The great: The New French, yet again, where we headed after Werner Herzog’s latest at prime time on a Saturday and where we were fortunate enough to arrive with just long enough of a wait to be distracted by excellent sparkling rose in paper cups out on the sidewalk. Some of the scariest words you can hear on entering a restaurant are “party of 12 ahead of you,” but the kitchen and the staff were more than up to the punishing challenge. Four of us split the pizza bianca of the day (two cheeses with roasted peppers) and stole forkfuls of the beet salad with superb dressing, then passed around the excellent braised lamb, pulled pork sandwich and top-grade Nicoise (well, I made it that by ordering tuna rather than salmon or beef). My consort scored highest with the special fish, seared skate over corn and bacon etc. He said it sounded like Bouley Bakery’s, but it was at least five times better. We also overindulged in desserts, a ginger creme brulee and berries with lemon curd. They know me now, but I don’t think the service was affected, and I did appreciate a table against the wall rather than out in the room, because it does get loud. Especially when four friends are arguing about a movie only one thinks is totally brilliant. WIGB? I think I’m moving in. 522 Hudson Street, 212 807 7357.
The good: Bouley Bakery, where we coincidentally wound up for brunch the day after the skate and where the halibut was perfectly fine but not what it once was, which is just like the place. The market floor where the bathrooms are was pretty funky-smelling; the carpet on the stairs was pretty beaten down; the whole room had a seedy aspect (napkins stuffed into vents to stop drips?) But the energy was still there, even late on a Sunday when the cooks have seared about enough burgers. I had the wild smoked salmon over rosti potatoes, which was immensely satisfying even though the arugula strewn over the top was past its prime and the caviar was the kind my dad used to use to catch lesser fish. And Bob’s halibut was the same as it ever was, pristine fish cooked just right, set over coconut milk with shiitakes, corn and peas, the latter seemingly straight from the Birds Eye farm. Service was outstanding, and there could be no better place to be during two serious thunderstorms, with those windows looking out onto those old buildings. The funniest part was that we had to wait for a table late in service while the new incarnation of Duane Park Cafe a few doors away was pretty much empty aside from a hostile broad at the “hostess” stand. And this was after we had actually decamped from a table at the new Fish Market at the Seaport because the bartender was overextended and some broadette in a tight black dress refused to acknowledge customers. I was fried by the time we got there, but the destination was more than worth the long walk north through hordes of lumbering tourists. And not just because we got to watch some blonde young thing plow through a steak, eggs, toast, potatoes and a huge side order of sausages a couple of tables away. Made me wonder if her escort realized that what looks like a lusty appetite at 25 is obese gluttony at 35. WIGB? Maybe. The host/waiter was outstanding. 130 West Broadway at Reade Street, 212 608 5824.
The promising: New Amsterdam Market, where Bob and I schlepped for different reasons and where we both hoped the Fulton Fish Market can find a second life. The food on offer was impressive, and not just because it was the right mix of Greenmarket familiarity and off-island artisanal imports. We bought Bouchon bread with rhubarb and pistachios after sampling a bit, and ground veal after just spotting it (I needed it for a story) for only $3 (Unholy Foods gets $7.99 a pound for meat of murky origins). Flying Pigs was there, so I was able to get pork for work reasons as well. Bob tried his fill of amazing cheeses, but I could have gone through two or three more times with toothpick in hand. And both of us put Peasant on our restaurant agenda after tasting the razor clam salad/ceviche being portioned out on razor clam shells. What was most intriguing is that I spotted exactly one other professional eater there. Hope they can get it off the ground, but it is much more Ferry Plaza than Union Square, and the tourists just to the west are mostly of the Disney World variety — I can’t remember when I last saw so many hippos lumbering past in short shiny shorts bunched at crotch level.