bass was rather restrained, simply laid over crushed potatoes with lemon and accented by braised fennel. But Donna may have won, with spaccatelli (damned if I can adequately describe that pasta shape — botched priest strangler?) in a rich sauce with lobster and chanterelles. Again, the $19 appetizer size was beyond generous. Grapefruit poundcake turned out to be more cerebral than the “mouse,” with olive oil ganache, citrus curd and grapefruit-thyme sorbet ramping up the sensations. And this time the three of us were having such a good time, and the sommelier was so engaging (when was the last time you measured a table by cubits?) that we went through two bottles of the Rousanne. WIGB? Early and often. Did I mention the bread and butter were exceptional, too? Plus, as Donna said as we waited for our seats: “I can’t believe we’re uptown.”

Bob agreed I was really on a roll the following Wednesday when, after the pleasurable-if-still-brown Greenmarket and then the root-canal-rivaling carpet-shopping at ABC, I led him to Barn Joo. I’d been curious about the place since doing a story on the beef I had been told the chef buys, and after failing to get a quote from that smart buyer by email or phone, I’d dropped by to leave my card and been pretty wowed by the decor. It seemed even more seductive because the meal was a steal: $10 for a “cheesesteak” stuffed with slices of that Happy Valley beef in a sort of focaccia with excellent fries and superb spicy dipping sauce plus a house-made yuzu soda, and $12 for the jap chae noodle platter, with beef and a little tray of condiments, one with egg, two like kimchi. The servers were sweet and the room was fun. WIGB? Absolutely. How could I have walked past it so many times and never gone in?

One day I may turn up a receipt showing we tried somewhere else between all that high-end consumption, but I do recall we made a three-train expedition to Queens to Hibiscus, in Richmond Hill, to meet our Asian-eating/eating-Asian group. On this Easter Sunday we were 12, apparently only two of whom uttered the words “happy Easter” to both tablemates and the dressed-to-kill fellow guests. The destination had been chosen for its mix of West Indian and Chinese, but most everyone agreed only the former was vaut le voyage. The house fried rice, mixed with everything but the kitchen sink, was just what it sounds like: more excess than execution. The noodle dishes were what we could have phoned home from an hour and a half earlier. Etc. But the duck curry was fabulous even before chunks of the tender, spicy meat and rich sauce were wrapped in the killer roti, and the sauce on the oxtail (I didn’t brave the meat) transformed the already-great peas-and-rice cooked in coconut oil. I also did not brave the black pudding, made with lamb blood, but the vinegary-peppery dipping sauce with it was a revelation. Bunghal pork, which the slow-warming charming waitress described as “cooked down,” was also great, and the “fried bangha Mary” — whitingesque whole fish heavily spiced and perfectly fried — was so impressive we ordered a second set. We also duped an order of the plantain chips. And the few forkfuls I snared of the weekend-only platter of Guyanese chicken and pork tasted pretty great, too. WIGB? Maybe on a day when we could take the A train straight there. The West Indian markets we wandered through before and afterward would be worth the $5 fare alone.

We also snared a drink at BEA on our way to the disappointing “Satchmo at the Waldorf.” Real bartenders, decent pours and a little bowl of warm fried chickpeas. As Bob said: When was the last time you got a makes-’em-drink-more bonus at a bar?

Up from the Cellar

Clearest sign you’re over-Tweeting: You can’t turn up any mention of when exactly you walked through the sheets and towels at Macy’s en route to and from dinner with a view of the Empire State Building. And we really did eat dinner, after a fashion, in a department store. Blame the Insatiable One for her incessant touting, albeit with disclaimers; at some point you just give in and go out, especially on a night when your consort has to be in the creative-food desert that is West Midtown. How much worse could Stella 34 be than 90 percent of the craptastic places on Ninth Avenue?

Answer: If it weren’t for the schlep through the merch, you could actually see making this a destination. From a window table, that view is pretty 1930s NY. And the pizza was surprisingly good, despite the Olive Gardenesque prose selling it (“water meticulously sourced from local wells to match the natural spring water in naples). We chose right, I suspect, with the $18 Diavola: “san marzano tomato, salami piccante, mozzarella, pecorino-romano.” The Cat loved the kittybag.

Unfortunately, the other half of our dinner in a department store, the vitello tonnato, really looked like sliced crumpled calf on a small plate with too much frisée and too little tuna creaminess. Still: wines are served by the quartino ($12-15 for white, $12-16 for red). And the view is pretty great. As long as you don’t look left or right to see who’s at the next table and how much they’re not even Roombaing but Hoovering. WIGB: Not likely with so many great alternatives opening everywhere. But if I were a tourist . . .

Short for Catalonia

It’s one thing to sit online at your messy desk in what was in 1929 a maid’s room and pick out a restaurant downtown that you think will fulfill your consort’s craving for cooking he can’t get at home. And it’s another to walk up and down the Bowery trying to find the address you’ve culled off MenuPages and wonder if you really, really want to eat on a street still crawling with sad souls and lined with Rat Centrals. So I was ready to bail northward on arriving first at the Sunshine Hotel and remembering a pretty bleak documentary. Luckily, Bob had had a couple of beers nearby and was not too late in bounding up and insisting we give Cata a try. Once inside, around the corner on Stanton, we were in 2014 Manhattan for sure. Or on a Barcelona stage set.

We got an outstandingly engaging waiter, great window seats with just enough blossom views and $10 glasses of red and white wine. The chickpea fritters were not the usual hardballs but little cubes made from what in Genoa would be considered farinata, dusted with dried mint and chile. And they were perfect pick food until the bombas arrived (perfectly fried croquettes filled with serrano ham and Manchego and set over tomato sauce spiked with smoked paprika). We split a couple of intriguing brochettes of grilled halloumi with caramelized onion and membrillo, and I braved a taste of Bob’s merguez-spiced lamb (not bad, which is high praise from this lamb hater). The silly-sounding Bikini montadito comprised four exquisite triangles of a truffle-scented grilled cheese with more serrano ham. Tempura broccoli with Cheddar and romesco sauce was crunchy-excellent, but the winner had to be the curried cauliflower “couscous,” with little bits of crucifer tossed with Marcona almonds and currants. We’ve eaten a lot of small plates lately, but all those were sublime. What’s even better is that most of the tapas were priced by the piece, so Bob could get his lamb and we could share the rest by ordering two of the bombas and the halloumi. The menu has big plates, too, but nothing we ate was more than $9.50 (the silly-sounding but superb sandwich). WIGB? Absolutely, although I’ll admit I only like communal tables in an empty restaurant. I keep thinking about what we didn’t order, like the duck pastrami, and the quail eggs Benedict with chorizo. Plus the wine list with only $10 glasses and $40 bottles . . .

New York minutes, catch-up and new

Something old: Brasserie Magritte on the Upper East Side, where my consort and I headed after the divisive “Inside Llewyn Davis”* rather than resorting to our usual Toloache in that restaurant dead zone. The place looks great, with, of course, paintings and symbols hanging everywhere. And the staff was quite friendly. But we got an odd table, too wide for two and in an awkward spot, and the cooking would be more suited to musty French joints in the Theater District. My sad duck confit, an appetizer, seemed fatigued, while Bob’s $25 coq au vin looked and tasted like yesterday’s special. The $9 frites with two sauces at least delivered. WIGB? Maybe. It is a dead zone. And the setting did motivate us to go see the real Magrittes at MOMA, which were totally vaut le voyage.

*I’m apparently alone in liking it. Not least for the “where are his testicles?” scene.

Something new: Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side, where I met a great friend who was staying off Times Square and wanted to meet in that dead zone between him and me. As I promised, “The food is not dazzling, but the place is pleasant.” And it still has its charm, and good energy, but the waitress seemed not quite up to the selling job for the menu and wine. I was tempted by my usual fish and chips (for the fries) but thought I should give a special a try; my reward was a beautiful slab of $32 halibut cooked dry, with no sauce, just a scattering of ramps and vegetables. Rolando said his sea bass was in the same sorry state. He had tuna crudo to start and we sort of split the rather dinery profiteroles. He sent back first glass of wine because it was too sweet (not fruity — sweet), and I noticed how chintzy the flatware felt. Still, WIGB? Sure. For the fish and chips and the space and, not least, the acoustics. Our table felt as if we were under a dome. We could actually talk.

While I’ve been DAOTI, sad fates have befallen a couple of places in my catch-up pile of receipts. Casa Pomona on the Upper West Side, where we took refuge after “American Hustle” one night when Kefi’s kitchen was closed early (where are we? Middle Earth?), is apparently becoming a Flex Mussels. The food on that second or third visit was respectable (three types of croquetas, cheese, migas) and certainly the service was snappy. But seafood might be an improvement. And Calliope has lost its chefs, which means the end of the best cheeseburgers I have ever eaten. I’m just glad I had the foresight to go have one last one before I even knew it would be the last — I’d sent friends there, but they apparently are not into cerebral experiences and were underwhelmed, so I took myself back just to see if it was as spectacular as I’d remembered. And it was even better: great beef, cooked perfectly, on chewy ciabatta that stood up to the sturdiness of the meat, with perfect fries and a mustardy sauce for both spreading and dipping. This was a late lunch, so the gorgeous room was quiet. I’m just sorry we never made it there for dinner. The spicy tripe Bob ordered twice at brunch was amazing both times.  And I’m saying that about tripe.

New York minutes/End of March 2014 & catch-up

So I roused myself from Twittergy and picked a receipt at random out of the dusty pile on my sit-down desk (many, many more are gathering dust on my improvised stand-up desk). And the memories all came flooding back, with a little help from my consort on what exactly we might have gone to see back in late December with good friends before heading to Jeffrey’s Grocery in the West Village. How in holy Siamese hell could I have forgotten this amazing short? If not for the printed tab, I would also not have remembered much beyond the sticker-price shock when the wine list landed. It was around the bend, but then we soon realized the booze had to be subsidizing the very approachable fud. Bob, assuming the list had to have been carefully curated, followed our long-standing rule of choosing the cheapest bottle, a white Antonopoulus for $38, and it got the job done. We shared outstanding salmon rillettes to start, and we sorta passed around plates of roasted dourade, roasted chicken and a chicken leg special although I didn’t want to share my $23 clever “fish and chips,” built on my favorite, blowfish, and paired with dill pickle aioli plus doughnut holes and maple malt vinegar. WIGB? That wine list is pretty daunting, but the location so close to IFC is pretty alluring. And the din was not deafening.

Most recently, we had another amazingly consistent experience at Luke’s Lobster on Amsterdam and another too-overloaded-to-finish $9-molletes experience as an excuse to indulge in a jalapeño margarita at Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side (with dainty but also great sopesitos: thick corn tortillas topped with cactus and chorizo plus black beans, queso fresco and crema, plus the bonus of watching an apartment bound dog in a tenement window across the street). But our big outing was to City Winery in Tribeca, to hear Richard Shindell and let Bob experience a place where I had a respectable lunch alone years ago after an interview for Edible Manhattan. The food was actually as good as you would get in a restaurant without the dessert of favorite songs. We started with a kale Caesar that the otherwise superb waiter first threatened would come with escarole, which we declined, then with Romaine but arrived as . . . cavolo nero (plus boquerones and celery root). Then we split a flatbread topped with pancetta, roasted garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary and Aleppo pepper that was also about six decades beyond the crap the Bottom Line used to crank out. We both drank tap wines (Rousanne-Marsanne from California for me), and both the quality and the non-gougey prices were also a long way from dirty dives with great music. WIGB? We’re checking the calendar for the next excuse. Musically and foodwise, the whole experience was exceptional.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2014 & catch-up

My new goal in catching up on endless meals not rated is to grab a receipt off the dusty pile on my desk and just type. And so I’m here to say the Todd English Food Hall under the Plaza Hotel was — shockingly — not bad at all. Which I remember even though that was way back in November. We were in the neighborhood for a photo opening, and my brilliant idea of just dropping in on Betony was thwarted right at the end of the long line out that door. So we forged on and into what felt like “The Shining,” given that the eerily empty lobby floor was only missing Scatman Crothers, now that absentee Russian oligarchs apparently own all the high-priced crash pads on our little island. But once we pushed through the doors into the basement, it was like walking into a 1 percent food court — nearly every stool occupied. Our own private stools were at the end of the pasta counter, where some serious issues were getting acted out, so we were happy to opt for a decent margherita pizza and a “wedge” salad of iceberg amped up with bacon, blue cheese and creamy dressing. Don’t ask why the latter was $17, $3 more than the former. Wines, both red and white, were $14 a glass, but at least the hard-running waiter was there when we needed to reorder. WIGB? Shockingly, yes, if we found ourselves in that food desert again. All diner standards were met: Accessibility, affordability, diversity etc.

Also, too: Apparently we also ate at Chop-Shop in Far West Chelsea in mid-November, too, and the receipt has the deets while what I recall is a place that turns, turns, turns — thanx allah we reserved. Wines were good and wow-priced ($9 a glass for both viognior and nero d’avolo), and pretty much everything we ate was anything but glasian. A special of avocado and tofu summer roll tasted fresh and lively in peanut sauce, the $10 special Thai crab cakes were so generous The Cat got to share next day, while the lamb dumplings made my consort very happy. The one dish we ordered off the menu, the Thai basil eggplant, was off the menu compared with the likes of Spice. WIGB? Absolutely, if in the neighborhood and in the reservation book.

And file this under “Free is a very good price” — After getting stiffed on a high-exposure recipe by a “too busy” “celebrity” chef, I was beyond impressed when Bill Telepan suggested we meet for an interview at noon on a weekday in his restaurant. I anticipated standing around as the grimly wintry local vegetables went flying into sauté pans, but I arrived late and was immediately escorted to a table set for two. Now that was efficiency, even though I had eaten a second breakfast to fuel myself. So my consort’s pro recorder documented my tucking into a fantabulous first course of oozy house-made mozzarella paired with crisp-seared hen of the woods mushrooms, then a main course of good crispy-skinned trout fillets plated with sweet bacon bits and excellent wilted baby spinach with pine nuts. Two hours later I did offer to pay, but my interviewee said a $10 tip would do. And I didn’t argue because my emergency backup $20 bill was nowhere to be found in my bag.