Archive for the ‘deals’ 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/March into April 2013

April 2013

The good: Mighty Quinn’s BBQ in the East Village, again, where my consort and I headed for an early-bird Saturday supper after a great screening of a friend’s shorts at Anthology Film Archive and where the availability of only beer was easier to swallow since we had just tried Fairway’s private-label prosecco. We were lucky to wander in and take our slow time ordering so that we snared a table and were soon making a mess of the super-tender ribs, with their crusty spicing, and the meltingly fatty slabs of smoky brisket. Both came with good coleslaw and pickled onions, red jalapeños, cucumbers and celery, the acid cutting the richness. WIGB? As Bob said: “Hill Country is good. This might be better.”

The seriously good: Lao Chengdu in Flushing, where we hooked up on a Sunday with our eating-Asian/Asian-eating group for an especially satisfying expedition through yet another particular subset of Chinese and where the seating arrangement turned out to be the most ideal since our virgin outing, to the now-vanished Excellent Thai. Nine of us fit around a big table in the back of the small dining room, with a Lazy Susan (an amenity rarer than you might think out there), so we could easily both share and talk. Both of which we did with abandon. I should have written this as soon as we got back off the three trains it took to get from there, but I do recall the spicy beef tendon was so sensational I tried a second piece despite knowing what it was — the slices were parchment-thin and beautifully seasoned. Wontons in red chili sauce seemed more predictable but well-executed, while thousand-year eggs tasted great but kind of creeped me out, between the camo color and the Jell-O-y texture. Tiger-skin peppers were as Russian roulette-like as shisitos or padrons: some incendiary, some tame. We had great pork belly with green vegetable and Sichuan chicken with peppers and, most amazing, a house special of “steamed pork” teamed with mushy peas, almost like a Chinese interpretation of a timballo with meat instead of rice or pasta. I know there was  a great green vegetable, and beautifully presented if slightly syrupy whole fish with “pine seeds,” and a fish soup with chunks of tomato. I think that was on the house, along with a dessert of a sweet soup afloat with what tasted like rice balls along with maraschino cherries. WIGB? Absolutely, but only in a big group to taste as much as possible (the bill was so ridiculously low we each chipped in $20 and wound up leaving a 50 percent tip). 37-17 Prince Street, 718 886 5595.

The historically good: Grand Central Oyster Bar, where Bob and I headed after the first part of a weekday daytime date, at the Nick Cave Heard NY performance of dancing “horses” and where the whole experience was the same as it ever was. We found seats at the counter, were instantly handed the big menu and the lunch special cheat sheet, got water and warm roll and cold flatbread with butter and, after perusing the insanely long and inventive list of specials ($39.95 softshells, $31.95 grouper), ordered what we always do: the $11.95 oyster pan roast and a $10.15(cq) crab cake sandwich, plus a glass of riesling to share because everyone else was drinking at just-on noon. The former dish is one the many decades could never improve, with richness countered by a bit of heat and a hunk of toast and a generous portion of oysters not quite cooked in the hot cream. And the sandwich was a plain thing, with cocktail sauce served alongside rather than tartar, and rather too much good bun, but the crab cake itself was thick and meaty. Coleslaw alongside helped. WIGB? Of course, and not just to use the facilities, among the most old-school in all of Manhattan.

The good to my untrained palate: Malay Restaurant in Flushing, another destination booked by our Asian-eating/eating-Asian group, where we crowded around a tight table to indulge in a cuisine with which none of us could claim to be expert. We were there for the Haianese dishes, though, and they were all good, such as the chicken and the rice. Roti canai proved to be a fine rendition, and I only wish we had ordered four, not just three, to share. Beef rendang was also excellent, with big tender chunks of well-sauced/spiced meat. Popiah, translated as Malaysian spring roll, was a big hunk of great flavors, the soft slices meant for dunking in a spicy sauce. I liked the fruity Indian rojak salad better than the Malaysian interpretation, which was just too funky-powerful with fish sauce. Judging by the scribbles on a takeout menu we took out, we also had kang kung belachun, a good water spinach, and “fried pearl noodles.” (Guess I’d better go back to shooting my meal.) Everyone got most excited over the durian-red bean shaved ice and ABC shaved rice, both weirdly wonderful (the latter had corn kernels in it, although none could say why). WIGB? Maybe. It was all satisfying, but I’d do more homework before any encore.

The good for the first time: Gran Electrica in Dumbo, where we had the good sense to reserve for after an enlightening presentation on food rackets in NYC at the Brooklyn Historical Society and where we were able to walk right in and get a table in a packed place for shared small plates. The crab tostada, with peekytoe meat, grapefruit, orange, cilantro, onion, avocado and habanero, was close to mind-blowing, the corn tortilla pliable enough to cut into wedges but crisp enough to support each perfectly balanced bite of the topping. I got tricked into trying the lengua taco after Bob insisted the server must have made a mistake and brought beef because it was so tender. Nope. He slipped me tongue. (And it was sensational, but jeebus, I don’t need to eat that.) I was busy with my chorizo con papas quesadilla, an excellent balance of fat and starch. His margarita also made him happy (as I was with a taste). I do like a menu that lists purveyors first, too. WIGB? Absolutely, but as much for the hospitality as the fine food. Everyone we came in contact with seemed genuinely happy to serve us.

The good for the third time: Toloache 82 on the Upper East Side, where we rewarded ourselves with Saturday lunch after the outstanding AIPAD show at the Park Avenue Armory and where the cramped little dining room where we were seated was redeemed by the service and sublime food. I had the huarache again, with just the right balance of chorizo and cheese to masa, beans and egg, but Bob scored with the pork pozole, a splendid bowlful of corn, meat and chilies that was paired with a world-class black bean tostada and came with a little tray of seasonings, including chile salt. WIGB? Yep. As always, I walked out thinking you can never go wrong at a Julian Medina joint. Cooks and servers are all on the same happy professional program.

The surprisingly not bad: The Ellington on the Upper West Side, where we headed after one of those days when two people working at home (or one dicking around on the Internets) needed a change of scenery. And that’s all we were expecting, but the food turned out to be vaut le (short) voyage. We split a beet and quinoa salad with goat cheese and walnut vinaigrette that tasted a long way from 106th Street, then I had a $12 flatbread topped with smoked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and pesto that was fine for dinner, even better for breakfast. And if Bob’s Cumberland sausage and mash was more about the onion gravy and braised red cabbage than the billed meat and potatoes, it was still a nice plate of food for $15 (star ingredient came from Myers of Keswick). We scored a nice table at the window, so there wasn’t much din in our dinner, but we were also there early. WIGB? If it lasts. That corner location does tend to shuffle restaurants in and out.

The good and reliable: Elizabeth’s Neighborhood Table, in our neighborhood, where we hooked up on a night after one of us was teaching and the other was dicking around on the Internets and where everything was not just what we wanted but even better, right down to the kittybag. That room always seems so garish from the street but so homy once you sit down, even at the same awkward table you always get. But I always find it encouraging when the server is the same as the last times — consistency is not to be underestimated in a restaurant. Bob ate his fried chicken with many “wows,” and I was just as happy with my Cobb salad, which I ordered partly so I could bring something home to The Cat — the bacon, avocado, blue cheese, tomatoes were all perfectly proportioned against the chicken. WIGB? Why don’t we remember it more often? Bonus points for the kittybag: All our leftovers were actually carefully plated in their plastic takeaway containers.

The regrettable: Amigos on the Upper West Side, where we wandered in after the Greenmarket despite having been warned by my Columbia e-pal and where the food was not the problem. The aftermath was. We were suckered by the lunch menu lying on a table outside, but it turned out we had descended into brunch hell, and huevos do make me nervous when they’re mostly what’s on offer. I wanted to leave immediately, but the host/manager was so professional and friendly and the salsa so lively if weirdly tangy I shut up and ordered $6 black bean soup, which turned out to be better than I expected if oddly rich. Bob succumbed to chicken chicharrone tacos, which were overstuffed with crunchy skin bits with meat attached plus generous guacamole; three of those came with decent black beans and mediocre orange rice for $12. He paid the relatively tiny check and we started walking. And aching. By the time we got home I felt like Mr. Creosote. Whatever they put in that food, it has the bad Indian/Houlihan’s effect. Bob asked first: WYGB? And we agreed. Nope. Average food was not worth the distention. But I do hope someplace better hires away that superb host/manager.

The underwhelming: Buvette in the West Village, where I met two friends for one of those annual-or-so catch-up sessions and where the setting definitely outdid the food. Even at $13, the brandade was no deal — bland would be an overstatement. I kept thinking about the time a French friend and I gave a party together and her BFF Ariane Daguin advised me: “Take the garlic out of the guacamole and put it in the brandade.” Except there was no guacamole to garlic to the rescue. And while I would always prefer a teaspoonful of food to a heaping ladleful, I still thought the portion and presentation were just daintily silly. WIGB? Allow me to blurb: “Buvette was cute but probably too precious to make it a destination again for me.”

Ends and odds: While I was neglecting my updates here, we also had experiences so predictably fine at Fairway Cafe & Mermaid Inn & Luke’s Lobster that they would be soporific to recount. But I do have to note Rainbow Falafel, the most famous stand at least near Union Square, was a downer. If those sandwich assemblers were erecting skyscrapers, every one would collapse. In a hail of hard pink tomato chunks.

New York minutes/Latish February 2013

February 2013

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.

New York minutes/December 2012

January 2013

The always good: Momofuku Ssam, where my consort and I ate dinner after the fabulous-as-promised “Searching for Sugar Man” and where I met up with friends for lunch the next day because I knew it would be an entirely different restaurant. Bob and I snared seats at the bar as soon as we walked in and got advice on either side on what to choose: unfishy Spanish mackerel with a schmear of black garlic plus lotus root and airy-crisp chips made from lime peel, then a creamy, light Jerusalem artichoke soup with snails, bits of pork jowl and sliced jalapeño that was just killer, every bite with each element alone and then with all combined. After a very large popcorn, we couldn’t finish the great spicy pork sausage and rice cakes with Chinese broccoli and Sichuan peppercorns (the cakes were like crunchy gnocchi). The bartender let me taste the Greek white, and it, too, was so good I felt safe ordering a bottle the next afternoon for friends who drink sauvignon blanc and Sancerre. The roast duck breast was, as always, stunningly good, as were the spicy fingerlings served in the set, although the duck dumplings were a little more fried than usual. I thought we had under-ordered in sharing those two dishes and insisted we try the duck wings. Which were pleasant enough but outshone by both the tempura squash and the watercress-apple-pumpkinseed salad on the plate. Wally was horrified when she saw the cook in the kitchen right next to our table drench the latter in duck fat, but not when she tasted it.

The vaut le schlep: Lao Dong Bei in Flushing, where I met the eating-Asian group I’ve been so fortunate to be invited to explore with and to whom I am so happy to leave the ordering. I arrived as the chef/owner and our Taiwanese-speaking leader were deep in discussion of all we needed to try to get a sense of the food from that part of China, formerly known as Manchuria, and he was translating that we would get “skin jelly” on the house. That turned out to be a sort of aspic meant to be dunked in a soy sauce-vinegar-garlic-ginger sauce, and it was the one dish I couldn’t brave. I usually can’t stomach lamb, either, but the slab of ribs that soon landed was exceptional: the meat tender, the crust crusty with black and white sesame seeds, cumin seeds and chile. (Coal is the cooking fuel in Dong Bei, that region.) It was rivaled only by the spicy quail, a platter of legs that may have been a bit overcooked but had great flavor and spicing, especially with the onions alongside (a tablemate likened them to liver and onions, but the little birds had none of that funky flavor). We also had two meatless dishes, “tiger vegetable,” which was mostly cilantro stems and jalapeños, and something off the specials on the wall in Chinese that the table translated as bracken (and was pretty great). “Fried pork in orange sauce,” as the menu had it, turned out to be very tender slices in a crisp but delicate coating (“thinking man’s General Pso’s?”). The showstoppers were served in hotpots over Sterno lit by the waitress/wife: the richest, most intense broth with chicken, mushrooms and vermicelli, followed by a whole fish in another rich broth with fermented tofu and glass noodles, both dishes seriously well-spiced (star anise?) After all that, our 24 steamed dumplings landed, stuffed with pork and pickled cabbage and made for dunking in the sauce from the skin jelly. WIGB? Actually, I would even on my own with a new crew, not just because the food was so eye-opening but because the owners were so thrilled to have a bunch of non-Chinese in the restaurant. The chef was clearly invested in us loving everything we ate, and his wife could not have been more eager to keep the customers satisfied. 44-09 Kissena Blvd., Flushing, 718 539 4100.

The happy-making, twice in a row: Toloache on the Upper East Side, where Bob and I warmed up after the outstanding Ann Hamilton installation at the Park Avenue Armory and again after the bloody-great “Django Unchained.” We got a nice booth for a quiet lunch to share the best-ever tortilla soup and then carnitas/nopales tacos, which the waiter warned were bite-size but were actually handfuls, and the huarache, a light masa cake filled with black beans, surrounded with chunks of chorizo and sauce and topped with ultra-creamy scrambled eggs. Even early on Saturday night, though, we could only get seats at the bar after calling to reserve, but the bartenders were excellent. We had to have the tortilla soup again, then the quesadilla with huitlacoche and truffle and more tacos, these filled with Modelo-braised brisket with tomatillo salsa and horseradish crema. WIGB? Absolutely. It’s a beautiful place and much more comfortable than the one in the Theater District. (That tortilla soup did such a good job of vanquishing Bob’s serial-killer cold that he insisted we stop and try the new Spanish LeChurro shop we passed nearby, where the hot chocolate with chilies was perfection although the churros themselves were doughy.)

The good again: Parm in Nolita, where we wound up after an Illy-stockup at DiPalo (best price in town) even though I had had dumplings on the brain on that day after Christmas — after reading this scary story on the train on industrial pork, eggplant parmesan sounded so much more enticing. We were lucky and had to wait only 15 minutes for a table to tuck into three great little salads, the pickles being the least surprising. Buffalo cucumbers were as good as you’d expect: chunks in a blue cheese dressing spiked with hot sauce, and excellent, while chickpeas in ranch dressing with celery qualified as genius. We should have split a hero; a roll was messy to eat once cut in half, but that eggplant was pretty fabulous. And of course we had to have the ice cream cake that had just been written up; I must not get out enough because it didn’t strike me as anything extraordinary aside from the strawberry goo holding the three flavors of ice cream together. WIGB? Anytime. The staff’s attitude is so upbeat, and the music was all flashbacks from my childhood.

The better than its ingredients: Tortaria just south of Union Square, where Bob and I ducked in for a quick lunch after the Greenmarket when all the cool joints mostly had eggs and after he Yelped it up and remembered he’d had a good fast lunch there. You order at a counter and sit at a table you hope has been wiped down, but the window area is as nice as the people, and the guacamole is way above average — we asked for spicy, and it was perfectly balanced with heat and richness; the huge bag of chips was obviously freshly fried. We split two plates of tacos, one with beef and the other carnitas, and both blew Chipotle out of the agua. Table salsas only enhanced the intense flavors. WIGB? Definitely. The people are pleasant, and the price is right, too. (Although I know the tradeoff is less-than-Chipotle meat.)

The undeniably good but probably doomed: Forager’s Table in Chelsea, where we hooked up for geographic convenience with a food aficionado in from Denver after my consort spoke at the School of Visual Arts and where the food and service were so impressive the near-emptiness of the nicely designed room was mystifying. We were disappointed the menu was so tiny compared with the extensive bait online, so Bob and I wound up ordering only appetizers after a shared (and superb) eggplant dip with cumin and lavash. His fluke carpaccio looked stunning, coated with toasted poppy seeds, and tasted sublime, with lemon vinaigrette, and my duck liver paté was fatty-satisfying, with perfectly grilled bread (and, for once, plenty of it) plus cornichons and grainy mustard. We only tasted Matt’s beautifully cooked fish with root vegetables. With a couple of glasses of wine each and a beer for him, it was $51 a person with tax and tip. WIGB? Hope so . . . Wish it had opened in our neighborhood.

The “how do you say kinks en Español?”: Casa Pomona on the Upper West Side, where a Spain-besotted friend and I landed for a drink in the first days after it was open and where it was one stumble after another. The worst was that the bartender offered to split the one glass of white he had left from one of the three bottles on the list, but he charged us for two. And I didn’t realize it until I was walking home, wondering how the tab was so high for three glasses of wine and one shared tapa, the migas. I’ve never had that in Spain, but I’m assuming it is not always a well-cooked egg topped with a little bit of chorizo and some dried croutons. WIGB? Probably, so Bob can try it. But the wine choices were so limited, and that little gouge didn’t help.

The not bad: Kelso Dining in Brooklyn, where I took Bob for lunch to try a Panamanian carimañola for a recipe I needed to develop. As good as those meat-filled yuca tubes were, the real stars on the table were the drinks: sorrel and tamarind, big glasses filled with ice and sweet-sour brightness. Both were perfect counterpoints to the richness of the fried yuca I also insisted on ordering, and to both the stewed chicken and the superb salt fish with rice and peas on the $10 lunch plate. It was like eating in the Caribbean. The owner and waitress couldn’t have been friendlier, even sending us off with a “souvenir” of the housemade hot sauce. WIGB? If I were in the neighborhood.

The port in a storm: A.G. Kitchen on the Upper West Side, where we landed after getting shut out of two other places (Loi, you had to hold a Tony Danza private party?) after the way overhyped “Chasing Ice.” It’s just the latest incarnation of the space, but the menu is more energetic. The hostess happily gave us a booth, and the waiter was patient. I didn’t try the burger one friend appeared to enjoy, but I’ll vouch for the fries. My salad was quite good, with Bibb lettuce, bacon and Cabrales dressing, and it was all of $9. Even better was Bob’s “samba” chicken, well-marinated and cooked juicy; The Cat loved the leftovers. Extra points for decent New Zealand sauvignon blanc for a non-gougey $36, and for a low noise level. WIGB? Why not?

The price is right: Cocina Economica on the Upper West Side, where we snared a table after an early showing of the seriously good “Silver Linings Playbook” and where the only thing that would keep me from going back was the space — it’s great-looking, but too many tables are crammed in so tightly the waiters can barely navigate. Everything was so cheap I hoped the chefs know restaurant math, because it’s hard to see how they’ll make money on an $8 skirt steak salad with avocado, lettuce, poblanos, jicama and cotija when it’s mostly meat. Bob’s braised pork loin for $13 was a mega-portion/plate as well, with Swiss chard, corn, green beans and pumpkin seeds. Maybe they’ll clean up on the ill-conceived avocado corn bread, baked to desiccation in a corn husk and desperately needing the superb salsas that arrived with it.

And the good as always when we’re eating close to home: Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, where we met up with friends in from Bucks County before a balloon party on Tryptophan Eve and where the service was especially ebullient and the food pretty much as reliable as always. We had a 6:30 reservation, so happy hour prices were in order; I got there last to find a mini fish taco was on its way for me and a full glass of the discounted wine was waiting. The other three shared oysters while I ate my three-bite tilapia with spicy mayo. I was trying to abstain and only had the lobster knuckles given escargot treatment, which certainly is a lovely way to get $14 for scraps. They were swimming in less butter than I expected, but they were certainly satisfying. I just tasted Bob’s good skate and watched our friends tear through the trout and the spaghetti topped with seafood salad. They were thrilled with the free chocolate dessert. And with the waiter, who recognized us from many Social Media Mondays and was fully engaged. We went back a couple of weeks later with one of Bob’s boyhood friends who now lives in Sweden, and he loved it, too.

New York minutes/October 2012

October 2012

The good: Swine in the West Village, where we met up with internet connections, which presented no end of issues — food, noise, tastes etc. And it was damned near perfect, probably partly because we went on a Monday night, when it was pretty empty. We got a boothette, so the noise level was bearable enough that four near-strangers could converse easily and share tastes and get away for about $80 a couple before tip. We split a salumi/charcuterie board that included pork rillettes, duck prosciutto and superb merguez, then a “toast” topped with smoked trout and celery root, outstanding sweet potato “fingerlings” in a blue cheese melt, very good deviled eggs and excellent mushroom-fava salad with pecorino and mint; we were also comped spicy duck fat cashews. Wines by the glass were better than from the tap. But the service was good  even though we were all olds (and never so happy to be so aged as when we saw another server working his way around another table pouring hooch down a marrow bone into kiddles’ mouths; we at least did not have to rent our food). WIGB? Absolutely. It’s so much closer than Brooklyn.

The really good with the right people: C&L Imperial in Flushing, where I was lucky enough to be invited to join a smart lunch crowd for 11 Taiwanese tastes for all of $15 a head. The place is pretty bare-bones, but one in the group had been there so many times we got great treatment, plus a comped dish of outstanding braised cabbage. As always, I was super-happy to let others maneuver through the menu, especially when I saw much of it was untranslated and more was heavy on the intestine side (no duck, only guts and tongue). So we started with an fascinating oyster pancake, spicy noodles with pork and “rice tube pudding,” with meat and mushrooms tucked among the grains. We had crispy “three-cup tofu” (cooked in equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine), weirdly good corn with beef off the specials posted on the wall, bitter melon and super-tender red-cooked pork ribs. Two of the best dishes sounded the funniest: “fly heads,” bits of minced meat mixed with chives and green peppers to resemble insects with eyes, and “putz” fish with little olive-like berries. Not one dish was a dud. WIGB? Can’t wait, with many other mouths. 59-14A Main Street.

The worth it: Tarallucci e Vino on the Upper West Side, where my consort and I wound up after the mind-expanding “Looper” after finding the new Casa Pomona still a long way from opening despite the NYT’s promise. It did cost a hundred bucks for a couple of glasses of wine each and three shared dishes, but the food was impressive even though we nearly had a breakup over the octopus. (I can’t eat it because it’s too human but figured I could just nibble my way around the “galette,” and of course it was three honkin’ chunks, so there was a bit of sad meltdown over why I didn’t remind him sooner.) Creamy mozzarella bruschetta with eggplant and tomato was just as good as the oozy mozzarella over roasted red peppers and grilled zucchini and eggplant (after you’ve eaten too much popcorn at the micey movies, there’s no such thing as too much mozzarella). Extra points for the bread basket, with at least three different varieties. WIGB? Sure, as long as Bob is paying.

The right place on the right night I: Murray’s Cheese Bar in the West Village, where we were able to walk right in after the gorgeous but snoozy “Detropia” and sit right down at the bar to explore that fever dream of a menu. The bartender did a great selling job, so we soon had enchiladas verde with mozzarella in tomatillo salsa, a Bibb lettuce salad with grilled nectarines, marcona almonds, Rogue’s smoky blue cheese and prosciutto crisps and a queso fundido made with three goat cheeses plus chorizo, to be scooped up with blue corn chips. Wines were made for cheese, and the bartender also brought us a taste of kombucha in case we leaned weird. WGIB? Absolutely. The best part is knowing you should order the “real” food and just go next door and buy the meats and cheeses for home.

The right place on the right night II: Mermaid Oyster Bar in the West Village, where we headed after a cookbook party close by that was light on the food if fulfilling on wine and company, and after passing up a couple of nearby new restaurants whose owners did not seem to have had any business training ($48 steak in a 12-seat cafe with no amenities?) It was early, so we were able to turn down a table next to the kitchen door in favor of two seats at the quiet bar, just in time for happy hour and discounted wine and snacks: shared crazy-hot shishito peppers, then avocado-shrimp slider and chicken wing “lollipops” with blue cheese for Bob and the always perfect wedge salad with blue cheese, bacon and tomato for me. WIGB: Sure — it’s always a solid choice in that neighborhood but especially at happy hour or on Social Media Monday.

The always good, not least for a show: Fairway’s cafe, where we met friends in from Seattle for one Sunday brunch and where we headed after the Greenmarket for another. At the first, they missed seeing a famous actress storm off and leave her husband the famous director alone with her barely touched omelet at the next table; at the second, a blowhard writer at the next table got so upset over his food being slow to arrive that he first berated the hard-running waitress, then jumped up, blustering at his glazed-eye companion: “I’m going to say something to Mitch. He knows who I am!” Maybe. But it didn’t look as if Mr. London cared. (Our cheeseburgers were great and actually landed faster than usual, BTW.)

New York minutes/Early July 2012

July 2012

The pretty good despite the MIA waitress: Bubby’s in Dumbo, where we took AC refuge for lunch after broasting at the outstanding Photoville in the Brooklyn Bridge Park. We got in just before a wedding party closed down the joint, so I guess I shouldn’t bitch that my consort had to go fetch water and then ketchup for us because the ditz of a waitress was nowhere to be found even at tip time. My BLT was about 90 percent B and came with good fries, while Bob’s chicken club with avocado plus salad made him extremely happy. The lime “press” turned out to be worth 7 bucks as inspiration alone, both for blogging and emulating. WIGB? Definitely, although the more we walked afterward the more I realized I need to do more homework before we cross the water. Just by wandering, we were able to experience overpriced, underwhelming cookies at One Girl Cookies and buy outstanding croissants and baguette at Almondine before checking out Forager’s and coming home with a wild cut of lamb shoulder from a butcher who trained himself to carve by book-learnin’.

The not bad despite the MIA waitress: Kefi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with photo-star friends in from Chicago plus his daughter and her boyfriend down from Columbia and where I was dreading the experience after a G-reader recently reported on a dinner in hell among the stroller brigade. But we were seated downstairs (next to the service area, unfortunately), and it was quiet enough to talk as we shared the reliably superb spreads and a bottle of Greek white. My macaroni and cheese was soupier than usual but had great flavor, even reheated next day, and everyone else seemed happy with fish, pasta, burger. WIGB? Not soon but inevitably. As we trudged there, we agreed we’ve stayed away because we’ve eaten the whole menu too often, and because Loi is so stellar. But there’s are reasons it’s constantly packed. Plus Momofuku Milk Bar is just up the avenue for the dessert you didn’t have.

The never-disappointing: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where we stopped for lunch on a brutally hot Sunday between Illy stocking-up at Di Palo and photo-gallerying at Anastasia (typically great show, by Paolo Pellizzari and his Noblex). My sincronizada with chorizo, avocado and super-spicy salsa verde was perfection, and Bob was surprisingly happy with his sopesitas, three of them, topped with chorizo, steak and nopales and paired with superb salsas. Our order took just short of forever (well, 40 minutes), but WIGB? Absolutely. Each dish was 10 bucks, the room is so nice and the drinks are so tantalizing unless it’s 100 degrees outside and you have miles to walk before you nap.

The time-warpy: Henry’s End in Brooklyn Heights, where friends from the neighborhood ushered us after the frustrating “Safety Not Guaranteed” down the block even though I was curious about the shiny new joint in a space one of those friends warned is a death sentence for restaurants. My crab-corn cakes (appetizer as entree) were surprisingly satisfying, and the Shinn rosé was a good deal at $32. We all shared tuna tartare and ribs to start; I got a taste of the special duck (seemed as if one old bird is designed to fit all sauces), and Bob took home his happy-making fried chicken. The waitress was a total trip, a Republican dream of happily working till you drop. WIGB? Probably not, pleasant as it was, even as we were seated next to the toilettes. It was like eating in the Hudson Valley in 1988. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, aside from the fact that it is 2012.

New York minutes/Early to mid-April 2012

April 2012

The totally good: Perla in the West Village, in the space that was our great friend Rolando’s magical Bellavitae, where we headed after I met my consort post-”Jiro” at IFC and where the wait was worth it, not least because it’s such a great corner on which to cool heels, with Amy’s Bread and Murray’s Cheese just across Sixth Avenue. We came back with heels cooled and bags full to be seated at a lovely booth with the most attentive service. And awesome food. Even Mr. Sprat agreed our shared foie gras tramezzini with pistachios and cherry were exquisite. And we both scored with garganelli with tripe and guanciale and with cavatelli with pancetta, egg and pecorino; both the portion size and the balance of flavors were faithfully Italian. But what made this a resounding yes to WIGB? was the service. Superb. 24 Minetta Lane, 212 933 1824.

The pretty good: ABV Wine Bar on the Upper East Side, where I lured Bob on a night when we both needed a diversion and when the prospect of a walk in the park followed by interesting food paid off big time. The place, in a long-abandoned brownstone, is a bigger spinoff of a tiny bar that opened not so long ago on Park Avenue, and the whole experience was like eating in Brooklyn. We snared seats at the bar and soon had interesting wines and an explanation of the name: (A(cohol) B(y) V(olume). We split a basket of decent fried smelt with how-can-you-go-wrong sriracha-tobiko sauce to start, then quite good gnocchi with root vegetables and mushrooms and then two scallops buried in cauliflower cream with cremini. A salad of bitter greens with banana-walnut butter, oats and shallot vinaigrette coulda been dessert. WIGB? Absolutely, but only on the early side. I suspect it might get loud later. 1504 Lexington Avenue at 97th Street, 212 722 8959.

The good again: The second-floor cafe at MOMA, where we settled in after the kick-in-the-head Cindy Sherman show with a friend in from DC and where the food/service/setting again matched the museum quality. Kainaz and I were hungry earlier than the breakfaster who’d had oatmeat with egg, tofu and sriracha, but Bob indulged us, so we were able to beat the line and get a nice spot at the window counter. We split the excellent bruschetti (cauliflower, mozzarella with olives, hummus with prosciutto and arugula), then rigatoni with pork and fennel in a tomato cream sauce (needed salt), salad with bresaola, candied pecans, dried cranberries and blue cheese, and the always-good mushroom tart. It did add up ($77 with 10 percent tip), but the guy who paid agreed: It was worth it.

The great with an asterisk: Excellent Thai in Flushing, where a friend in an eating group lured us for a Sunday lunch meet-up and where I got a refresher course in the payoff in letting go. With 12 at our big table, I just sat back and let the leader lead; he was the one who lived in Taiwan and who had sussed out the owner’s Burmese roots and homed in on the unusual offerings on a menu encompassing Thai, Malaysian, Burmese and Yunnan. So it was one dazzlement after another: Yellow tofu salad (made from peas, not soybeans, and much richer-tasting) with a spicy sauce. Tea leaves salad, like nothing I have ever tasted, with both crunch and heat. Shredded pork with bamboo shoots, which the outstanding waitress said we could not like (the shoots were kinda funky, but in a great way). Sautéed sweet potato leaf, which could have been anything but was perfectly done anything. Green beans, crunchy okra and baby eggplant Belaran, in a rich curry sauce. Beef with ginger and scallion, though, was perfectly cooked and greaseless but tasted like something you could get anywhere. The fins-down winner, though, was the whole fish steamed in chile-lemon sauce. It had flavor down to its essence — Le Bernardin would have a hard time improving on it. All that came to about $28 a head with tax and tip. WIGB? No, for only two reasons — without a guide through the menu, lunch might be pretty ordinary, and then there is the little issue of Hunan House being just a couple of blocks away. (Compromise: Eat elsewhere and pick up a smoked duck to take home.) 3650 Main Street, 718 886 8972.

The half-goods: The Tangled Vine and Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side on a Friday early evening, where and when we shared wine with a friend who knows her way around a happy hour but had never been to the kiddle kraziness uptown. She was worried we would be turned off by the B rating at the first stop, but I have to say that was the least of my worries heading in and heading out — when I would have awarded an F to the “servers.” Gruner for $6 a generous pour, a table overlooking the sidewalk and pretty great chickpea fritters otherwise added up to a WIGB: Yep, but only at happy hour. As for the second stop, a place I’d sworn off since an abysmal experience at Landmarc in the dread TWC, I’ll say I don’t regret the revisit. The place was overrun with human larvae, but we were sort of shielded in a booth, and the food was distracting (bland deviled eggs jazzed up with sauces from Buffalo chicken wings). WIGB? Oh, why not?

The dispiriting: The newish Jackson Diner on University Place, where Bob and I headed for lunch after the accountant near the Wednesday Greenmarket and where I knew on walking in the door how I would feel on exiting. But I also knew he needed to eat, and fast, so I shut up and loaded my plate with poorly fried pakora and bland “curries” and then sat and waited for (pretty good) naan to eat it all with. Tandoori vegetables tasted better than I expected, if sweet and gloppy, but the whole experience was just unsatisfying. I have never once gone back for seconds at the buffet at Chola, where the room is not papered with “don’t waste food” and other warnings. But here I debased myself, desperately seeking satisfaction. Then both of us hit the intestinal inflation wall at the exact same minute. Even though the people were so nice, and the room so pleasant (we two got a booth for four), WIGB? How do you say “emphatically no” in Hindi?

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/End of August 2011

September 2011

The good: Frankie’s 17 on the Lower East Side, where we headed after the Eater/Food 52 Bib party and its clever tidbits and cocktails. The waiter was capable if disengaged, but the food more than compensated, especially the house-made cavatelli with Faicco’s hot sausage and sage butter. WIGB? If I were in the neighborhood; otherwise, it’s on to 570 with great anticipation. 17 Clinton Street, 212 253 2303.

The better: Coppelia on the West Village/Chelsea border, where we stopped for Saturday lunch after the Greenmarket and left impressed with everything. Usually an empty restaurant is a sloppy restaurant, but the staff could not have acted happier to serve us, and both the flounder tacos and the pork-stuffed Cubano were little masterpieces of balanced tastes and textures. The two breads that arrived first were also outstanding. Plus the place looks great, and the music was lively but not loud and not the inevitable Buena Vista Social Club. WIGB? Happily. 207 West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth, 212 858 5001.

The great: Fedora in the West Village, where we scored a table after seeing “Tabloid” the night before hurricane lockdown and where we would have been happy to count that as our last meal if necessary. Everything sounded tantalizing and turned out to be more creative than it read. We just had three appetizers: Egg in a hole with tripe ragout and cheese was a little exercise in overkill, and the charred squid was dainty but gutsy. Best of all was what was described as cured char with potato pancake, avocado and tobiko, which turned out to be more like a dosa, with a light pancake enfolding the other ingredients. Brilliant. Add in good wine, great service and a tolerable noise level and there’s no question of WIGB. 239 West Fourth Street between West Tenth and Charles, 646 449 9336.

The spectacular: Torrisi Italian Specialties even at lunchtime, where we headed on a Di Palo’s run for the cheapest Illy in town. Bob is down on sandwiches but was pretty happy with the two-fisted Italian combo, stuffed with meats and cheese for all of $8. Broccoli rabe for $3 was even better, almost half the little bowl made of up garlic and hot peppers. But the knockout was the $10 eggplant Parmesan; exquisite is not a word you associate with that concoction, but this was a marvel of very thin, perfectly breaded-and-fried eggplant slices layered with just enough cheese and sauce. It was an architectural marvel as well as a taste sensation, as good as the best in Parma. The server also deserves points for  being so upbeat and accommodating even when the tiny place was packed. WIGB? In an unhyped second. 250 Mulberry Street, 212 965 0955. (Also have to rave about Di Palo’s, which has expanded its display cases and is now even easier to navigate and which is always a trip. The owner waited on us, giving us tastes of two pecorinos and a Parmigiano and taking his time explaining mozzarella and sausage options. Plus he calculated the tab to the penny before ringing it up on the old-fashioned register: $77.66, including six cans of Illy, half at $9.99, the rest at $8.99.)

The also-rans: A) Hecho en Dumbo turned out to be better than it had any right to be at brunch once we settled in at a quiet table and saw the menu was kinda gouge-y unless you want a honking margarita — I took one for the team and it definitely mellowed me out even before my exceptional torta of rajas con queso landed. Bob’s chilaquiles also redeemed the reputation of that dish, which is so often just dishwatery dull.

B) The New French in the West Village, where we wound up with three friends at one’s suggestion after Pearl was overrun early after “The Future” (and let me warn you — you’ll need more friends to understand how much that movie had going on). I had pretty much given up on the place since the chef went westward and the sidewalk stressed everyone else, but we did well, thanks to Bob braving the elements and getting us one o’ those sidewalk tables, risking the rain but saving our eardrums. And the cooking has held up. Cobb salad reinvented had no poultry but blue cheese dressing, all nicely done.

C) Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side, where we had a nice quiet early dinner and two half-bottles of red/white wine at $20 apiece. Excellent deviled eggs were set over chopped lettuce, which kept them stable and added crunch. And the option of bacon in a chopped salad was genius, especially when that means lardons. Bob was not as thrilled with his chicken with rice and beans, though; the side seemed lackluster.

New York minutes/Early May 2011

May 2011

The pretty good: Zero Otto Nove on Arthur Avenue, where we led two friends after a long morning at the New York Botanical Garden and its underwhelming azalea gardens and where the magic was missing but the price was right. We were fried and still had eight stops to make in provisioning, so I’m hoping that’s why the pizzas were not as dazzling as our last. The potatoes on the one with porcini and mozzarella were cold and oily, although the crust was charred/puffy perfect. And the one with broccoli rabe, sausage and mozzarella felt like more of a struggle to eat. The arugula salad lived up to our memory, although the escarole with eggplant and olive reminded us all why we don’t usually order escarole. We left convinced they’d cranked up the AC to drive us out to close for a break before dinner. WIGB? Absolutely. It is the best option for sit-down food in the neighborhood. And the tab with tip was like $50. 2357 Arthur Avenue, the Bronx, 718 220 1027.

The addictive: Luke’s Lobster on the West Side, where we are now one roll away from a freebie after accumulating three loyalty cards at various outlets. For $15, you can’t get a better experience, with a good amount of meat and just the right amount of butter and mayonnaise. As my consort, the Maine Photo Workshop veteran, noted, you would pay $20 for something less satisfying at the source of those lobsters. We split a bag of chips and a lemon-lime soda and were out for $34. WIGB? Definitely once more to collect on that card. 426 Amsterdam Avenue near 80th Street, 212 877 8800.