The good: Gallo Nero, where I met a friend for lunch after finding a promo card in our doggie bag from Film Center Cafe. The place was so new you could smell the wood, but the kitchen was clearly settled in. We split only small plates: fine meatballs in pesto (where has that combination been all my life?), sauteed mushrooms on crisp toast with melted cheese, and beautifully fried calamari, zucchini slices and shrimp. The one letdown was our own damn fault — when the engaging Albanian waiter came back to say the kitchen had no buffalo mozzarella for the platter with prosciutto and roasted peppers, we insisted on substituting grana padano. Close but no mozzarella, and the peppers were pallid. But the warm roll was satisfyingly crusty and came with a nice bean puree, and the wines from an extensive list were poured by the quartino, and the waiter knew them all well. Also, the room is charming, the low-slung chairs so comfortable I wasn’t hobbling when I stood up and the bathroom as cozy as one on a train. WIGB? Soon, I hope. 402 West 44th Street west of Ninth Avenue, 212 265 6660
The not awful: Zamba, where my consort and I wound up for lunch after our usual Saturday morning run to the Greenmarket and Chelsea Market and after I had done a quick run through Menupages to see what might be escaping my notice in a neighborhood where I almost spend more time than I do around home. We snared two seats at the bar and had plenty of time to study the very cool design — you could imagine yourself in Torino if not for the crowd, which Bob immediately sized up as “Upper East Side but younger” — because the bartender’s efficiency seemed to be hobbled by his struggle to keep his low-slung pants from falling off his underpants. If not for my outstanding $10 glass of grillo, we could have been eating in a diner, though. My shiitake, taleggio and arugula sandwich with truffle oil was so rich it was almost queasy-making, even for this Mrs. Sprat, while Bob’s grilled eggplant with mozzarella and arugula was only redeemed by the tapenade spread on the focaccia in which it was grilled. Both came with a surprisingly lively little chickpea salad. WIGB? Maybe. Not much affordable around there, and the chalkboard wine list is long and enticing. 306 West 13th Street west of Eighth Avenue, 212 205 0601.
The well-situated: Chop Suey, where I lured Bob after his class at ICP both for proximity’s sake and because I remained curious after rejecting it for lunch with a fussy friend, and where we both didn’t really care about not-great food at inflated prices simply because the view of Times Square actually makes the middle-American armpit of New York look alluring. It was just after 8, so we got a great four-top looking in three directions, including toward several tables of “Sex and the City” wannabes. The less-than-wonderful scallion cakes were redeemed by an Asian pear mostarda, while the char siew roast pork was leathery and mostly noodles. Easily the best choice was the tofu hot pot, which had great flavor and sublime texture. Wine is served by the quartino, and we each nursed ours at $13-14 apiece. WIGB? When I hit the lottery, maybe. The bill with tip was $92 for three appetizers, two glasses. Renaissance Hotel, 47th and Seventh Avenue, 212 765 7676.
The transporting: Buzina Pop, where Bob and I took refuge after bailing on a free dinner with potentially boring strangers in the same neighborhood and where we found ourselves feeling far, far from Upper East Side stuffiness. He’s been to Brazil, I haven’t, but he said it felt very familiar to him; the stools at the booths across from us were made from tin cans, the curtains had boots imprinted in the design, a little shop in the corner of the second-floor dining room sold crafty things. We got there at the magic hour, just before it filled up (by about half Brazilians) and got loud, but at our little table by the window it was easy to talk if not read the menu (larger print or much bigger candles, please). While we were deciding, two rounds of salt cod fritters were laid on the table, followed by excellent warm bread with superb herbed olive oil. We split an order of exceptional crispy calamari set over arugula in tomato sauce, then a salad of arugula, endive and grana padana and an order of manioc gnocchi that were like eating flavored air. The very charming waiter kept our glasses refilled at $9 a pop, and we were out before the human larva toted in by the Carrie wannabe could start to howl. WIGB? If I found myself in the vicinity with a flashlight, absolutely. As we realized, it reflects a neighborhood changing as foreigners invest. And that is all to the good. 1022a Lexington Avenue near 74th Street, 212 879 6190.
The reliable: Pearl (even when the chowder is a little salty and the clams a little MIA, lunch there is an antidepressant, especially with a friend willing to share a Caesar, a fried oyster roll and those great fries) and Rosa Mexicano on 18th (even when I order the wrong enchiladas and get essentially wet vegetable tacos).