The half-great: Ma Peche, where my consort and I met up with friends who wanted to try it after their first choice of Osteria Morini was fully committed and where we were all worried about the tab given the bizarre absence of prices on both Menupages and the website (why should the paying customer be the last to know?) So I’ll get the bad part out of the way first: We waited 45 minutes for the reserved table, after getting shunted to the hotel lobby and then to the bar, where we all awkwardly held our unchecked coats and drinks while surrounded by a . . . shall we say . . . low-rent crowd and inhaling the grease fumes from the kitchen downstairs. (Always fun to consider how close “hospitality” and “hostility” are.) Also, once we were finally seated the wine took its “savory” time arriving, and the service would best be described as desultory. But the table turned out to be one surrounded by bigger tables of guys going all Tom Jones on beef and bones, so it was like being on an island of quiet. And the food was exceptional, starting with the perfectly made spring rolls. We just stuck everything in the center and shared, and not one dish disappointed. The duck, a tender breast plus sausage plus hoisin spaetzl, was the best I’ve tasted in years. Cod came in second, in a lively shellfish broth with ginger and coconut. The broccoli appetizer has me attempting to replicate it at home, with miso and sesame seeds. And while I’m not much on pork (flesh, not fat), the Bev Eggleston chop was blowaway, even at $68 for two. That, unfortunately, is the one price I can quote, because Bob and George split the bill and we came home with no printout. WIGB? Absolutely. Cooking like this reinforces why this trained cook goes to restaurants. 15 West 56th Street.
The promising: The new Ditch Plains on the UWS, where Bob and I wandered in after the Sunday Greenmarket and spotted strollers, the surest sign someone was serving. Turned out it was a soft opening, with 15 percent off the check. We found out the second half of that sentence only when the check arrived, but we were mellow knowing it wasn’t “live” yet. So it didn’t really matter that the fried pickles as an appetizer were inexpertly fried, although it did make me worry after having ordered fish and chips despite the waitress having told us she had not seen that yet, let alone tried it. Cod instead of the usual muddy tilapia sold me, though, and the excellent fries and perfect frying compensated for the lack of crust on the nearly naked fillets. And the dipping sauce, the same as for the pickle fries, elevated everything. Bob ordered the quite good spicy shrimp salad without specifying the appetizer size, so the $7 off the tab helped. We were among the few not ordering alcohol, but both the bloody Marys and the wine list looked enticing (no glasses, only bottles and half-bottles, at very good prices). The space seems much more inviting in its latest reincarnation, and the manager was extremely gregarious. WIGB? Absolutely, despite all those strollers — G.M. said the kitchen will stay open till 2 a.m., which is a huge boon on the early-to-bed UWS. 100 West 82d Street, 212 362 4815.
The “WTF was I thinking?”: New Chiu Chow in Chinatown, where we wound up after I plucked the name out of the Village Voice listings in desperation as we were rushing to schlep down to Bob’s storage room in the old NYPost building — the name had me at Chiu Chow, which really is “Cantonese with flavor,” as they said in Hong Kong, and the tout mentioned that most irresistible of foods: duck. But as soon as we walked into the dingy room and had to wait a few minutes for a table away from the door I knew we were in the wrong place. But the menu did promise duck, and it was not bad, if nowhere close to what we first had in Hong Kong or now make at home. Good thing we ordered a half, not a quarter, because the “spicy spare ribs” on rice with black bean sauce proved to be chewy nuggets of creepy industrial pork. And the Chinese vegetables in oyster sauce seemed very rudimentary for the price, again something we could have thrown together at home. Only as I was sitting dejectedly did we notice every other table was eating the same thing, the soup. Which is, of course, exactly why most onliners recommend it. Oh, well. The leftover duck was rescusitable in dumplings using wrappers from Hong Kong Supermarket, after a respectable egg custard from the bakery across the street. WIGB? From now on, we are never eating Chinese in Chinatown. We’re either trekking happily to Flushing or opting for anything else. Even “Italian.”