The surprisingly good: Tavern on the Green in its new incarnation, where a friend treated my consort and me to dinner in return for my sorta helping her research a couple of stories and where we were amazed to find ourselves among what appeared to be mostly New Yorkers (including the Maroons, at the next table — and wouldn’t every dinner a business dinner be a tedious way to go through life?) Looks were clearly taken into account in the hiring, but everyone from the hostess to the runner was well-trained, to the point that we barely had to argue to get moved from a table right next to the servers’ station (Bob did say “kinda” when the hostess asked if we were in the bidness). So we wound up in the glass atrium as the sun was going down and a (nonunion?) crew was working on the lights outside, reminding me of one ostensible reason the old TOTG died. The menu is confusingly designed, to the point that Wally missed the whole “Hearth” section while distracted by the “Grill” and “Plancha” and “Salads.” But everything we shared was impressive, starting with the grissini and bread set down with labneh perfumed with lemon and thyme. As starters, surprisingly nuanced smoked bluefish paté came with (too few) juniper-seasoned toasts, while plancha’d cremini paired with blue cheese, basil leaves and chile-heated bread made for a very stealable idea. I think I scored with my $30 main, two whole-down-to-the-wings grilled quail laid over creamy grits with a surfeit of “homemade” chorizo, touched off with a garnish of roasted grapes. But Bob’s honkin’ huge pork chop was a close second, not least because its accoutrements included wood-roasted rhubarb and fennel. Not sure if I were paying I’d think Wally’s red endive salad with caramelized anchovies, roasted garlic, buttermilk and Parmesan was worth the $17, but it played well with her other small plate, fat grilled scallops with citrus butter, fried shallots and capers. The wine list was superb, too: interesting choices at non-25CPW prices, so we could indulge in an albariño after our verdejo and still wind up with a $200 tab for our too-generous friend to cover. WIGB? Absolutely, even on our own dime. The bar with its fireplace and booths looked quite enticing, although I’m not so sure about Siberia in the back room, where the strollers were parked. The kitchen alone makes you appreciate how transformed the place is. Back in the mid-Eighties when I got a tour thanks to a friend’s husband who was the short-term chef (two stars and he was out), the stockpots were Campbell’s-sized, which was a pretty clear indicator of how impossible it was to turn out great food in a feeding factory. Now you can see the cooks humping in an open kitchen that is so well-ventilated you see them through smoke you can’t smell.
Update: Yes, the place has apparently reverted to type, if you can believe all the reviews and online frothing. And I can’t really doubt it. Tourists are so easy to trap they ensnare chefs and managers, too. Sadly inevitable.