The pretty good: Shanghai Cuisine 33 in Flushing, where I met my Asian-eating/eating-Asian group for a Lunar New Year feast and where, for the first time ever, I felt full before half the many dishes had landed, to the point that I didn’t even try everything. We ate and ate and the tab came to $25 a person, though, so who could complain? I’ll get the bad news out of the way first: I was very glad the camphor tea-smoked duck was among the shares, because I’d had it in my head to order one to go and what we were served was like duck jerky (I schlepped back to Hunan House before getting on the first of my four trains home to pick up a very succulent, very smoky duck there). But all the dumplings were exquisite: soup, fried, steamed with pork and leeks and with pork and a strange herb, in wonton soup. The braised boar hock with baby bai choy and “moss” was a bit too much for me, and I was underwhelmed by the braised cabbage with dried shrimp. I also, thanks to bulging belly syndrome, could not appreciate the “salty and fresh pork medley” casserole. More may have passed me, but I’ll just say the tofu with crab roe was splendiferous and the rice cakes with spicy crab, a New Year’s special, would have made a meal. WIGB? Probably not, given there are so many other choices out there.
The surprisingly satisfying: Spring Natural Kitchen on the Upper West Side, where my consort and I ducked in after the Greenmarket on a brutally windy Sunday and where we got more than we would have settled for. We’d never bothered to cross the street to check it out, partly because of the last two words in its name. But no expectations paid off: The space is beautifully designed, as we could tell from the great corner booth we got from the superb host. (At that hour the place was infested with human larvae, but at least they were all well-behaved.) And the long menu actually had several temptations and was written so well Bob ordered what he normally spurns: a sandwich. We both rated it excellent, the chicken grilled juicy and paired with melted Cheddar and a green sauce, and came with good fries. My “taco” salad was like a burrito without the tortilla: rice, black beans, mesclun, tomato, red onions, salsa, guacamole, cheese and sour cream, with yellow, red and blue chips surrounding the huge plate. The leftovers fried up nicely as a side for dinner. (Half the sandwich was kittybagged.) WIGB? Absolutely. Not least because the tab for more than we could eat came to all of $25 before tax and well-earned tip.
The right place for the right lunch: Cocina Economica on the Upper West Side, where I lured a friend who had suggested Land and where we got the same bargain meal but in a different setting. My issues with the space remain (only Twiggies should be servers in that tight route from the kitchen through the tables), but we were not rushed even as other tables turned. My chorizo torta was fine, although the jalapeños and tomato would not stay in the (wrong) roll and the mayonnaise was only perceptible at the end, but the fries were good if oversalted (and were even better dunked into the red and green salsas). Joanne acted profoundly happy with her braised pork. WIGB? Absolutely for lunch. Although I still hope the kitchen knows how to cost-out food, for survival’s sake.