The pretty good: Applewood in faraway Brooklyn, where we met friends who live nearby but had never been and where the best part was the noise level. Imagine four people sitting at a good-sized table in a nearly full dining room and actually hearing each other talk. But that’s not to discount the food, which was far better than the understated menu led me to expect — except for the goat stew and pan-roasted sweetbreads, most entrees read like stuff I could make at home. The energy and the deftness in the cooking, though, would be beyond me: my $23 sautéed haddock came with peas and bacon plus a potato cake, while my consort’s $23 bluefish was not only perfectly fresh but would have been redeemed in any case by the tapenade with it, and our friend’s $24 grilled pork sausage was certainly impressive. Bob and I split roasted beets with goat cheese fondue and roasted hazelnuts and snared a taste of our other friend’s lively mixed green salad with prunes and country ham and the good scallops with peaches, onion jam and chimichurri she had as a second course. Everyone else was happy with two shared desserts, but I have to confess they were literally forgettable (I don’t care, and I didn’t keep the dessert menu). Wine was a reasonably priced verdejo, and the bread with choice of schmears (blue cheesy, cayenney and plain butter) was a nice touch. Service was fine, and the room is really seductive, with a screen door to the kitchen and a few tables on a little patio out front, but I have to modify my “good” because the entrees were so sloooow in coming — I actually started to wonder if they were grinding the sausage from scratch. WIGB? No, but for only one reason: The whole experience was so satisfying it only made me want to explore others of this ilk. Otherwise, a resounding yes. Starting with the reservation process it was everything a restaurant should be. 501 11th Street off Seventh Avenue, Park Slope, 718 788 1014.
The not bad: Jolie, again in faraway Brooklyn, where six of us decamped after Veuve Clicquot, raspberries and cherries in a fourth-floor walkup and where the ambiance alone was worth the journey. Again, all of us could talk comfortably, and the service was good, and everyone else seemed happy with their food, not least because that night the special was three courses for $30. Maybe it was all the fruit beforehand, but by the time we were seated the only thing that appealed to me on the short menu was the crab cake appetizer. My consort insisted on sharing his beet salad, then gave me a taste of the accouterments [NYT preferred spelling] with his lamb chops and then his sorbets (passion fruit and coconut were sensational). So I didn’t even mind that my choice was heavily breaded and fried and over-garnished to an absurd state; the spicy sauce redeemed it. I was surrounded by apparent happiness. And not just at our table. WIGB? Maybe if I lived closer. 320 Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Hoyt, 718 488 0777.
The almost Italian: Caffe Falai in SoHo, where Bob and I landed after the Saturday Greenmarket just hoping for an alternative to eggs and where the linguine with imported clams was like eating in the pesto homeland. This was the day he should have been flying off to Tuscany to teach as usual, but the Chimp brought down the goddamn global economy, so it was almost bittersweet to try something so transporting: good pasta cooked till it was just chewy enough to support the light and liquid pesto, very tender tiny clams with actual flavor, the ideal balance of sauce to other ingredients. The portion size was also authentic (at $14). Our shared salad with avocado and truffle oil balanced rich and bitter nicely as well. I liked the $12 gnudi with spinach and sage, but Bob hit on exactly why they were off: They seemed unfinished, more like loose cheese and chewy vegetable than a cohesive dish. We both decided we like our focaccia a little lighter and airier, but the other bread, flecked with fennel seeds, made an ideal mop for the vinaigrette, his sauce and the butter on my plate. Tiny, amazing bombolini served with the check almost tempted us to order dessert. Bob’s macchiato was a little milkier than it should be, but then we weren’t in Tuscany. The room is really airy and light and actually better than sitting outside, and the service would be best described as relaxed and professional. WIGB? In a Roman second. 265 Lafayette Street at Prince, 212 274 8615.