Greened

Apparently this is International Belfast Month, what with the pubs getting a shoutout in the NYT magazine and the restaurant scene enjoying a good tongue bath over to the Independent. But, as usual, my consort and I got there too soon. And it was a very different experience.

This was way back in a rare break in the Troubles, in 1996. We were in London on one of Bob’s corporate boondoggles, photographing banksters on their bonus trip (I think the Ubs met Maggie Thatcher that year), and while he was working, hard, I had lunch with a restaurant critic someone connected me with who insisted we had to make a pilgrimage to the most underrated food city in the UK. “It has a Michelin one-star restaurant!” My mom was born in Belfast, and I’d always been curious, and we’d added a week to the end of our trip for some excursion. So why the hell not?

A couple of days later we were eating little tea sandwiches and orange cake on British Midlands. In that pre-Google era I have no idea how I found our B&B, but I’m pretty sure we reserved via fax and I’m absolutely certain it was like checking into a home for unwed mothers. Monastic would have been an understatement, but it was all of 49 pounds a night. And I remember when we went out to explore that first afternoon we were passed by an armored car with soldiers with rifles hanging off and even under it. Lovely welcome.

Judging by the chicken scratches in my notebook from that trip, we had a bacon and onion tart with gravy(?) and salad at a pub nearby and a Sicilian pizza with olives and anchovies at Villa Italia that night. Apparently we were staying in the comfort zone of the hotel. Or: Wherever you travel you will eat pizza.

My notes and Quicken don’t document this, but I also remember we had quite an experience at the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, with its gaslights and private enclosed booths. I wish I had realized my cranium would eventually become a sieve, because there was a very amusing interaction with a local guy who wound up showing us all the contents of his wallet. Did we buy him a beer? Or six? I know I drank white wine. Probably Jacob’s Creek. Because it was Northern Ireland.

Our B&Breakfast next day was the same as it would be for the rest of the week moving farmhouse to farmhouse as we explored: porridge, eggs, bacon, sausage and grilled tomatoes. My notes don’t show it, but there had to be wheaten bread, too, which was outstanding. (Those were the days when everyone said you could eat well in Britain if you ate breakfast three times a day.)

After that we should not have had room for our reason for going: Lunch at Roscoff, in a sunlit dining room with casually perfect service. This was 1996, remember, and I had duck ravioli with scallions and mushrooms and seared hake with Asian coleslaw and crispy wontons and lemon cheesecake tart with sweet Irish strawberries. Bob cleaned his plate of scallops with lobster spring rolls then was in ecstasy over char-grilled eel with pimentos and salsa verde, followed by pot au caramel with cassis and fruit. I bought both cookbooks the owners, Paul and Jeanne Rankin, had done for the BBC because even then chefs had to have teevee platforms. And I got my 26 pounds’ worth: About once a year I’ll still make the superb warm pasta salad with smoked salmon, lettuce, chives and dill.

Writing this, and reading all the new coverage that never mentions the place, I wondered what happened; apparently the end was not pretty.

Mostly what I remember from that trip was setting out for the graveyard to see if we could find where the grandmother I never met might be buried. Instead we watched boys playing soccer under the eye of more military, in huge ugly watchtowers. And then we decided to go look for Van Morrison’s birthplace. (Two-for-two fail.)

Overall, things may have radically improved, but I’d have to echo James Boswell’s reaction to the Giant’s Causeway: Worth seeing. Not worth traveling to see.

After days of having our bags checked everywhere went, then after the most invasive security checks at the airport, I also remember boarding that British Midlands flight back to London feeling very grateful to be an American, living in the land of the free, home of the brave. Thanks to the Panchito-enabled Bushwhacking, we are all Belfast now.

If they expand it, you will go . . .

My consort and I went back and forth on whether Mermaid’s pizza expansion would be a regular WIGB. On the minus side, the space is just as loud, maybe more deafening, than the original. On the plus side, the service is just as great. OTMS, did the neighborhood really need just-okay pizza? OTPS, the befores are just as good as next door, particularly the bruschetta heaped with zucchini, super-creamy ricotta and pine nuts (the kale salad at least did not promise more than it delivered, as in cavolo nero leaves). The pizza, however, is fine for the neighborhood although I would not recommend traveling to try it. Ours was (sloppily, as in sloped onto one side) topped with fennel sausage, onions and mozzarella, and the crust was the sort that makes you leave bones behind. (Surviving slice was actually better reheated next day.) Back to OTPS, the wine comes by the quartino, fairly priced, and the free dessert is now “panna cotta” rather than chocolate mousse.

Plus one . . .

When I was totting up our favorites, I forgot about Parm, Upper West Side division. Which has become one of our regular destinations after the Sunday Greenmarket because it’s the rare egg-free and day-drunkless environment on Sunday afternoon. We always sit in the bright and sunny back room and always split a perfect eggplant parm sandwich (hero is too big) along with Buffalo cucumbers, awash in hot sauce and chunky with blue cheese. As a starter, we have either the very satisfying fried zucchini, which now comes with cocktail sauce and a spicy mayonnaise, or the artichokes casino. And the tab is about what a lobster roll plus a lobster combo at Luke’s would cost. Some of our Upper West Side friends don’t get the place or the tongue-in-red sauce menu. But then they apparently haven’t eaten as much in Italy, cuz they’ll settle for the earnest but sad “true Italian” in other restos.

New York minutes

New rule: When the menu mentions chorizo, said ingredient had damn well better be perceptible, either visually or as you chew and chew. But the missing element was one of only two flaws when we stopped at the newish Tasca Chino in search of something different after a rare Saturday outing to the Greenmarket on Union Square. Bob chose those pallid losers (for once the taste-free chicken deserved the cliché description of rubbery), but I scored with another steamed dumpling option, the Woodland, which had a filling with seriously meaty mushroom flavor inside the light wrappers and a broth with intense and complex taste. We also split patatas bravas, perfectly cooked with crisp outsides, fluffy inners, with yin-yang dipping sauces in a too-small ramekin/portion: “Szechuan aioli” and tamarind barbecue. The restaurant itself has style to burn, with oversized paintings of, say, Mao overlaid with bullfighting images; it’s clearly designed for nighttime action. But at that most dread eating occasion, brunch, it’s quite pleasant, huge table of drinkers of $20 bottomless margaritas to our left notwithstanding. And I can’t remember the last time we left a resto with so many big smiles and “thank yous.” WIGB? Yeah, actually. For that dread eating occasion, the menu had quite a few clever huevos, plus duck & waffles. I would be tempted by the “nested eggs Benedict,” in a blue corn tortilla with miso hollandaise. But the menu said chorizo. And you never know.

Old rule: Always head to Baker & Co. after a movie at IFC; we have not found a more affordable hospitable option anywhere for blocks. On the occasion of our meeting two friends for the slow but powerful “Mustang” (lots o’ food in that film, BTW), we ran ahead and made reservations for dinner after the show. And so we wound up with the table in the window right after an obnoxiously entitled mom with stroller the size of a Cuban Buick strutted in with her husband and another guy and told the hostess that that six-top should be their spot. The din level was even more bearable there, and the food and service were, as always, a notch above. We all shared a jazzy special of anchovies laid over blood orange slices with red onion, capers and microgreens. And when we all passed plates, I scored again, with the lasagne packed with pork slices and ragu, enough for dinner and then lunch for two next day for all of $17. Garganelli must have been house-made because they were not little rolled handkerchiefs but unfurled, under a lavish layering of burrata. Bob’s pappardelle with veal ragu was almost more meat than pasta, not that there’s anything American-wrong with that, while our other friend’s orecchiette with shrimp and roasted cauliflower landed with a whiff of rancidity, and there is something wrong with that. (The bread crumbs? WTF?) With two bottles of food-friendly Grillo from Sicily, the bill was about $50 apiece. WIGB? Undoubtedly. Despite the one-holer bathroom where you can only feel the dread rising as the person taking too long is a guy. Still, as someone said over to FB: Sometimes they like to sit and think, too.

In between N & O Rules: We ducked into Amy’s Bread on Bleecker to pick up bread (olive fougasse, just like I’d pictured it) and were seduced into trying a new item, a croissant pistachio twist. Which was sensational, with just enough balance of nutty paste and buttery dough that made you long for a swig of coffee. Somehow it was fitting that we shared it on the sidewalk just steps from a homeless guy going through a trash can and pulling out unfinished hot dogs still in buns. It was a survival model: Station yourself near a tourist attraction where the food actually sucks. And scoop up what they leave behind. Side note: Said homeless guy was annoyed when a family pulled up in a car and a kid inside jumped out to carefully deposit what was apparently an unfinished large coffee drink atop the debris. The intended recipient was not happy it could have leaked onto “the food.” Sadder side note: We saw all this after passing yet another homeless guy on Sixth who had a big bleak sign (where do they get the Sharpies?) laying out how desperate he was. While he sat and ate a presumably donated sandwich offa which he had pulled all the crusts. Beggars/choosers? This is someone’s America.

New York minutes, A (plural) to Q

Twitter might have done me a favor for once. A digital pal just asked what my favorite dining/drinking spots, $ to $$$$, might be. And of course the answers would take more than 140 characters. And of course I couldn’t just send her here because my site is a bit dusty, which is an ass-saving way of saying downright neglected. Now I’m motivated, even though I have to quote my consort’s response whenever he was asked, back when he was on the road nine months of the year for National Geographic et al: Favorite city? The next one.

So. I haven’t gotten around to writing why RedFarm was my choice in early November for what could have been my last meal. The cooking and service are unsettlingly close to perfect every time we go. Pro tip: Stick to the dim sum and appetizers and you will eat extremely well for just $$ and not $$$$. We also find ourselves at the Mermaid Inn almost too often since it expanded and added soundproofing. Happy hour is even more of a deal for surprisingly creative cooking. (I can make a meal of the crab cake appetizer.)

We are also devotees of $ Jin Ramen, although I always get the rice bowl with beef rather than the namesake bellybuster. We like $$ Saravanaas in Curry Hill for the thali and the dosa and the atmosphere (uptown? not so much). Great New York Noodletown in Chinatown ($) never lets us down, either, but Hunan House in Flushing is vaut le $$ voyage for atmosphere as well as a great menu.

I always like Baker & Co. in the West Village after a movie because it’s good and quiet and $$. We usually get a good meal (prosciutto-arugula pizza for me, inevitably) with very cheap wine at Fairway’s upstairs cafe. We like the Smith, too, even though it’s loud and it’s not at all cheap — it delivers in a restaurant what nearby New York Look promises in clothing. Because of the peeps behind it, I like Toloache in any of its locations although, again, the appetizers deliver more than the mains for a lower tab. I could happily eat at least once at week at Momofuku Noodle Bar, the best duck dealer going.

But this all makes me realize how big this city is and how small the world is.

I think the birthday night we cabbed home from Le Bernardin and reflected that we (or one of us) could have flown to Paris for the same amount I’d just paid for dinner was sobering, because we almost never go out for fancy anymore. We’re much more interested in places like the awesome Fung Tu, or the Musket Room, where we’ve had perfectly splendiferous meals for less than a month’s maintenance.

Because Twitter is not the room for an altercation, I didn’t ask why my pal was asking about restos. But she has made me confirm something. The $$$$ is no longer about the food. It’s the experience. I went to a media event the other night at one of New York’s Finest and was kinda stunned by how bustling the place was, how mixed the crowd was, how lively the whole mood was. But the food just struck me as safe. And I wasn’t even paying.

New York minutes, scattered

Pizza Beach on the Upper East Side has many attractions: a cool setting with oversized color sand-and-water photos on the walls; a jazzy menu; unusually melanin-rich front-of-the-house representation. But I think we liked it best for the birth-control ad down the banquette. We got there crazy-early on a Sunday evening for reasons too depressing to discuss, and we walked in realizing it would all be kiddles. But the hostess seated us at a boothette in the back and things were fine till one of those unhappy rich families who are all alike walked in. It was not as bad as babbies on a plane, but it was annoying when the 2-something went ballistic. Luckily, they moved on soon. And our shared Tuscan kale salad turned out to be outstanding, with the julienned leaves interspersed with pickled red onions and grana padano in a mustard-seed vinaigrette. And while the crust on our pizza did make you want to leave the bones behind (more Piadina than Marta), the topping was sensational, with thick cheese, a generous paving of peppery “salumi” slices and a lavish sprinkling of microgreens to give the illusion of vegetables. The wine list was impressive as well, with 40 wines for $40 and a fair number of those available by the glass for $10 (Falanghina for me, Nero d’Avola and Barbera for Bob). WIGB? Absolutely. Although I have to take points off for the hostess denying us a four-top in the window because she was holding it for a bigger party. We walked past it on the way out to see it sitting just as we had on the way in: Empty.

And now I’m repeating myself: Once upon a time we would have been thrilled to find ourselves just a block or so away from Roberta’s at lunchtime when we could probably have walked right in. But now that you can pass a pizza oven by that name anywhere in Manhattan, the exotic allure dims a bit. Which is how we would up going back to Northeast Kingdom on our outing to “East Williamsburg” aka Bushwick to drop off a chair to be reupholstered. Nothing else in the neighborhood seemed inspired, and we knew this would be good. From the super-peppery bloody mary to the smooth coffee the place delivered, yet again. Bob’s fried chicken sandwich, with a crunchy crust and juicy meat set off against shredded cabbage, probably outdid my burger, which, for all its gilding with mushroom duxelles and caramelized onion, was just okay beef slightly overcharred. The fries with it were fine, though, and Bob’s greens were perfectly dressed. The waitress was superb, and our booth came with a sidewalk view of the exotic street.

That night we had a flawless meal, yet again, at Baker & Co. in the West Village, where we met a friend in from Veneto who wanted to eat light. It was a Monday, so the place was quiet and empty, which was perfect for talking even in the glassed-in garden. As always, the ricotta-garlic spread for the bread started the dinner right. My salad was a marvel of flavors and textures, with tender kale and a showering of ricotta salata over roasted delicata squash rings, with toasted almonds and tahini in the dressing. Bob and Diego had the roast chicken with truffle-garlic fries, as great as it’s always been. And Diego was impressed by the Italian red. The occupant of the fourth chair, in from the Outer Banks, had a pizzetta and a beer and seemed satisfied as well. Beyond the food and service, it’s such a perfect spot pricewise.

And here some notes from various receipts on my cluttered desk: BEA in Hell’s Kitchen proved to be the perfect place for a good 18 people to gather for a drink after a showing of the very moving “Overburden” at CUNY — our reserved area was quiet enough for talking, the servers were superb at running separate checks and the wine was both decent and affordable. Wisely, we did not order any food. Elizabeth’s, the neighborhood standby we keep swearing off, sucked us back in on a sidewalk-cafe evening over the summer; the white was fine and my Cobb salad what it always is. But Bob was loving his lamb burger until he found a sheet of paper in the middle of it. I guess it was the liner between patties, but it was gross. They took the $18 charge off the bill, but still. And I shouldn’t have wasted 10 months waiting to write about the Empire Diner, because the Buffalo skate wings were pretty great the night we lucked into a table. But now they are no longer on the menu since the chef left. It was a “WIGB? Nope” anyway.

Taco & beer or rosé & tomato bread?

Do not get between a platter of beautifully composed sushi and a bunch of sports reporters at a US Open pre-opening tasting. Half of them will be jockeying to videograph the static stuff and the rest will be serving themselves with both hands. And when you finally figure out that this is one big wedding reception, where the best table is closest to the kitchen, they will have locusted through all the fancy fare. You will be settling for what you always envisioned as stadium fud, gut-busting indulgences like portobello fries and bratwurst re-presented as art on a skewer with a round of soft pretzel and a squiggle of mustard.

I blame myself for not asking about the rules of the game, though. After the half-hour-long BS intro with the “celebrity guest chefs,” I put my bladder before my stomach and wasted time walking half a mile to the closest bathroom while the pros were staking out tables and grabbing seats where the wine and cocktails and high-end tidbits would be served first. I didn’t realize the goal was to snare a chair immediately and dig into whatever the waiters were passing.

On the plus side, I finally chose a table that turned out to be occupied by a couple of producers from a local teevee station — and those are always guaranteed to be both the most experienced and the most gregarious guests.

Great lesson one: Charm the waiter. After just two “I love you” encounters with one overburdened carrier, our table leader had him sneaking her not just the chicken tinga taco our table had been deprived of but a glass of red to accompany the sliver of bone-in tomahawk rib-eye only she was able to cadge.

Great lesson two: Traditions matter. Our table leader pointed out that you got to keep the “glass” (plastic) if you took the sponsored cocktail; last year she amassed nine. Because I don’t have enough crap in my kitchen, I got in line to garner one, right alongside an Argentine sportswriter who wanted his refilled because this was his 10th Open and he actually had enough crap. (Hope he understands it was genuine curiosity and not Cougarism that led me to inquire where he stays on so many trips to such an expensive city. “With friends” was good enough.)

So was the food worth the schlep on four trains to the Mets-Willets Point stop (which has, incidentally, the first working bathrooms I’ve ever seen in a subway)? Michael White’s squid ink cassarecci was extraordinary, the pasta perfectly cooked and its dark flavor amplified by tiny bits of shrimp, scallops and squid, with a garlicky dusting of mollica for crunch (someone should do a story on how great that Italian garnish is). That composition was worthy of Marea. Unfortunately, I missed his lobster-topped burrata and his tomahawk steak (wary of feedlot beef, I did pass on his steak tartare).

Mantuano-of-Spiaggia’s avocado toast was also sensational, with pistachios for crunch and pickled serranos for heat, and his “tomato bread,” a soft slice also topped with Manchego and serrano ham, also delivered great flavor. (I passed on his flaming ouzo shrimp.)

I don’t eat chicken, so I didn’t mind not scoring Richard Sandoval’s tinga taco, and I missed his Maya chopped salad with steak (see beef wariness above) and chayote, which I later would see described as “a type of Central American cucumber” — take that, mirlitons!  Otherwise, what I snared was more like those portobello fries (tempuraed, BTW), a bready mini crab cake and over-grilled tuna about which everyone kept asking “what is it?” To be fair, salmon crudo had a pretty presentation, while the US Open Signature Lobster Roll was overstuffed, although the “spicy” flavor of the Louis dressing that was either promised or threatened proved to be imperceptible.

One amusing thing was that the chefs were subjected to the usual trite questions in the introduction beforehand (“what’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted?”), and of course grilled cheese came up and reverse snobbery rained down. All said it needs to be down-and-dirty, made with American “cheese” and cooked in the grease on a griddle so it takes on the flavor of whatever went before. (So much for “Chef”’s after-the-credits demo.) But later there were two types on offer, one made with Gouda, herb butter and bacon and the other with New York Cheddar and New Hampshire Landaff. And the sports types went nuts, one yelping “Jesus” as he tried to get through the scrum around a waiter.

The whole event reminded me of many in Italy that were sponsored by the local government. So I guess it wasn’t surprising that the cappuccino I finished with had “Lavazza for US Open” spelled out in dark chocolate on the foam.

Two last notes: I did hear a new line, after all these decades, after the inevitable “what do you cook at home?” was asked of the “celebrities.” Michael White: “That’s like asking a postman if he wants to take a walk at the end of his shift.” And I now think every chef who feels star-bound to show up in whites should take a fashion cue from Morimoto (my photo was even lamer).

WIGB, though? Yep. If only for the smug privilege of being media and avoiding the metal detectors the regular people had to walk through, here in the freedomest country in the world.

New York minute

My new/old goal is to clean off my desk and clear up my life (or vice versa), so here is a report on an encore at Bustan, on the Upper West Side, to which my consort and a friend and I resorted on a sweltering night after seeing a line out the door at the new, “downtownesque” Jin Ramen after the extraordinary “Wolfpack.” We were thrilled to get a table in the backyard garden even though the fan aimed in our direction was soon headed toward youngs. And the service was quite good, which meant we soon were tearing into the superb mazettim (taramasalata, hummus, smoked eggplant spread for $16) with the excellent flatbread that of course required reordering. Gummy-fried calamari, however, was Bottom Line-level and the felafel I insisted we order was fried-dry and unredeemed by the chutneyesque sauce with it. WIGB, though? Undoubtedly. Those spreads and that garden are quite a seductive combo. We blew through two bottles of verdejo like water, however, and paid $54 a head.

Expedience . . .

My latest filing under “reach should exceed grasp:” This layabout’s hard-working consort has a newish rule that we can only go out to eat if we will eat something substantially better than we could eat at home. And I did, after all, train as a chef, cook in a restaurant, cater and spend nearly half my lifetime developing recipes for $ (I just did an average there; otherwise it once would be $$$$). But sometimes the rule gets bent. Sometimes four times in one week.

The high had to be a lucky find after the New Museum and a Di Palo’s run (for the cheapest Illy + best Parmigiano-Reggiano in town). Our pal in from DC had not had lunch, and we reflexively headed to Parm in NoLIta when I remembered we always pass by and wonder about the sidewalk cafe at Gelso & Grand, the enticing restaurant on the corner where a deli once sold Italian products and snacks like arancini in my street food days before the Twitter ate my life. I would have been happy with pizza only slightly better than the tourist crap in all the other cafes on Mulberry, but the $19 “Inferno” was actually excellent: good-to-the-bones crust, lots of capicola, a sweet-burning heat to the sauce. Whatever the plural is of bruschetta were also fabulous, one set topped with a shell-bean puree plus pancetta, the other with burrata, cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of Port reduction. The best part: An order is two, but your three-top can get a third for $5 more. Rosé from Lombardy was a decent pour for $12. Service was perfectly attentive. So, WIGB? Absolutely. The people-watching was jaw-dropping — suffice it to say that stretch of Little Italy is one more place where you will not spot Bill Cunningham.

The low, however, was easily brgr, where we wound up after the Sunday Greenmarket when Bob unexpectedly expressed interest in a burger, something that crosses his screen about once a year (so I know to click on it). I had waited what felt like six days for one to be overcooked a few weeks before at Fairway’s cafe, so we couldn’t go there, and my stomach still feels distended from the hangover one I had at Spring Natural on New Year’s Day, so we couldn’t go back there. Unfortunately, I remembered neighbors saying they had been getting good grass-fed burgers at brgr, and we wandered over to Broadway. Not only did the things take just short of forever or Fairway. The flavor was as AWOL as the vowels in the name. Neither the meat nor the “Cheddar” nor the mustard nor the tomato nor, even, the bun had any taste at all. We just kept eating and eating, hoping the next bite would pay off. Nope. (And the fries were seriously lame, too.) It says it all that we stopped in Zabar’s afterward and found one small sample of mangalitsa ham was a “wake up, tastebuds” mouthful. WIGB? The clincher was doing the math and realizing Fairway was a better deal, at $9.50 including fries; these were $8.50 plus. No wonder that logo has always reminded me of Goatsie.

Almost as disappointing was the brisket at Mighty Quinn’s in the West Village, where we trotted after the awesomeness that is the new Whitney. Once again, it was dry and chewy and not particularly barbecue-y. The chain had redeemed itself the other week at Birchfield Place, but I have to concur with Bob: It will be a long time, if ever, before we brave that stuff again. It’s a good thing we only split one sandwich, and it’s a good thing it came with the usual generous sides of coleslaw and pickles (celery, onion, cucumber and jalapeño) for $9.50. And we only needed that because we had fortified ourselves before tackling all floors of the museum by sharing a couple of carnitas tacos off the Taco Truck on the gorgeous High Line. Those were more tortillas than (dull) filling.

The fourth exception to the rule was West Bank Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, to which we resorted for proximity’s sake after the genius of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (which, beyond the great script, photography and acting, boasted some fud jokes, including rabbit andouille). Our friends had suggested Taboon, but the prices online were insane (no wines under about $45, entrees in the $30s) plus we had gotten the brush-off when we stopped in one night after a “Daily Show” filming. Here, with the After Eight menu,  we got a $35 Provencal rosé, a reasonably quiet table and the usual reliable, good-value cooking. My eggplant parmesan teamed with arugula and tomatoes, for $15, was almost Parm level (The Cat WCTLAFW approved to the point of stealing the salad off my plate the next day). Bob and Diane’s chicken breasts were juicy, with a fine sauce and lots of side vegetables including mashed potatoes (The Cat really approved). And I didn’t try Len’s shrimp but approved his wild mushroom risotto balls with their good truffle aioli for dipping. WIGB? Anytime we’re trapped in that tourist wasteland. Also, too? Upper West Side restos should offer After Eight menus. Bill ’em as stroller-free.

A good scent from a familiar ocean

The grease may be off-putting, but this was the best naan we have ever eaten in New York — it was even splendid two days later, pliable and flavorful and loaded with sliced garlic. Even better, the goat curry and kadi pakora we ate with it were both spiced for bread, not a fork, and those sensational sauces held up when reheated at home, too. We lucked into all this in Queens, at Sohna Punjab in Richmond Hill, thanks to a recommendation from the owner of a halal live-meat market we had just interviewed in Ozone Park; it’s a testament to the quality of his operation that we could go straight to that curry after seeing goats in their pen and the room where they’re slaughtered. He described the restaurant as a hole in the wall, but it was better than that for sure, with both the waitress and chef very welcoming and a bathroom that definitely passes the Chang test. Bob spotted kulfi in the ice cream case, so we split one straight from the metal cone in which the creamy, cardamomy sweetness was frozen. I spotted paan in the wine and beer case, but we passed on those — once, in Bangalore, was enough. WIGB? If we were in the neighborhood, for sure. Beyond the excellent cooking, two orders of the naan came to $5.98; the curries were both under $10. 117-10 Atlantic Avenue, 718 850 6221.