The seriously good: Settepani in Harlem, where we met friends who had wanted to brave Red Rooster but heeded our NFW for dinner. Not only could we walk there and back, but everything about the sleek place was ideal even though a large family was celebrating a young birthday near our table. Which was in the front, near the window, where two of us could watch the street and all of us could hear easily. The waiter gets an A, not least for his advice on the wine and food (why do we think employees have ever eaten what they’re asked to recommend?) And that wine and food were both reasonably priced and supremely satisfying, but we all woke up the next morning most appreciative of how serene the experience had been, and how the whole attitude was like being in either of our living rooms; there was no sense of being rushed. As for the food, everything seemed cooked to order, starting with our shared appetizer of very creamy polenta topped with sausage. Spaghetti with shellfish baked in parchment tasted lively and fresh, and we’ll all still be digesting the osso buco with polenta at Christmas (which is high praise for authenticity). My mushroom lasagne was a too-big-to-finish slab topped with good bechamel that I wished had been baked longer; the kittybagged portion was even better reheated next day. But the most impressive entree was the special duck, with none of the tired/reheated aspect you usually suffer with either breast or leg. Cabbage with it was dazzling as well (and when does cabbage ever merit that adjective?) We all split one panna cotta, billed as fruits of the forest but described as including blood orange, with a couple of biscotti plus a strawberry and whipped cream. One more indicator of Italian authenticity: The sweet was an afterthought. WIGB? I’m amazed the place is not mobbed by my own neighbors, given how good and how accessible it is. Even the panhandler on the walk home who called me and one friend “crackers” for not giving him money made it vaut le voyage. 196 Lenox Avenue near 120th Street, 917 492 4806
The good again: Loi, where my consort and I went back twice in a week for atmosphere, service and, especially, food. (Fairway: Step up your game!) The first time we went with a friend who wanted a real meal while we were just looking to top off “Into the Abyss” popcorn with eggplant and salad. Her scallops were kinda strange, but the portion was huge and everything else was outstanding: an amuse of mini-stuffed grape leaves plus Greekesque crostini, great bread with peppery olive oil, good white wine, free desserts. The second time we got snappier service but food just as great. The Greek salad by another name was a really satisfying mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and olives with a paving stone of mild cheese over the top and a dusting of anything-but-dusty oregano. The moussaka was just as marvelous as the first time, the vegetable almost melting into the meat. I didn’t try one friend’s honking-huge slab of salmon, but we all agreed the grilled calamari with pistachio and parsley sauce was outstanding. Best of all: We arrived with no reservation at a fully committed restaurant and were able not just to score a good table but were in and out for a dance performance even with the usual free desserts afterward. WIGB? Early and often, despite the crowd (sometimes “Sex & the City” raucous, other times God’s waiting room). 208 West 70th Street, 212 875 8600.