Speak American, damn it

Between the rigatoni and the “minced beef” (aka dogburgers) on homebound Turkish Airlines, I had plenty of time to chew over what a guide recounted in Istanbul on my second day: She once had to spend several weeks in New York and was just longing for the food of her birth country one day when she spotted a restaurant called Istanbul. She swore she got fine food there, and I’ll take her word for it. Mostly she got me thinking about why Americans never have to crave American food. Is it because you can find McBurgerShack anywhere you go? Or because there is no such thing as American food?

I’m going with the latter after considering a couple of eating experiences after landing. On the first night my also-jetlagged consort, just back from judging World Press Photo’s multimedia entries in Amsterdam, graciously suggested we meet somewhere near his post-school networking drink, and Mermaid Inn had no tables available before about 3  in the morning my time, so I suggested Maison Kayser, not least because we could economize by taking advantage of the BYOB policy, since the place has no liquor license but also no corkage fee. So we tucked right into food off a menu that felt like one we would be happy to find in a cafe in Paris on one of those nights when we had no energy to search out a real meal. I passed on the salade gourmandaise with foie gras, duck prosciutto, green beans etc. because (snob that I am) I have had it so many times in France. But I was thrilled to see duck rillettes, and something new: artichokes paired with burrata. Which were enticing enough to let me let Bob take the cassoulet.

Of the three, the cassoulet was the weakest link, but not by much. Once we shredded the duck confit and chopped the garlic sausage into the soupy beans, we had a credible version of the usually dense classic. The rillettes, all of $2 more than what I buy Hudson Valley Duck’s for, came with toasts and cornichons plus were so much better, with good chunks of meat among the shreds in white fat. And the artichoke assemblage was sublime, both then and next morning: puréed artichoke bottoms surrounded with bits of bottoms, dabs of pesto and a necklace of pitted black olives, all topped with a slab of melting burrata.

The setting was pretty dinery, even after the very charming waiter turned down the lights, and I had my suspicions about how one kitchen can turn out such a wide menu of so many choices, and so fast. Still, WIGB? Absolutely, but probably for a snack rather than a meal. Real diners have wine by the glass.

Overall, though, the meal felt very New York. As did, insane as it sounds, Saturday lunch with our Asian-eating/eating-Asian pals at a newish Sichuan restaurant in northern New Jersey. And not just because we ordered “hamburgers.”

The first sign we were a long way from either Mott Street or Main Street was the very look of the place: sleek, polished, elegant (the two-stall ladies room even had flowers in it rather than the usual grimy string mop). The second was the graceful dish filled with peanuts in one indentation, spicy pickled carrots and a mystery yellow vegetable in the other. The teapots were also china, not aluminum. And the food was uniformly sensational.

Pork wontons in hot chile oil were perfectly formed and cooked, so they held together to the last nibble. Duck soup had a delicate flavor but you could taste the ginger and Sichuan peppercorns. Dan-dan noodles had clean, beautifully balanced flavor. I skipped the ox tongue and tripe in peppery sauce while everyone else raved. I also skipped the fermented eggs with cucumbers but can vouch for the sauce and crunchy vegetable sauce. Fern root noodles with sliced chicken were fascinating, dark and chewy. Braised sea bass fillets in another spicy sauce were sensational, beautifully cooked, very fresh fillets, and all of $16.75 for a huge bowlful. Even dry-sautéed string beans with minced pork were exceptional. But the true “vaut le voyage” choices were the Sichuan “hamburger,” thin slices of well-spiced pork to be tucked into steamed buns, and the tea-smoked duck, easily the best we have ever had outside of Hong Kong — the fat was almost buttery, the meat almost rare but very tender. And when the check came, it amounted to all of $23 a person for the seven of us. WIGB? Despite the hourlong bus ride, absolutely. This is why we live in America, for freedom of choice on food.

“Cuz they were nomads, they ate on the floor”

If a chef had a finger in your guided tour of Istanbul, here’s what you’d experience: An exhaustive exhibit on the history of Turkish coffee, complete with a centuries-old flyswatter meant to illustrate indolence in coffeehouses. The newly opened kitchens at the Topkapi Palace, where the guards are so busy on their phones they don’t notice everyone ignoring the universal no-photos sign on every exhibit, and where the workmanship in centuries-old china and silver is extraordinary. A warm-up stop for Turkish tea and red poppy/rosewater/tamarind sherbets (more like juices) in the gift shop. A spin through the Spice Bazaar with more time spent outside, where the real food is for sale and the cheese and olive vendors can’t pass out enough samples. A stock-up stop in a lokum/Turkish delight shop dating from the relatively recent past (1777). Lunch at an unlikely power lunch scene in a gentrifying neighborhood with exceptional traditional food (if the usual watery manti) and with Noah’s Pudding for dessert, made with grains and beans and honey and pomegranate and walnuts. True Turkish coffee in a 1967 coffeehouse and a lesson in reading the grounds like tea leaves. Through it all, nonstop insights into Istanbul’s history and modern life. I usually find guided tours about as pleasant as actually being led around by my nose would be, but this was impressive. As our guide said: “No one person can ever finish Istanbul.” I highly recommend her; email if you’re interested in contact info.

Between cats

I almost skipped my last supper in Istanbul, having had a late lunch with cauliflower and cat over in Orhan Pamuk’s neighborhood and knowing I had one more big breakfast to tuck away before the long, long ride home. But I would have missed an experience that had everything: great food, good wine, excellent service, a dramatic setting, cats to shoot on the walk to and from and, best of all, proof that bitches act the same all over the world. When I walked into Aheste, having had my lunch date reserve for me (cuz you can’t just walk in), the host/server offered me two tables, one awkwardly positioned in the center of the narrow room and the other in the window, where a scarf and bag were arranged in one chair, as if the owner had just stepped away. I didn’t understand that the latter was really available and settled for awkwardness, only to watch as a couple entered shortly afterward and the waiters started to remove the bag and scarf to a high stool. The young woman next to that table grabbed both, angrily, and then apparently instructed her husband/date to get the check even though they were still eating. If I had known it would be so easy to evict a princess, I would have chosen my table more wisely.

But as soon as the menu was set down and the host/server translated what I could not, I was oblivious to everything but the food and wine. I was actually tempted by the lamb neck but chose grilled mixed (mild) peppers with anchovy “aioli” and green olives plus the mutebbel, a combination of smoky eggplant with tahini and walnuts. And I would have been totally happy with those, especially after the sourdough bread with garlic confit in excellent Turkish olive oil. Maybe because I snapped everything, or because I had a little notebook, or because Istanbul, even with a population now of 18 million, 4 million more than my last trip in 2011, is a very tiny town, I was comped sensational ceviche, of buttery sea bass with red onion, dill fronds and orange. That made me order the chard with smoked yogurt so I could taste more of what the generous chef was cooking up, and I am here to report that “dried rose” actually could outperform bacon bits as a garnish. I couldn’t finish any of it, but I was then comped the craziest pumpkin dessert all week: crisp, crunchy, slightly sweet slices of squash set over ice cream and dusted with chopped walnuts. If I got it all straight, the cucumber cousin is being cooked via centuries-old molecular gastronomy — limestone does the trick.

As my own private Baedeker said: Eating at Aheste “tastes like being here.”

Up from Parm

Among the many reasons I restrain myself from interacting digitally anywhere but at my desktop: Tweet in haste, repent at leisure. Never was that clearer than on our second visit to the Milling Room. Our first meal was fine; our second made me want to blast out a “why isn’t this joint packed?” iStorm.

And the food really was impressive, as were the waiters and the lively wine, a pinot bianco for only $40. The beet salad with those bloody roots set over pistachio and blue cheese was again fabulous; the hamachi tartare downtown-worthy. On our first visit, the mushroom risotto rivaled the roast chicken; on the second, Bob’s honking huge pork chop was on the same level as our friends’ rabbit with pappardelle and Scottish salmon set over caramelized endive. The service was spectacular, at least until the place filled up a bit more, and the space and the low noise level both had my fingers twitching to Tweet.

Luckily, I held off. Because my main, monkfish cheeks substituted for cod in combination with black trumpet mushrooms and celeriac puree, proved to be dazzling. Only on the walk home, when I said the fish was great but too rich, did my consort note: “Yeah, and it was $38.” My heart stopped and I turned right around. That wonderfully welcoming maitre d’ or host or whatever he was never mentioned a whopping surcharge for trash fish. And the confrontation at the reception desk was awkward, and slow, but Bob got the $12 overcharge off the bill.

Still, WIGB? Undoubtedly. Even though we had been gulled three times before by trying to book on OpenTable when it was supposedly always full; only after a friend who lives nearby emailed to say it was quiet and comfortable did we try walking right in. (Shades of the Jerry Della Femina strategy for filling a resto: tell ‘em no till they beg to hear yes.) The cooking is typical Scott Bryan — skillful if not pyrotechnic — and the Endicott Hotel lobby-converted-into-dining room and noise level are almost as comfortable as eating at home. And, if you check the bill before you let your consort pay, the prices are very right.

And why did we and Dr. and Lady Bugs wind up at the Milling Room to chew over “Mr. Turner”? Because I stupidly thought we would be able to walk out of the theater at 6 and into the uptown Parm, little realizing that the olds we usually do battle with for tables would instead be outnumbered by young parents. The anticipated wait on that Sunday evening was an hour. A couple of weeks later Bob and I hit the same reality — if you want to walk right in, sit right down, eat early downtown. Uptown, wait till the stroller gridlock clears.

Uptown Parm

Last year went by in a faster blur than usual, and my Collyer Bros-worthy desk is a mess of menus and receipts from unrecorded meals good, bad, awful and occasionally sensational. Too many weeks I paved too many more roads to hell with my good intentions, so I’m cutting my losses and starting over fresh in 2015. With silly plans to revisit some wins, like Lafayette for my birthday last year.

I will make a crossover exception for the uptown Parm, though, because it is so exceptional. We’d been watching and watching for it to open over many months and stopped by to peek inside one Saturday night after a movie at Lincoln Square. The windows were covered in brown paper, but we could see tables set and staff getting marching orders, so a couple of nights later we left a press party (Rustichella d’Abruzzo shoutout!), jumped on the bus back across the park and walked in to find seats available even though the place had opened exactly three hours earlier. Everything was perfection: table (in the quiet back), service and especially food: eggplant parmesan sandwich, three vegetables — crisp but airy fried zucchini, Buffalo-style cucumbers, with blue cheese and Crystal hot sauce, and chickpeas with B&G pickle relish — plus Little Italy-meets-Chinatown ribs, tender and spicy.

A week later we miscalculated our timing for a movie and had an hour to kill and trotted back from AMC Lincoln Square for a drink at the bar and were so happy with the service/setting/quaffables we headed straight back after the movie, again for eggplant Parm perfection and the three vegetable starters, plus superb service in the back room.

And a week after that we were back after “Selma” with a friend and walked in to get a booth in the back and share the ribs and eggplant Parm again plus the vegetables while friends seated in the front railed that they had reserved and had had to wait. Call it stroller in the balance. WIGB? If it holds up it is going to change the neighborhood and maybe even kill off Lincoln Square Steak if not Fairway — after a movie, cheap and cheerful is the way to go. And at least we can use the bathroom before heading north to the Milling Room, about which TK.

Bloody richness

That awkward moment when you all pick up the menu and think “this looks reasonable” right before a chosen one blurts: “The cheapest red is $60.” Yep, that was our four-top  at Recette, which I had picked for its proximity to Norwood, where a friend was doing a book promo, and because we had wandered in over the summer and been shut out cuz we’d had no reservation even though it was empty. Luckily, our friends can roll with any surprise, so we all ordered small despite the server’s advice to figure on two to three items per person. And we all filled up, not least thanks to the cayenne-chocolate cakelettes presented with the check, which also arrived with a cheery “the salt cod fritters are on us,” presumably to compensate for the wine arriving well after our whole table of small plates had.

My consort had wisely ordered those salt cod fritters instantly for the table, and their dryness was offset by the rich lamb sausage ragu on which they sat (the promised curry aioli was imperceptible). I won with the Berkshire pork belly, rich as melted lard but enlivened by the panoply of accoutrements: rock shrimp, turnips, romesco sauce, sherry caramel. I didn’t try one friend’s marinated hamachi with uni etc., but the duck fat fingerlings he ordered were sensational. Bread? Perfect. Butter? Perfect temperature + salt. Unfortunately, the two of us who succumbed to the scallops really did succumb. The two outsized mollusks on each plate for $26 were teamed with beets, Brussels sprouts and caviar beurre blanc. And maybe they were the freshest in the sea. But the sauce made them taste, as Bob put it, like the fish he remembered his mom cooking up on pope-proscripting Friday nights in Buffalo. Our debate back to the subway was pretty much: “Ill-conceived or badly executed?”

And of course Bob had the last word when I defensively said: “At least they train the staff to fix mistakes.” And he, having actually paid our half of the bill, responded: “I’d rather they train them not to make mistakes.” WIGB? Nope. Not with Bar Bolonat so close by.

(As for Norwood, it really was the perfect setting for the reading, with just the right element of decadence for a book titled “Empire of Sin.” It is a private club, and we did feel privileged to be there. But when we walked up to the cash bar, the wineglasses were supersized thimbles — shades of the old P&P where Bob and I met back in the last century — and one whiff of white and one whiff of red came to $30.)

One kittybag, two posts

The Cat WCTLWAFW liked the dressed arugula almost as much as the killer eggplant Parmesan from West Bank Cafe. The good orecchiette did not make it home; plate was cleaned.

Capital/control F

Apparently the seventh (or is it the eighth, or ninth?) time is the charm. After one more perfect meal at RedFarm uptown I’m finally motivated to write about it. So far my consort and I have eaten there alone and with friends and without each other and have sent other friends there, and it always, always delivers. Even though, as we were reminded on our last indulgence, the prices are rather “holy shit!” — a couple who crowded down the bar from us walked out rather quickly after perusing the menu. No matter. More room for the rest of us.

And if they’d asked, I coulda told them exactly how to order. Lift your eyes above the $48 lobster noodles and $41 Creekstone steak and stick to the dim sum section of the long menu. If you have to, venture into “starters & salads.” The bill will still be equivalent to a meal for four in Flushing, but then you will have eaten food you could not get even after an hourlong ride on the 7 train.

If I hadn’t spent the last few years feeling so fortunate to join a group of Asian-eating/eating-Asian friends, though, I would not be so appreciative of how brilliant the concepts and cooking are at RedFarm. I’ve eaten a lot o’soup dumplings, but Joe Ng’s in their silken wrappers really are the best, not least because the quality of the pork justifies the foie gras price.

Those are the most comparable to Chinatown/Flushing, but the genius of the RedFarm menu is how it strides far and wide away from typical lists. At our last lunch, we split the souplings plus “crunchy vegetable & peanut dumplings,” pan-fried but very airy, as well as the eggplant “bruschetta” (really tempuraesque-fried slices) topped with smoked salmon. And we finished with the “barbecued” Berkshire pork belly, the thin slices of super-tender, well-spiced meat paired with blackened jalapeños.

But we were restrained because we have chomped through a pretty good section of the kitchen’s offerings over the last year. The only danger in ordering is succumbing to too many fried temptations, like the killer egg roll stuffed with Katz’s pastrami along with the pan-fried pork buns.

I’m not a shrimp fan, but I’ll take the shrimp and snowpea-leaf dumplings and anything else Ng wraps up. The “Pac-Man” shrimp dumplings are also a trip. I can’t pick a favorite dish, although the crispy duck and crab dumplings come close, with the bird stuffed into the claws, fried and laid alongside a green curry sauce with vegetables. We usually have to order duck breast skewers with litchi when they’re on the specials list, too, and anything else with duck.

Full disclosure: Whenever Eddie Schoenfeld has been on the premises, we’ve gotten preferential treatment and usually a dish or two comped. So we know the best seats are in a booth. But the real extra is hearing about his travails in getting the place open.

RedFarm takes no reservations, but if you call ahead you can get a good read on how long the wait will be and walk in just in time. Just remember to tell the hosts you called. Otherwise you could get stuck back by the service station. And this is the rare restaurant where the seats (at the bar) next to the toilets are preferable. (Do check out the toilets, BTW.)

New York minutes

The good: Crazy Crab in Flushing, where I was, once again, lucky enough to hook up with my eating-Asian/Asian-eating group and where the arrival in Arrival City was exotic enough — the little “all eat with hands” restaurant is one stoplight away from the mall where the elusive Target resides. As always, I shut up as our unpaid tour leader sussed out the Burmese/Malaysian/Thai/sports bar menu, and we were soon spinning the Lazy Susan to share one carefully cooked sensation after another: silken tofu with spicy-crunchy sauce; fried tofu with both a red hot sauce and a more nuanced spicy brown sauce; tea leaf salad and ginger salad (both crunchy-spicy-fascinating); steamed whole fish in chili brodo (I guessed tilapia, but whether I was right or wrong, I lose); water spinach; Yunnan “spaghetti” (which proved to be rice noodles topped with a ground beef sauce and teamed with a spicy soup to be ladled over), and airy fried Burmese cucumbers, also with spicy and spiced sauces. The last “course” was a bucket of steamed crabs, served with a box of plastic gloves for breaking down the shells.All that still came out to less than the usual $20 a head. WIGB? Absolutely, if there weren’t so many other temptations out there. The owners were so happy to see not just Caucasians but nontourist Caucasians that they first comped us an excellent green papaya salad, then asked if they could take our photo to post to their FB page. Luckily, my back was turned. 40-42 College Point Boulevard, 718 353 8188

The semi-good: King Bee* in the East Village, where my consort and I trotted through the melting-glacier drizzle for something new on a Monday night and where we realized, again, that the new Brooklyn is a neighborhood that once was cursed with drugged-out rich kids who had no interest in food. I reserved Open Tabley, as in my name, and it turned out two of the owners knew me from mass emails with a mutual friend who has, we all agreed, not only gone full wingnut but done so “almost gleefully.” The place is very charming, Brooklyn without crossing over or under the water, and the servers could not have been more attentive. Acadian is what the cuisine promised, but I’m still not sure what that means; it’s definitely not Cajun. TomCat bread with butter ramped up with salt and herbs made a start as good as $9 Roussillon white and red. Cracklings we shared from a brown paper bag probably would have been better hotter, despite the peanuts, cane caramel and malt vinegar powder flavoring them. But the comped shrimp barbecue with creamy potato salad gave us hope — the spicing and its contrast with creaminess made it work. Unfortunately, both our entrees were just strange, mine labeled duck fricot, with perfectly cooked breast and leg paired with dumplings and potatoes in a weirdly flat broth and Bob’s a lamb neck “poutine rapee” that was more dumpling, not what you’d expect. WIGB? Maybe the hosts are awesome, the place is cozy, the price was right (duck was $26, lamb $22). But there are so many other new places to try. 424 East Ninth Street, 646 755 8088 *Damn, I’m getting not just slow but stupid — had the name wrong originally.

The surprisingly not bad: Ninth Ward, also in the East Village, where we met a tableful of friends old and fresh for an anniversary party and where the setting and the cooking were a trip. I had more traditional poutine, with the good fries awash in andouille gravy, and almost didn’t get my plate back when I swapped for Bob’s respectable spicy, tender  ribs. Everyone else seemed happy with the likes of burgers and fried pickles and gumbo, and certainly the room was South-transporting (we could all talk, tucked away at a long table in the back room). The waitress seemed stretched thin, and my wineglass did make me feel glad Ebola cannot be spread by lipstick prints, but WIGB? Maybe. It’s right across from the movie theaters where we sometimes wind up wondering where to go for a snack besides Momofuku Ssam or Mighty Quinn’s.

The good and quiet again: Arco Cafe on the Upper West Side, where we steered friends back from weeks of travel and trauma because we knew the food was decent and not bank-breaking and the sound level was civilized. And all three proved true again; we sat for 2 1/2 hours and could actually hear each other in that unique-for-the-neighborhood polished room. We split the light-on-the-fried-artichokes salad with arugula, cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata, then passed around plates of gnocchi with bacon, alisanzas (like pappardelle) with sausage in tomato sauce, cavatelli with broccoli rabe and more sausage and a cacio pepe that could have used some of the pepper in the name. Each was about $15. We paid for our cheapness in ordering wine with a rather thin bottle of Montepulciano, but it was only $33, and the superb server (the same as our first/last visit) poured it right. WIGB? Hope it makes it so that we can, often. Restaurants with respectable food and actual low sound levels are as rare as rednecks at the Greenmarket.

Also, too, the can’t-go-wrong: Xi’an Famous on the Upper West Side, where we ducked in for a quick lunch on the way to the Thursday Greenmarket up by Columbia and where we were, as always, rewarded with snappy eat-it-now-noodles. Bob scored with the lamb and cumin option, which is like Mexico by way of Asia, but my cold noodles were kinda dull, although the spicy cucumbers seemed as jazzy as ever. The price is always right: less than $20. No wonder the chain got a shoutout on Brian Lehrer the other day, as a small business that was able to expand successfully.

The “you don’t go to a bar for food:” BEA in Hell’s Kitchen, where we wound up after popcorn at “Gone Girl” and in search of just a snack and some liquid. We got a booth in the window on that quiet Monday night and soon had $10 and $11 malbec and albariño. Then we made the mistake of ordering pizza, “amatriciana” to be specific. The good news is that it was small for $10, about the size of a paper plate. The bad news is that we couldn’t finish it. It was sauce-heavy and pretty much flavor-free, and if there was pancetta anywhere near it it was undercover. At least the server was amazed that we didn’t want to kittybag the last slices. WIGB? For a drink, sure. The big screens showing old movies add to the experience.

And the shockingly not awful: Flatiron Hall in whatever the hell that neighborhood west of Broadway on 26th Street is, where we landed after hooking up for a Li-Lac factory tour over in Crown Heights, then an SVA photo opening. We had wine at both but no real food, so Bob was getting rather frantic as we checked out menus farther east where entrees started at $30, then Maysville had a 20-minute wait and HanJan was even longer, and he showed no interest in Hill Country, so we settled for what really is a bar. But a bar in the right neighborhood, because the service and food were competitive. Spring rolls filled with Carnegie Deli pastrami and Gruyere and served with a horseradish-heavy dipping sauce made my night for $10, while Bob was more than happy with a clean-tasting “Big Easy gumbo,” heavy on chicken and light on shrimp and andouille but with actually ethereal okra slices, for $18. Wines were not wonderful (Mirassou chardonnay for $10 almost put me off that grape again), but then it was a bar. And it was unsettling when the excellent busboy brought the kittybox in a Heartland Brewery bag. Gulled, we’d been. Still, WIGB? Not likely, but only because that street has so many other options. Bob is hot for HanJan now.

New York minutes/Late September 2014

The good: Following up on the great Musket Room: Just a couple of days before, of course, I had misunderstood which M restaurant Bob had suggested trying on a night when neither of us could deal with putting food on the family after crazy days working. And so we made our way to the Marshal in Hell’s Kitchen with visions of the scallops cooked with Hudson Valley Duck bacon in our heads, courtesy of the cook we ran into on Union Square as he bought up half the cooler over the summer. A table on the sidewalk, across from the taxi gas station, distracted us from the fact that there were no scallops with bacon the menu, but we were perfectly happy to indulge in the $11 duck liver mousse (funkiness offset by honeycomb plus great crunchy toasts, and plenty of them) and what I called tamale pie without the ground beef (local polenta topped with Cheddar, sauced with tomatillo salsa, also $11) and Bob’s blowout entrée, roast leg of lamb stuffed with spinach, rosemary and ginger and laid over duck-fat smashed potatoes, for $32. A $30 rosé from Anthony Road in the Finger Lakes was just gravy. WIGB? Maybe, although the inside space is rather tight and the prices could be lower if marquee farms did not dominate the menu.

The closer good: Arco on the Upper West Side, which we’d been walking past for months while shrugging (more average Italian?) but where we finally headed after a rave heard over in Brooklyn, at Photoville. And our fandoc was right: The place, which I had dismissed as a draw for guests at the hostel right across Amsterdam, looks downtown sleek; the hostess and server were superb, and the food definitely surpassed my expectations of “why go out when Italian is so easy at home?” Plus there was Arneis by the glass, for all of $10. We split a respectable salad, a special with fried artichokes, arugula, tomatoes and shredded cheese, then Bob wound up finishing my outstanding gnocchi, alla montanara, in a creamy sauce with mushrooms and bacon, while we kittybagged his pork on polenta. WIGB? Absolutely. The tide is turning uptown with restaurants lately.

The downtown pretty good: Ramen-Ya in the West Village, where we wound up feasting before a Yom Kippur break fast after Bob responded to the moody weather by suggesting the Japanese bellybuster and I suggested we pass on the Wayne Thiebaud show uptown because every painting is online and instead head south to the Grey Gallery, for a truly staggering show on apartheid (which we now have to specify means South African, not Israeli). The place is tiny, as threatened, but comfortable when only three-quarters full in daytime. As we do uptown at Jin Ramen, he had the namesake dish, here with a medium-rich, and spicy, brodo with respectable pork, while I had the rice bowl topped with beef, scallions and pickled ginger. I should have known the one dish using the B word would not be using a recognizable cut, but I also didn’t put my chopsticks down until I was nearly finished. The knockout dish, though, was the appetizer of pork gyoza, liberally dusted with togarashi. They were a little greasy, but the wrappers were silken. WIGB? Maybe, but there are so many other ramen places to explore these days.

Something very old: Elizabeth’s in our neighborhood, where we were so embarrassed to have dragged our great friends from across the park after the awesome Balthus/cats exhibition at the Met. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. They seated us right next to the bar and the teevee during a game, then moved us to a table where the new waiter was not talking to the old waiter. (Scary how I remember all this seven months on.) The wine was a mixup, the cocktail Nancy ordered was undrinkable and I waited seven months short of forever for dressing for my usually-great-but-tonight lame-ass Cobb salad. Bob was okay with his grilled salmon, Charles with his turkey meatloaf, but I noticed Nancy left most of her burger uneaten, even with us sharing the okay onion rings. We trudged out saying we would never go back unless for rosé in the sidewalk cafe. And so:

Something newish: Elizabeth’s in our neighborhood, where we ran to on one of those rare summer nights when you could eat outside and where everything reminded us why the place has stayed in business longer than so many predecessors, without sinking to the craptastic tequila level next door. The waiter, for a rare change, was on top of the wine list, so we got a good organic rosé, before the always-excellent bread and butter, and then my outstanding sliders and his roast chicken. WIGB: Only for just the two of us. So embarrassing to drag our friends there from across the park, where we look out on the El Dorado and notice why so many windows are dark on an early fall Sunday night: Nobody lives there year-round anymore. And that only hurts restaurants and other living businesses in the neighborhood.