Archive for the ‘bistro’ Category

New York minutes

September 2016

My road to hell is apparently being paved with receipts from dozens and dozens of restaurants signifying my good intentions of writing about the good, the bad and the just okay (and, also, too, the surprisingly not bad). So I’m forcing myself to type about our latest meal out, the one where my consort noted we had had all appetizers the night before and I had to ask: Where did we eat last night?

(Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, FTR, which was, yet again for like the eighth time since it expanded, close to perfect — points off for no “bread” offered, but we didn’t need it given that we were eating light with oysters on the half-shell [for Bob], fried calamari, wedge salad and grilled octopus with frisee, gigante beans and paprika aioli [again for Bob; I ain’t eatin’ no near-human]).

I actually had done a little research before we headed down to IFC for the amazing “Cameraperson,” so we were able to resist the fine-and-affordable siren song of Baker & Co. in order to stroll a couple of blocks north to the new Seabird, downtown relative of Mountain Bird, that awesome East Harlem destination that unfortunately represents a paving stone on my cluttered-desk highway (thanx again, Cheese Jenkins). It was only 7:30 or so and there were actually sidewalk tables available, but we headed into the din for our dinner.

I could complain about the table being too small, but the servers were too friendly; our main one jokingly offered to eat what she recommended if we didn’t like it although we would still pay. We took the cheaper of her recommendations, passing on the $32 bouillabaisse after she translated it as if we were rubes. Salmon poke with avocado and seaweed was about 10,000 times better than I expected, with the perfect balance among fatty, fatty and tangy. Crab and artichoke cheese dip was like a flashback to the TGIFriday’s 35 years ago where we agreed to move to NYC, but with real artichokes and real crab and good chips for dipping. “Fried oyster taco” proved to be three, each with a huge fried mollusk set over coleslaw (marred by celery). Ms. Charming apparently forgot to put in our last order, for the “crab lasagna mac-and-cheese,” because it took forever, but it was worth the wait, with an insane amount of lump crab in and atop the creamy shells with a touch of tomato sauce. Our $44 bottle of albariño was poured a little too fast, but maybe that’s because we were thirsty from the #bestintownpopcorn. WIGB? Absolutely, but only in a party of two able to lip-read.

New York minutes, catch-up and new

April 2014

Something old: Brasserie Magritte on the Upper East Side, where my consort and I headed after the divisive “Inside Llewyn Davis”* rather than resorting to our usual Toloache in that restaurant dead zone. The place looks great, with, of course, paintings and symbols hanging everywhere. And the staff was quite friendly. But we got an odd table, too wide for two and in an awkward spot, and the cooking would be more suited to musty French joints in the Theater District. My sad duck confit, an appetizer, seemed fatigued, while Bob’s $25 coq au vin looked and tasted like yesterday’s special. The $9 frites with two sauces at least delivered. WIGB? Maybe. It is a dead zone. And the setting did motivate us to go see the real Magrittes at MOMA, which were totally vaut le voyage.

*I’m apparently alone in liking it. Not least for the “where are his testicles?” scene.

Something new: Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side, where I met a great friend who was staying off Times Square and wanted to meet in that dead zone between him and me. As I promised, “The food is not dazzling, but the place is pleasant.” And it still has its charm, and good energy, but the waitress seemed not quite up to the selling job for the menu and wine. I was tempted by my usual fish and chips (for the fries) but thought I should give a special a try; my reward was a beautiful slab of $32 halibut cooked dry, with no sauce, just a scattering of ramps and vegetables. Rolando said his sea bass was in the same sorry state. He had tuna crudo to start and we sort of split the rather dinery profiteroles. He sent back first glass of wine because it was too sweet (not fruity — sweet), and I noticed how chintzy the flatware felt. Still, WIGB? Sure. For the fish and chips and the space and, not least, the acoustics. Our table felt as if we were under a dome. We could actually talk.

While I’ve been DAOTI, sad fates have befallen a couple of places in my catch-up pile of receipts. Casa Pomona on the Upper West Side, where we took refuge after “American Hustle” one night when Kefi’s kitchen was closed early (where are we? Middle Earth?), is apparently becoming a Flex Mussels. The food on that second or third visit was respectable (three types of croquetas, cheese, migas) and certainly the service was snappy. But seafood might be an improvement. And Calliope has lost its chefs, which means the end of the best cheeseburgers I have ever eaten. I’m just glad I had the foresight to go have one last one before I even knew it would be the last — I’d sent friends there, but they apparently are not into cerebral experiences and were underwhelmed, so I took myself back just to see if it was as spectacular as I’d remembered. And it was even better: great beef, cooked perfectly, on chewy ciabatta that stood up to the sturdiness of the meat, with perfect fries and a mustardy sauce for both spreading and dipping. This was a late lunch, so the gorgeous room was quiet. I’m just sorry we never made it there for dinner. The spicy tripe Bob ordered twice at brunch was amazing both times.  And I’m saying that about tripe.

New York minutes/Mid-May 2013

May 2013

The good: The Smith up/down by Lincoln Center, where we happily wandered in after the great OSF opening of the new Moving Walls galleries and where we immediately sat down at a non-deafening sidewalk table with fine service. Wine was involved, but only the glass, since the Soros crew springs for the bottomless fountains. And because the refreshments had also been so lavish beforehand, I was happy to eat only part of a flatbread topped with ricotta, red onions and olives while Bob blissfully tucked into his brick chicken and mashed potatoes. WIGB? Anytime it’s warm enough to eat outside.

The surprisingly good, given the hype: Prune in the East Village, where we were actually able to walk right in after an app party at Pizza a Casa — and after being offered barstools facing a wall at Fat Radish. (Designers: check your sight lines before signing off on floor plans.) In a million Fridays I would never have expected this, but the hostess instantly walked us to a nice table where we soon had pappadum to nibble on while ordering drinks (perfect spritz for him, Saumur for me), Neither of us was open to a real meal after tasting calzone and stromboli and pizza, so we shared appetizers: soft-shell crab with pea shoots, dandelion salad with feta, toasted manti. The last arrived swimming in a yogurt sauce with harissa that made up for the inconsistency in the cooking of the actual Turkish ravioli (some were too hard, some just fine). And the crab was very flavorful, especially with its curry sauce, but the frying was less than artful. Still, I can understand the appeal of the place, which we had never braved, always assuming it was too crowded. Now I know it’s the olds who fill the tables. So I’m impressed the food has as much character as it does, even though Bob was mildly disappointed when the legendary Triscuits and sardines were not on offer. WIGB? Sure. It felt like Philadelphia. In a good way.

The unsurprisingly good: Rural in Flushing, where we were lured by our eating-Asian/Asian-eating friends yet again and where even the meats not to my taste were worth trying, not least because the cuisine is Dongbei, formerly Manchurian, which is a trip. As always, the table just magically expanded as more people arrived, so we all could taste and talk, starting with peanuts and sprouts with hot peppers as amuse, then garlic scapes with pork, lamb with scallions, pork with potatoes, beef tendon in a wonderful sort of “Bolognese” and steamed dumplings, half with chives and half with cabbage, both very different. One dish none of us, even those with language skills, could translate would have tasted better to me if I’d known what it was; the best description would be sea knuckles. Tiger vegetable was a more clear-cut highlight, a toss of cilantro stems, chilies and scallions with a touch of sesame oil. But my favorite dish was the spicy quail, tender and piled high with dried chilies. The table winner, though, was the cumin flounder: the whole fish encrusted with spices and cooked so perfectly even the fins were crunchy-good. WIGB? In a heartbeat. As always, more food than we could all consume came to $20 a head. And, as always, the service was superb, the reward for having both language skills and adventurous palates among us. We. Are. Lucky. 42-85 Main Street, 718 353 0086.

The fine: Spring Natural on the Upper West Side, where we headed with a friend after the truly amazing “Frances Ha” when she balked at our standby (Fairway) and where the hospitality and setting were so admirable we realized only as we were walking home that the food was just okay. Really, we walked in and the hostess promised us a table momentarily, and not only did she make good on that, she moved us to a better one as soon as it opened up so the three of us could sit comfortably and (sort of) hear each other. The waitress also excelled; she really knew her wines (the rosé we chose was all of $34). I didn’t try Donna’s tuna nicoise or Bob’s crispy chicken but can say the rice that came with the latter was pretty great. My “Thai falafel salad” was what it was. The chickpea patties were not quite Sidoesque, but the dressing on the greens and tomatoes got the job done. WIGB? Shortly, in fact. It’s close, it’s pretty, it’s so well-run.

New York minutes/Early May 2013

May 2013

The seriously good: Calliope in the East Village, where my consort and I had the prescience to head for fortification before braving either the art fair on the Bowery or Di Palo’s for an Illy stock-up and where the food was just short of astonishing. And I say that after admitting I ordered the cheeseburger. While it took its savory time arriving, I indulged in my favorite sport, remorsing over not having been more brave and at least trying a sandwich if not the eggs, but what landed definitely merited a whoa! The bun was more like a square ciabatta, the cheddar was actually slices of the crumbly stuff and the ramekin of mayonnaisey sauce alongside made it perfectly clear you would not need either of the usual low-rent condiments, mustard and ketchup. As for the burger itself, the beef (grass-fed organic, the waitress instantly answered when I asked about its provenance) was juicy and bloody in the best way, with an exceptional char. Arrayed alongside this wonder were red-leaf lettuce leaves perfectly sized for that bun, red onion and a slice of tomato that looked malproportioned but turned out to fit exactly into the whole architectural assemblage. Fries, of course, were just as sublime. What was more amazing was steaming in a bowl across the table. Bob’s spicy tripe with egg was so beautifully conceived and executed I actually ate the offal as well as the kick-ass tomato base and vegetables, and the innards turned out to be both tender and tasty.  WIGB? As soon as possible (not least because that was the first cheeseburger I have actually finished in nearly eight years). But not for dinner. Even when half-empty at brunchtime, the place makes Bedlam sound like a padded cell.

The not bad: Omai in Chelsea, where I hooked up with Bob and a friend who just won the fellowship he did six years ago in Middle Earth and needed cheerleading and where we were lucky to be seated early — by the time we picked up the kittybag, a line was out the door. I was the one who insisted on ordering the most plebeian item, the spring rolls, so I’m glad I left the rest of the choices to them. Duck was great, ribs not so much. For once, though, the chardonnay trumped the sauvignon blanc, which turned to vinegar against the flavors in the food. Service and sound level both earned an A. WIGB? Why not? It’s not as if you can’t find 18 different lousy Thai experiences just one avenue away.

The promising: Lafayette in NoHo or whatever the hell that area is called these days, where I was lucky enough to be treated to lunch by an editor in for Enron on 12th Street and where one bad server couldn’t spoil the whole experience. The place looks fabulous if a bit French-dinery at street level, and we scored a very comfortable booth, and it was relatively easy to talk among the four of us. (I was the stranger among half of them.) Eggs Lafayette and the tartine of the day had already been delivered when I arrived, and both made great starts. The hard-cooked, halved eggs were heaped high with smoked sable and topped with trout caviar; the tartine involved exceptional bread spread with smoked ricotta and overlaid with radishes and tomato. All of them passed the most rigorous test: We could eat them, by hand, without making a mess of either them or our clothes. I shared the mysterious $18 “Fleur de Soleil” pasta with snap peas, pancetta and mint — the pasta turned out to have a campanile shape and was exquisitely sauced. I can’t judge the grilled shrimp salad with arugula, muscat grapes and caper dressing because I passed on the protein, but I think I got the better end of the deal for an $18 item. I did taste the fries that came with the $25 flatiron steak with béarnaise butter and will give them freedom thumbs up. Not so many to the server, who seemed to be emitting information through gritted teeth. I actually apologized for wondering where the beef came from — when it’s Niman Ranch, he should fucking volunteer it. Our benefactress spotted and had to order the weirdest dessert option — pickled blueberry sorbet — which turned out to be more like frozen borscht. The sablé that came with it was so exquisite, though, I had to pick up a lemon-lime-filled one from the bakery case on the way out. (Which The Cat wasted very little time tearing into.) It was fabulous. WIGB? Even though the waiter made it perfectly clear he had had just about enough of us olds by the end of lunch? A resounding yes.

The GD: Regional on the Upper West Side, where we headed one early evening after seeing friends’ latest work (tumbleweeds, as you’ve never pictured them!) and where we got exactly what we were expecting — a not-terrible meal for a not-exorbitant price just blocks equidistant from both our homes. Oh, and a bottle of Valpolicella Santi at 50 percent off because it was a Wednesday. We shared a more-greens-than-artichoke salad for $10, then passed plates of ravioli fonduta, gnocchi in red sauce, trofie al pesto and lasagne vincigrassi, all in the $13-$15 range and all in the acceptable range. WIGB? It is geographically desirable. It is not awful. Why the hell not?

The lifesaving: The finally opened Birch on the Upper West Side, where I spent several happy hours after Verizon kept us waiting days for Internet restoration (for which it sent two teams to the same floor in our co-op at the same time to fix the same problem). The NYPL’s Bloomingdale branch was pretty great, with comfortable seating and a civilized crowd plus WiFi connection with no purchase required, but this new shop made me realize why the youngs are so happy to while away weeks in a profit-making environment. I would pay $3 or so and get an hour to check in to see how little I was missing on the Twitter and in pol porn. The staff was engaging, the crowd usually not annoying, the setting very sleek. WIGB? Yep. For the flat white alone. Birch’s is the best since Oz.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2012

September 2012

The always good: The Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side, where we headed on Social Media Monday, which has become the biggest incentive to eat out after three nights of Greenmarket amazingness at home. “Fish-ionista” was the password to 20 percent off four glasses of wine, a shared iceberg-bacon-blue cheese salad and my fried green tomatoes with crab and my consort’s fried shrimp. We reserved early and were rewarded with a relatively quiet table against the far wall on a night too holy-crap-it’s-fall to sit outside, then our usual perfect server came by to say hello even though he pretty much only sees us on 20 percent-off-Mondays. WIGB? Absolutely for many reasons, not least that there is no negative vibe on claiming the discount for a meal we would happily cover at full price.

The frustrating: La Mangeoire in Midtown East, where I met friends in from Seattle after one actually voiced an opinion on what to eat (meat!) and I was angling for someplace near their hotel where we could all actually talk. As I warned Dianne, it would feel like eating in NYC on our first trip north together in 1979 or so but it would be worth it. And it was. Ken got his honking slab of $36 steak, one that came with good fries and peppercorn sauce, and we dainty eaters were quite happy with crab-avocado-grapefruit appetizers as satisfying as a main course. I didn’t try Ken’s bouncy-looking profiteroles, but Dianne’s apricot tart was excellent. And the bread served with olive oil, anchoiade and olives is almost worth a journey on its own. I’ll admit I was surprised the prices are creeping toward $36-soup level — even the pared-down entree options are in the mid-$20s now — and I was kinda bummed we were stuck in an airless little alcove with a huge table of other olds close enough for aural discomfort. We were there for hours, though, so I guess I can’t complain the waitress pretty much just moved on with her life after belated dessert, surrendering any opportunity to sell more wine or even a coffee or two. WIGB? Maybe, for only one reason beyond the seriously good food — we walked outside and were almost blown back inside by the cacophony blasting from all the bars/restaurants on that avenue.

The sadly departed: The New French in the West Village, where I hadn’t been in at least a year for maybe the same reasons it’s no longer in business. It was so perfect for the longest time, then the chef went west and the food went south, and sidewalk tables were added that the staff clearly couldn’t staff. The slip in food would have been “stomachable,” but the service just became craptastic — and at the very time competition was opening up and down the same street. I do hope someone picks up the Maira Kalman wall drawings and the cool Heimlich poster. The place did so many things so right. H/t Adam for the death notice.

New York minutes/Early February 2012

February 2012

The seriously good again: Momofuku Ssam in the East Village, where my consort and I met another food-obsessed couple via the Twitter for a Sunday lunch that was even more invigorating than my two previous weekday indulgences. We were there before the door opened at 11:30 so of course got a nice table (and, I learned later, a waiter who Tweets, too). The four of us shared everything, which meant I tasted excellent sweetbreads I normally would spurn (prep them once or twice and you will, too) and the spicy sausage and rice-cake dish, as well as lively pickled vegetables and a pear sorbet brilliantly accessorized with pumpkin, cornflakes and blue cheese. All the duck — rotisserie, dumplings, pulled sandwich — was of course perfect. The only letdown was apple kimchi with bacon and maple labne, which amounted to ingredients talking past each other. WIGB? Can’t wait. 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street, 212 212 254 3500. (BTW: We all went down the avenue afterward to Vandaag for the exceptional coffee in that rigorously designed room; the cappuccino was one of the best I’ve ever had on this continent.)

The transporting: Il Buco Alimentari in Nebulousnabe, where we fortified ourselves with  Saturday lunch before a time trip through the amazing Merchant’s House Museum nearby and where the history was nearly as palpable (wood from the way-back machine). Seeing a whole porchetta on the rotisserie in the theatrical open kitchen made the panino irresistible, and it was a juicy/crunchy/tender marvel on just the right bun; pickled vegetables on the side only made it seem more of a deal at $16 (Porchetta’s is of course sublime and much cheaper but without the creature comforts). We shared the $14 insalata di cicoria despite my resistance to Scalia anchovies for their name alone, and it turned out to be one of the rare enjoyable bitter salads, with almost sweet Treviso radicchio tossed in and crunchy fine bread crumbs over the top. And $14 grilled sausage over Umbrian lentils had real nuance; fried sage leaves and sweet onions were grace notes. As the server warned, the coffee needs work; even with way more than a cloud on the macchiato it was bitter. (We stopped by Colombe later just to compare and now suspect, though, that taste is not what’s cutting into business; it’s probably more the scene.) The market in the front is quite nice, too, although we managed to get out without buying anything. WIGB? Absolutely, at least for serene lunch. I’d guess it might get loud at dinner, with all those hard surfaces. 53 Great Jones Street, 212 212 837 2622.

The satisfying, again: La Mangeoire in Midtown East, where we landed after being warned of a 45-minute wait at the Smith after an opening of New York in Color with a friend’s work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on 57th Street. The $38 white from the Languedoc matched well with both Bob’s intense coq au vin with mushroom-bacon sauce and my pork roast (first time I’ve ever ordered that, and my reward was super-tender thanks to the server actually asking what temperature I wanted). And the anchoiade, olives and oil with the bread basket were just gravy. I’ll admit it was a little sad to see Christian Delouvrier and think back on Ruth’s bedazzled  review in his $30 soup days, but his cooking has lost only the flash and price tag, not the style and substance. WIGB? We may never make it to the Smith. Add in no din and the option of downsized main courses and it’s definitely worth the journey. 1008 Second Avenue near 53d Street, 212 759 7086.

The over-the-top: RedFarm in the West Village, where we left my name and of course got a perfect little table and no end of comped food from gregarious Eddie Schoenfeld; we only had to wait as long as it took to pick out three new salts at the Meadow down the street. Thank allah we kept a receipt, because it really was more dishes than any cranial sieve could retain (he at least did the smart thing and said: “Take a taste and take it home”). We chose good shu mai shooters (two for $7.50), huge and slightly overwrought crab and duck dumplings (four for $12), exquisite vegetable and chive steamed dumplings (four for $8), noodles with both Dungeness and rock crab ($27) and sublime okra and eggplant yellow curry ($17 and enough to keep me from succumbing to mediocre Thai again for a long, long time — this had at least six kinds of vegetables in addition to the excellent stars, and the sauce was all nuanced flavor). Forced upon us were killer soup dumplings with truffles; strange but irresistible eggplant “bruschetta” topped with smoked salmon and caviar; mushroom spring rolls; amazing barbecued Berkshire pork belly; the $39 like-buttah Creekstone prime rib steak with the best baby bok choy I’ve ever stuck an implement into, and two desserts: chocolate pudding and a “fruit plate.” The kittybag was damned heavy on the way back to the C train, and we ate from it for three days. We also shared a $32 bottle and two $16 glasses of an ideal wine for Joe Ng’s style of cooking, S.A. Prum “Blue” Mosel riesling (Joshua Wesson did the list). WIGB? Can’t wait, although I may sneak in with a bag over my head. But that might mean missing out on Eddie’s entertaining tales. 529 Hudson Street, 212 792 9700.

The “good luck to them”: Left Bank in the far West Village, where we met one of our favorite people, in from Veneto, for a great long, long Sunday dinner. We reserved at 6:30 to try out the “happy hour,” which sounded so much more respectable than “early bird,” but were only able to take advantage of the half-price, half-assed Aperol spritz ($6) because Diego didn’t get there by 7 for the three courses for $20. Dinner was still a steal: I had outstanding potato gnocchi with pumpkin, black pepper and pecorino, almost like spaetzle, for $17; the guys both had the superb juicy-crisp roast half-chicken with capers, cornichons and dill for $21. (Usual sneakiness: Sides are sold separately.) We also shared a pretty great rendition of brandade with warm toast and olives for $10 and a lively bottle of grillo from Diego’s second home of Sicily for $36. Service and the room were both fine, too. (Even though we got the worst table in the house, right under the speaker with nothing but #RIPWhitney — by the end of the night I was starting to realize why she needed drugs.) WIGB? No question, if it lasts. I know we’ve eaten there before . . . 117 Perry Street at Greenwich, 212 727 1170.

The dispiriting despite the design: Cafe Centro in Hell’s Kitchen, where we ducked in just for cheap sustenance at a sunlit table on our way to the must-see Loving and Weegee shows at ICP. Warm, salty chips and decent salsa were too easy to fill up on, which was lucky because the rice and beans with my lukewarm cheese enchiladas merited no more than one bite each. Bob ordered tacos with carnitas cooked in Coke and we were both glad he had resisted the mahi ones; these were overfilled and hyper-sweet, but things coulda been worse. WIGB? Why do restaurants get better on Ninth as you head south?

New York minutes /Latish May 2011

May 2011

The good: Sezz Medi up near Columbia, where my consort led me after I’d steered him there on good advice a couple of months ago and where the whole experience was like Italy without Alitalia. It was Sunday brunchtime, but the menu had a panoply of egg alternatives, and the server didn’t even flinch when we ordered only small plates. One of which was huge — fried calamari and zucchini, an LP-sized platter of nicely cooked, very tender seafood and pretty crisp yellow and green squash slices, with a tangy parsley tzatziki as dunking sauce. Bob’s tegamino (a k a eggplant Parmigiana) was superb, with the ideal balance of vegetable to cheese and a good, lusty tomato sauce that doubled as a dip for the fritti (turns out the name refers to the skillet in which it’s cooked). We got away for $20 plus tip, about what we would have spent at Chipotle in the same time. WIGB? Absolutely, and often, if it were closer. 1260 Amsterdam Avenue near 122d Street, 212 932 2901.

The pretty good: Kin Shop in the Village, where Bob and I and the filmmaker of “How to Live Forever” repaired after a showing at the Quad and where the food definitely trumped the neglectful service, even after we ordered bottled water that could have been repeatedly up-sold. Duck laab salad was my favorite plate on the table, although it was not as blistering as I’d expected, and sea scallops with pea puree were nearly as good. Softshell crab can be filed under outstanding, pad see ew with ramps well below  underwhelming. The one huge disappointment was the “selection of grilled eggplant.” No there there. . . WIGB? Sure. Brachetto goes surprisingly well with spicy upscale Thai. 469 Sixth Avenue, 212 675 4295.

The not bad, din in dinner notwithstanding: Qi in the Theater District, where Bob and I wound up, against his objections, when Elsewhere had a 15-minute wait for tables after the ICP opening of the entrancing Elliott Erwitt show. He spends so much time on/off Eighth Avenue he was dreading the whole experience but calmed a bit when we agreed the design evokes Pierre Gagnaire’s Sketch in London, where he shot for his last around-the-world Geographic story, on caffeine. Unfortunately, the kitchen and servers could have been jetlagged after flying in from England. It took forever to get attention and then food. By then, the torturous noise level had us fighting, and cold mushroom spring rolls amplified the pain even though they had great taste and texture. An eggplant special appetizer was mostly chicken and shrimp, but decent. Ordering pad see ew was a big mistake after Kin Shop, but the green curry duck was better next day, reheated in the quiet of our own kitchen. WIGB? Not likely, but Bob, amazingly, disagreed — he rated it above most joints near where he spends so much time. 675 Eighth Avenue near 43d Street, 212 247 8991.

The nearly perfect port in a near-storm: The Taproom at Colicchio & Sons in Chelsea, where we wound up after my two days of frantically calling around for a “shit — it’s your birthday”  destination and getting no end of “5:30 or 10” merde de bull. Bob was willing to risk walking in anywhere, as we were able to do at the Dutch, but it was his big night so I wanted a safe haven. Which this totally was. We got a table looking out on the High Line, in a room that was surprisingly cozy despite its airiness, with the ideal noise level (you can easily hear both the mellow music and your companion) and a nice, young crowd (my seat had a view of the entrance, so I know the fancy side was not so lucky). Good Nebbiolo rosé ran $9 a glass, a much better deal than the heavily hyped kegged stuff, which was rather thin. Cured fluke with grapefruit and black olives was nice, but fatty salmon over smoked-egg mayonnaise outdid it (the menu called it vinaigrette, but I’ll call it what it was). Bob seemed happy with braised lamb ribs on pearl barley, and I was impressed by “steak & eggs,” with beef short rib in a crepinette laid alongside oats topped with a poached egg, even though the fancy stone-cut oats were decidedly rancid. And we both were amazed at how lame the rhubarb tart was. I’m all for cerebral desserts, but they need to function on a sensual level as well. This was almost gummi bear fruit on solid cream in a crust notable mostly for its crunch, not flavor. Even the two frozen scoops of whatever alongside could not elevate it. Still, WIGB? Absolutely. The price was right (very imaginative butchering and cooking put prices literally half what I had reeled from on other menus in my frenzy). Plus true luxury is being able to revel in conversation over your food. 85 Tenth Avenue at 15th Street, 212 400 6699.

The “it’s complicated:” Boulud Sud on the Upper West Side, where we steered friends in from Eden on the Willamette who had reserved at Bar Boulud and where we were lucky enough to be showered with freebies but cranky enough to evaluate the cooking like the journalists all of us once were and some still are. The Big Homme himself was there, and I hope the microphone under our table recorded me saying he is the most gracious guy in the business, because he not only came over to chat and engage but also sent us way too much free food. Of what we ordered, the duck kataifi was too much shredded wheat on a bit of poultry; vitello tonnato was fine but not Piemonte level, and the perfectly cooked, very fresh squid was done in by the overkill of fat filling and overwrought tomato sauce. Sicilian sardine escabeche, though, impressed even this sardine shunner. We got talked into unnecessary side dishes, of which the very smoky charred broccoli rabe trumped the bland chickpea panisse and fregola sarda with snap peas. Among main courses, Bob’s “cedar grilled rouget” turned out to be the usual far-from-the-Mediterranean fillet. My pancetta-wrapped quail, though, may have looked straight out of “Eraserhead” but tasted/ate pretty great, no Tuscan kale and rosemary soubise needed. Of our friends’ harissa-grilled lamb with eggplant and “grilled short rib on the bone,” I’d definitely lay the blue ribbon on the beef, cooked to amazing tenderness. Points off for a wine list that turned into a jousting match between reformed wine writer and paid sommelier, but we all liked our Nebbiolo rosé, and the excellent waiter poured it well. Our friends up and fled to Jazz at Lincoln Center, so Bob and I did not have to share two outstanding comped desserts, a chocolate-heavy, almost tiramisu-tasting “cassata” that would vanquish any memories of candied fruit, and a big-time wow of a grapefruit givré. WIGB? Probably, for a snack and glass of $9 picpoul at the bar after a movie, but I appeared to be in the minority. 20 West 64th Street, 212 595 1313.

The halt on the border of lame: La Superior in Williamsburg, where we happily headed with friends after an expedition in hopes of seeing the Rapture take Manhattan but where we left holding our ears because the music was not just painfully loud but horribly stupid. The birthday girl among us chose it, so I’ll be gentle, especially because it was decidedly cheap for too much food ($90 for four of us, with tip, including seven margaritas). And I can’t fairly judge because the dishes just came flying in after we ordered; there was no app-to-entrée progression. The best thing I tasted was the gordita filled with chorizo and potato; if it was not quite El Paso-(Texas)-level it was at least seriously satisfying. A rajas taco was also good if overfilled, as were the other tacos, some of which I tasted although I quailed at the lengua. Guacamole seemed  surprisingly undistinguished, and the queso fundido would have been so much better with serious mushrooms. (At least they kept the tortillas coming.) And I wanted to like the ezquites, despite the pallid main ingredient, but the presentation sucked — a plastic cup to be dumped into a bowl to be shared among four with two plastic forks? Those ditz waitresses were damned lucky we were in birthday mode.

Lagniappe: Our expedition to exotic Williamsburg paid off in many ways. We had the most amazing iced coffee — New Orleans style, with a bit of chicory, plus sugar and milk — at Blue Bottle. The corn cookie and blackberry-lime ice from Momofuku Milk Bar at Smorgasburg were killer. Whimsy & Spice’s peanut butter sandwich flavored with massaman curry was right behind. And the Bedford Cheese Shop could have been airdropped in from the Seventh Arrondissement.

New York minutes/Early April 2011

April 2011

The good, early: Jeffrey’s Grocery in the West Village, where we repaired (to use an underused verb) for a second course after popcorn at Film Forum during “Bill Cunningham New York” and where the experience was almost on the level of the documentary. It was barely dinnertime, so we got seats at the end of the tall communal table, which it took this old brain a while to comprehend were primo — side by side is so much better for talking, plus we each had views into the kitchen and out onto the sidewalk, where passers-by looked straight off the screen. The waiter was Fedora-level, even though he did come over to comment on my whipping out my camera to take digital notes and add that “my boyfriend’s father always takes pictures of his food, too” (great: now I’m not some sheeplish blogger but an old phart). Wines were pretty great: good pours, well-priced. But the food was so much better than you’d expect in a room with a kitchen so tiny. We split an outstanding special of scallop crudo/carpaccio/whatever laced with chile and lime and pork-fat julienne, then sat bedazzled by the almost quivering half-head of roasted cauliflower towering over Bob’s seared tuna teamed with lemon-infused baby artichokes and laid over watercress and radicchio. It tasted buttery from the inside out, and we’ve since replicated it at home (the second time with ghee). I normally resist all things salmon in restaurants, but the $22 special with white asparagus and haricots vert sounded so tantalizing I let down my sustainable guard and was rewarded with a beautifully seared fillet, also perfect from the inside out. WIGB? Absolutely (extra points for still providing matches), but only before the joint fills up. Every extra two bodies at that table elevated the sound level to the point that we might have missed noting that Rod Stewart is my generation’s Frank Sinatra. “Maggie May” took me right back to my few college days, but for the youngsters on the premises it might as well have been Benny Goodman. 172 Waverly Place, 212 398 7630.

The pretty good: Madangsui off Herald Square, where we headed on cursory Sietsema/internet advice on a Saturday when we both wanted Indian while shopping for Indian but had to resist because we were going to be cooking Indian. The JGold Wannabe review posted at the entrance gave me pause, as did the display of rubber/plastic entrees just inside, but we forged on and gave the unflappable waitresses yet another shot at indoctrinating the uninformed. And very shortly we were canceling our reflexive order for a salad and tucking into the eight pickled treats arrayed in front of us while the kitchen cooked our bulgogi (two people searing at the table seemed kinda sad at lunchtime, and two options on the menu forwent that). Both the meat and the kimchi pancake were outstanding. At least to our tastes. Which is why I can only say this was pretty good and not great. Bob’s eaten Korean in some tourist-catcher in Cambodia; I’ve only had it at a press lunch or two. WTF do we know the diff between one-star and a $25&Under? WIGB? Certainly, especially with someone looking for a novel experience. The staff gets A+ for equanimity. And that Biofeel bizarreness you get at the end reinforces the feeling you’re not in Manhattan anymore. 35 West 35th Street, 212 564 9333.

New York minutes/Latish March 2011

March 2011

The good: Market Table in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up after a lively 50th at Automatic Slim’s a few blocks east on St. Drunken Day when Pearl was backed up and Fedora was Bedlam and where we scored some pretty great food at a fair price at a relatively quiet table. The $12 crispy calamari, with a thick crust around juicy “meat,” ranked among the best I’ve ever eaten, especially with the guacamole and chile crema blanketing the plate underneath. We shared a salad of Cara Cara and blood oranges with hearts of palm, basil and pomegranate, too, and Bob (and later The Cat) seemed content with his $22 “pan crisped” chicken with sweet potato salad and bok choy. Service was also above average. WIGB? Happily. Hospitable and creative are not to be underestimated. 54 Carmine Street at Bedford, 212 255 2100.

The floundering: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where we headed with two friends after a Moving Walls opening at OSI after getting shut out of Yakitori Totto and where we must have been jinxed on this third try. We first got a crappy table near the door and the din and had to wait forever to order wine, then I asked about moving to the booth where we sat on our first foray and we were accommodated but then waited forever to get the gruner, which the servers kept coming back to say was hard to unearth (even though it was poured by the glass last time). The kitchen was on the slow side too. Len didn’t seem too wowed by the portobello sliders we clearly oversold, but Bob cleaned his plate of the sliced hanger steak over (chewy) spaetzl and brussels sprouts, and my Caesar was better than average. WIGB? Yeah. Just because there still isn’t much competition thereabouts. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The trip: Hindu Temple Society’s canteen in Flushing, where we hooked up with new friends via Bob’s gig at CUNY and where the tradeoff for folding tables and styrofoam dinnerware under fluorescent lights was very lively and seriously filling South Indian food that would have been a deal even if we had not been treated. After letting our new friends-in-the-know order for us all in a medium-long line at the counter, we sat down to a table soon covered with mango lassis and mango juices, plastic cups of water and plate after plate: chile-flecked vadas with coconut chutney and sambar; dosas stuffed with potatoes and with potatoes on the side; a special vada with red onions, and a vegetable uttapam, a big pancake studded with peas and tomato. It was all transporting to Bangalore, although the coconut chutney was milder than I remembered from seeing it pounded on the floor at MTR. The bill came to a little more than $9 a person, with way too much food. WIGB? Yep. To take someone new. It’s a great experience, not just as an alternative to Chinese in that neighborhood. 45-57 Bowne Street off Kissena Boulevard, 718 460 8493.

New York minutes/Early February 2011

February 2011

The good: Lyon in the West Village, at least at the bar, where my consort and I took refuge after getting shut out of the documentary program at IFC and where the engaging bartender and $7 sauvignon blanc kept us long enough to order first the spicy duck wings and then the duck rillettes (passing, at least, on the deep-fried cheese balls and salt cod fritters). Those wings looked long enough to power a goose, but they were pretty great, with a sweet-hot glaze on crispy skin, and three cost all of $8. And the rillettes came with warm toast and had been warmed slightly, too, so they melted into the bread; plus a basket of freshly toasted slices arrived just when we needed them. Aside from too-loud music as the afternoon wore on, it was the ideal refuge. WIGB? Absolutely, now that Bob has been dissuaded that the food is too heavy there. 118 Greenwich Avenue at Jane Street, 212 242 5966.

The good, again: Recipe on the Upper West Side, where we scored an early table when I couldn’t face dishes one more night. We shared three small plates: the beet salad with goat cheese; the too-greasy but quite satisfying duck confit hash (the meat mingled with roasted mushrooms and the whole assemblage topped with an oozy egg), and the perfectly cooked scallops with kabocha squash gnocchi, pumpkinseeds, chestnut glaze and crisped sage. The scallops qualified as cerebral food; every bite made me think. As always, the service was superb, too, but I’ll never learn to like wine from a tumbler. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.

The not bad: Spice, the new one in the old Monsoon on the Upper West Side, where we ducked in from the rain after the well-made “Fighter” and where the staff could not have been more accommodating. After a huge popcorn and too much lunch, all I could face was the house Caesar, with its miso-ginger dressing and (alleged) Sichuan croutons, but Bob insisted we get the warm duck wrap, too, plus chicken potstickers for him. The shredded duck, for all of $7, came in a fat mound to roll up in iceberg leaves with peanuts and slivered carrots and three sauces, and it was even good the next day, fresh out of the kittybag (Wyl-E was very happy, too). WIGB? Happily. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

And the almost-worth-missing-the-movies-for: The new Meadow salt/chocolate/bitters/flower shop in the West Village. Bob bought me a salt sampler there for my birthday, but I had never set foot in the place, and it is quite seductive, with an entire wall of different salts and another wall stocked with esoteric chocolates. Stacks of salt slabs to cook on are also everywhere. The staff’s really welcoming, too. 523 Hudson Street near Christopher, 888 388 4633.