The pretty good: Kouzan, where every hint of the place’s previous occupant has been eradicated. That would be enough right there to recommend it, but I managed a nice lunch even though Japanese is almost my least favorite cuisine. I had a really fresh and lively green salad and exquisitely fried vegetable tempura (carrot, broccoli, onion, eggplant and I think taro) for all of $6.95, plus a good glass of California sauvignon blanc. The waitress was beyond efficient even while dealing with typical neighborhood old cranks. WIGB? Happily. 685 Amsterdam Avenue at 93d Street, 212 280 8099.
The not bad: Land Thai, where I wound up after remembering too late that Saturday lunchtime is egg hell and my options were totally limited. As always, the service was snappy, the $9 sauvignon blanc was a big pour and the cooking was adequate — I just had the lunch special with spring rolls (fried a little too long) and a vegetable medley (with rubbery tofu) and was satisfied, although I realized it’s a bad idea to eat there when staff meal is about to be consumed. What was laid out for them looked a whole lot more interesting than anything on the menu. WIGB? Inevitably. 450 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.
The aging well: Spice Market, where I retreated after wandering the meat district in search of a new French place and getting repelled everywhere by all the packettes of women who seemed to have stepped off the “Sex in the City” bus tour (be warned: I overheard one insisting Fig & Olive is a must stop, and it was jammed at the very unfashionable hour of 6:30). My food was mostly excellent, but I was most impressed by the staff — the host offered to take my coat and showed me to a nice table facing the kitchen, the waitress who was training a newbie was as attentive as the busboys were solicitous and the coat check “girl” actually asked if I’d enjoyed my dinner. The $9 green papaya and apple salad was enough for four people, a really lively, crunchy mountain of fruit flecked with candied ginger and cashews. The crispy skate was slightly overbattered, but the fish was clean-tasting and the airy cilantro sauce with it exceptional. The basket of pappadum with a spicy dip was a great starter, and wines at $9 and $10 are fairly priced. I left thinking it didn’t look so much like Pier One anymore. 403 West 13th Street, 212 675 2322.
The already slipping: Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, where I stopped for an early dinner at the bar while my consort was working yet again and left thinking what I ordered was described backward on the menu. It should have been Old Bay fries with lobster sandwich. The thing reminded me of what I had just read the protagonist in Richard Russo’s LOL “Straight Man” was served by his stingy mother: two slices of white bread barely glazed with pimento cheese spread. This was a hefty brioche bun filled with about six forkfuls of lobster with only rubberiness as proof that it was indeed the billed seafood; there was zero sweet flavor. The decent fries were heaped over it like a duck blind, as if even the chef realized it was a rip for $24. But the bartender was an excellent waitress, the gruner was good and good value for $9 and at that hour the place was nice and quiet. WIGB? Probably. Amsterdam ain’t exactly the West Village.