Archive for the ‘fish’ Category

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/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 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 July 2011

July 2011

The seriously good: The Dutch, again, in SoHo, where my consort and I were able to walk right in after an early showing of “The Trip” at IFC on a holiday weekend and where the food was even better than we’d remembered. We got a nice corner table where we could sit side by side (inspiring far younger couples) in the happy front room, which is much quieter than the bar, and if the waiter was a bit ditsy and distracted and emptied the rosé bottle too fast, the busboy/runner was a total pro (little things that mean a lot: before clearing the silverware between courses, he discreetly checked the check to see what was arriving next). We’d had popcorn, so I wasn’t going to tackle a main course, which meant Bob got a rare shot at the duck option I always hog. And it was of course perfect, plus the dirty rice with it seemed even dirtier than the first go-round. We split asparagus with pork belly, poached egg and shaved bonito to start, which gets A for effort. Even the whole loaf of warm cornbread that arrives first seemed to have come into its own. But the total winner was my dressed crab, set over avocadoey Green Goddess in a Bloody Mary pool. That is the most amazing combination since the crab-jalapeño crostini at Locanda Verde. WIGB? Every night if I could. The food was even more enjoyable after the fussy stuff in the well-made movie. 131 Sullivan Street at Prince, 212 677 6200.

The seriously lame: The new Zero Otto Nove in the Flatiron, where we made the mistake of heading after the Greenmarket on Fourth of July weekend and where the fact that only three tables were occupied in the huge room should have been a warning that this would not end well. And of course the pizza we remembered as so great on Arthur Avenue, made by the same guy we’d seen tossin’ there, was half-assed, with a doughy crust and sloppily disbursed porcini and grape tomatoes over the mozzarella and Gorgonzola. The eggplant parmesan we shared to start was nearly cold at the center, which made its heaviness fork up even gloppier. The air conditioning was also emitting an annoying high-pitched whine, although the place looks to have cost a bloody fortune to design. But all that would be forgiven if not for the asshole waiter. He was not happy that he kept getting interrupted in his endless specials recitation by busboys trying to shove wads of cardboard to stop the table from rocking, on both sides. Then, when I asked the price of the special pizza, he just said: “How should I know?” Well, if you were going to be the one paying, Bub, you could keep your little secret. (He did admit what I suspected: It would be a lot more than pizzas on the menu.) And when I didn’t finish my half of the eggplant, he asked why. Excuse me? That’s between me and my hips. But his worst offense was lounging near our table so we couldn’t talk. Or dis the joint. WIGB? Not even for free pizza. Afterward we walked through Eataly to see if it was busy on that dead weekend, and we both agreed we’d have been happier eating in the Birreria. . .

The pretty good: Tenpenny in the Gotham Hotel in the Theater District, where we headed after the showing of students’ work at ICP and where the quiet alone would make it vaut le mini-voyage. The over-lit room is strange, and the emptiness didn’t make it any more inviting to us walk-ins, particularly after I’d gotten some bullshit about no tables when I’d called to reserve. But the servers were efficient, and the wine was generously poured. Pork belly tots, an appetizer, tasted underwhelming, neither porky nor totty enough. A starter of mixed spring vegetables was superb, though: roasted, raw, candied & crisped. And the black garlic spaghettini with lump crab, chorizo and charred scallions qualified as brilliant, one of the best pasta dishes ever. WIGB? Absolutely, even just to sit at the bar for a snack. Cuz it’s a wasteland around ICP. 16 East 46th Street, 212 490 8300.

The pretty reliable: Recipe, again, for my welcome back to this time zone after Italy; it’s always best there early at night before everyone gets anxious about turning tables. The cooking was not quite spot-on (pork was done to chew-toy state, and duck was too rare, and not in a good way). But the service was great. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 81st Street, 212 501 7755. Under the same category, file Luke’s Lobster just down the avenue, where we collected our free roll after having bought 10. And that one was just as good as the first one.

The always good, even better with Twitter discount: Mermaid Inn uptown, where Bob and I loved our two most recent dinners even more for 20 percent off thanks to the secret code of the night. A table on the sidewalk only made things more enjoyable on a hot night. Both times Bob had the mustard-crusted trout with crushed cherry tomatoes and spinach; I had fine roasted cod with truffled mashed potatoes once and just a perfect soft-shell crab appetizer the second outing. (Seared shisito peppers were too bland, though.) A bottle of rosé went fine with each. WIGB? No question. It’s the best place for many blocks. Plus I sent Coloradans there and they were blown away. 568 Amsterdam near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The barely bearable: The newish Spice, where we met two friends for an early dinner rather than risk the new Saravanaa and where my promise of relative quiet was a joke. It wasn’t even full and we couldn’t hear each other talk, and we all had travel tales (they were just back from Paris, Bob from Oslo). And the waitress needed remedial English. Plus lessons in how to pour wine. But if was not cheap, the food was better than it had any right to be, especially the duck wrap (although with two few lettuce leaves provided), the papaya salad and the crispy duck main course. Even the Massaman vegetable curry was above average. WIGB? Unfortunately, yes, because of where it is, and what a bargain it is. But Mermaid never looked more enticing when we walked past afterward. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

The port in a literal storm: Market Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, where a friend in from Veneto and I retreated as the rain was threatening when he had only a quick window of time for catching up before his flight home after going to B&H. I heard no complaints about his steak frites although I should probably not have dissuaded him from ordering the salmon he really wanted after a week of too many sandwiches in the Outer Banks. And I had no complaints about my BLT, which was packed fatter with bacon than any I have ever eaten; there was more than enough to kittybag. Good fries with both were also copious. I don’t recall the service but will add redeeming points for the window table with a fabulous view of those buckets of rain. WIGB? Probably. Because I need to find more places around B&H and the 42d Street movie houses. 496 Ninth Avenue near 38th Street, 212 564 7350.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2010

September 2010

The pretty good: Choptank in the West Village, where my consort and I headed in search of seafood when Pearl was closed after the outstanding “Soul Kitchen” at IFC on Fashion Freaks Out Night on Bleecker. It was relatively early, so it was seductively quiet at first, and the reception could not have been warmer; they let us move tables twice. But the menu was a bit of a puzzler, equal parts straightforward and tantalizing. I wish Bob had seen the waiter’s face when he asked about the FLT (fish stick, lettuce, tomato) and followed up with: Is the fish frozen? (Maybe you have to see the movie.) No, he swore, “we make everything from scratch.” But he redeemed himself on bringing my second glass of good $9 rosé from Languedoc and insisting I finish the last tiny sip of the first. I had wanted fried oysters, but Bob talked me into the $9 shrimp tacos, which were exceptional: perfectly fried rock shrimp on blue corn tortillas with a cumin-lime slaw and a lively salsa. Then he tried to humor me by getting the $10 fried oysters, and they were fine little specimens in a good crust but unfortunately fried imperfectly, to doughiness. Not coincidentally, the place was getting busier. So his $22 skate with spaetzle, brown butter and caraway was flawed by the greasy frying; otherwise it was a beautifully balanced dish. And my $12 white gazpacho with Maine crab salad was not just inspired but impeccably executed. WIGB? Absolutely. Price, service and location are all right. 308-10 Bleecker Street off Seventh Avenue South, 212 675 2009.

The adequate: Spice, the one just off Union Square, where we ducked in on a rushed death march from the Greenmarket to Joe’s Dairy for smoked mozzarella for a picnic and where I felt a little guilty at bitching after I tucked into my “duck wrapped.” It’s pretty great considering the price (free at lunch with a main course), the spiffy room and the snappy service. You get a surprisingly generous amount of smoky-tasting duck chunks with vegetables to be wrapped into iceberg lettuce leaves with cracklings and dunked into a soy-sort of sauce. I didn’t even care that my green curry was mostly dull and hard-to-eat slivers of vegetables like green peppers and carrots. Bob was happy with his steamed dumplings and eggplant curry, too. And with tax & tip it was less than $20, I think. WIGB? Inevitably. Location, location, price. 39 East 13th Street, 212 982 3758.

New York minutes/Early September 2010

September 2010

The pretty good: Mermaid Inn in our neighborhood, where I met my consort after his Columbia lecture gig on one of those miserable nights Al Gore warned us were coming, when we had to flee our sweltering kitchen yet again. After hearing the din inside, I chose an outside table, and the breeze made it bearable. As did an excellent waiter. And a glass of rosé right away. My soft-shell crab sandwich with avocado and bacon and a scattering of fries was more than decent, and Bob’s trout was cooked right and came with excellent potatoes. As a friend had reminded us, though, the place makes its profits on the wine — it’s marked up way more than the food. WIGB? Anytime. 568  Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 4300.

The not bad: Land Thai, where we hooked up with friends on another night when our kitchens were furnaces and where we cooked up a plan as we waited on the sidewalk for a table — retreat to their place for more wine once we were ejected, as we inevitably would be. So we clipped through our meal, sharing a bottle of typically syrupy Torrontes plus excellent pea shoots with garlic and an entree of wok-charred squid with a superb spicy sauce (wisely racheted back to medium) plus a great rendition of pad see yew with beef, perfectly cooked duck and, unfortunately, pretty grim fried rice with salmon (it was like what you might whip up from a kitty bag with a bit of leftover fish). WIGB? Undoubtedly. It’s great value and a nice venue with a cheery staff and lively cooking. You just need a living room close by to retreat to for conversation. 450 Amsterdam near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.

The adequate: Papatzul in SoHo, where we stopped in while furniture shopping on a Sunday because we both remembered the price and a torta and were willing to forget Bob’s disappointing chilaquiles last time we were there. And that sandwich was pretty damn good once again, even though the cheese seemed more Oaxacan than Manchego; the balance of chorizo, avocado, beans and chipotle mayonnaise in crisp roll was nearly perfect. Bob, once again, got the corta end of the stick; his tacos with carnitas needed more something — salsa, vegetables? — to bring the huge mound of juicy (dare I say succulent?) meat into proportion with the four tortillas. We only drank water and signed up for the Tasting Mexico Passport on his iPhone to get 10 percent off the tab (plus a chance to win a trip to the land of the decapitated), so we walked out for less than $20 before tip. WIGB? Sure; the music was fabulous and the waiter was energetic and the price was right. 55 Grand Street near West Broadway, 212 274 8225.

The convenient: Canteen 82, where we headed for a quick lunch while rug mats were being cut at a store on Amsterdam. Although the place was nearly empty, cobwebs seemed to be forming on a couple with a baby in a stroller at another table, but our food came relatively fast, starting with a scallion pancake that was less incinerated than the one a friend and I shared last time. It didn’t taste much of scallion and the sauce didn’t taste like much of anything, but the latter did have a few shreds of ginger that we used to enliven the sesame noodles. Bob loves fried dumplings, so we had those instead of the soup kind, and I could only eat one; the filling was too porky for me. The salad, once again, saved the lunch, with mango, avocado, jicama and tiny tomatoes atop the greens. Even the dressing on that, like everything else, was surprisingly bland, and as yet another couple came in with a young kid, we realized why: It’s a cage for baby pork (as some restaurant in Spy once referred to holding pens for stroller rats). WIGB? I’d like to say no, but the room is much more appealing than any Chinese restaurant for miles. 467 Columbus Avenue near 82d Street, 212 595 4300.

The abysmal: Le Monde, where we met friends in from Chicago to drop off his baby at Columbia, where Bob was speaking late. The location and the idea of a sidewalk cafe had seemed ideal, but I guess our memories of the place were a little too misty-colored. We wound up sitting inside because it was so miserable outside, and our table was awkward, our waitress even more so (and neglectful to boot). Even worse, the food made me embarrassed for New York. I didn’t taste our friends’ entrees, but we all shared a salad made with anemic tomatoes (in August!) When was the last time you got butter pats in wrappers, all melted and chilled back together? My duck sausage was not cooked so much as fried into a chew toy (The Cat liked it fine next day), and the potatoes with it were an inch deep in salt (and I can eat salt straight). Bob’s steak was not-great chewy meat with oversalted sides, too. All of which would have been tolerable if we had maybe had a waitress whenever more wine was needed. WIGB? Bob will be up there constantly, but it’s dead to me. Surely there has to be somewhere decent to reconnoiter?

New York minutes/Mid-April 2010

April 2010

The pretty good: Pearl Oyster Bar, where my consort and I headed after the slowly transporting “Mid-August Lunch” at Film Forum and where we were obviously too mellow and willing to wait half an hour for seats at the bar and then a short eternity for our food from a slammed kitchen. Bob’s whole roasted pompano qualified as superb, and beyond generous with roasted shiitakes, red peppers, haricots vert, fennel and tomatoes plus a huge handful of fresh herbs. And of course the bartender/waitress was outstanding, accommodating us through various glasses of white wine (big points for a list where five glasses cost the same as one bottle so we didn’t have to beat ourselves up about not being forward-thinking). But I chose the place because I had that “baby lettuce” salad with Fourme d’Ambert on my brain after a large popcorn, and it was a major fail. I think there were two leaves of green on the plate; all the others were red or worse (not my favorite, to say the least), and they were the size of Paul Bunyan’s hands. WIGB? Undoubtedly. It is quintessential New York. 18 Cornelia Street, 212 691 8211.

The not bad: Dickson’s Farmstand in Chelsea Market, where I made a special trip after the Union Square Greenmarket to try the chili after spotting it too late the week before. And it was vaut le voyage. I’m not much on chili, but great meat makes a serious difference, and this was topped with homemade crema (my new obsession). A hefty cup for $7 came with a buttery roll that The Cat thoroughly enjoyed when I brought a cup home for Bob. WIGB? Absolutely, but next time I might spring for the miso sausage with kimchi or some other special. The new wall of condiments is also tempting. 75 Ninth Avenue, 212 242 2630.

New York minute/End o’ June 2009

June 2009

The decent: Blue Water Grill, where my consort and I wound up in desperation post-Greenmarket after finding BLTFish is no longer open for lunch at all(!) when Bob, coming off a week of really bad eating, decided what he really wanted was fish. Try finding that at midday on any Saturday, when real chefs are sleeping in and letting egg jockeys sling omelets and worse. He wound up ordering $16 scallops (with favas, asparagus and gnocchi in morel sauce) because the main fish offering, Chilean sea bass, should not even be on the menu. And I didn’t mind that my $17.50 crab cake sandwich on burger bun tasted mostly of the heavy garnishes: avocado and chipotle sauce. I don’t know why the kitchen even bothers with the jicama slaw, though. Does anyone eat shredded shirt box? Gruner and rosé were each worth the $10, and the waiter, beaten as he looked toward the end of another day of egg hell, was superb. Whoever’s managing the staff is doing a hell of a job (as opposed to a heckuva) because even the runner was upbeat, and the reception men and women were seriously cheery. 31 Union Square West at 16th Street, 212 675 9500.

New York minute/Latish June 2009

June 2009

The reliable: Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, where our usual fine food, cheap wine and good service were enhanced by a couple of sides sent over by a friend who spotted us across the crowded room. We had already finished our shared gazpacho with crab and whole roasted trout with fried potatoes when our usual (superb) waitress set down new flatware and then expertly grilled asparagus with aged provolone and a bowlful of sensational buttery-tasting lentils, but they both were so good we kept eating. Who cared that the fish tasted the way so much farmed fish does, of only the grain it had been fed? WIGB? Always, especially if my grocer is in the house so we can reciprocate. 578 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

New York minutes/Earlyish June 2009

June 2009

The good: Dim Sum Go Go in Chinatown, where a friend and I sat for 2 1/2 hours over exactly $27 worth of food, tax and tip while the waiters just kept refilling the teapot and water glasses. At a nice window table we split steamed dumplings (including duck, Chinese parsley, seafood), fried turnip cakes and shiu mai, all faultless. So what if half the other patrons came in clutching guidebooks and the only Asians in the joint were staff? It’s clean and bright and hospitable, not to mention very easy to talk there. WIGB? Anytime. 3 East Broadway off Chatham Square, 212 732 0797.

The seriously good: Bar Boulud, where a friend and I wound up with a great sidewalk table after an odd little evening of Will “Tear Down This Myth” Bunch and “Laughing Liberally” in the Theater District; we just wanted salad and a glass of wine, but $12 for either seemed a little steep at the first places we considered, and PJ Clarke’s looked and sounded like a 20-something WASP convention in Bedlam. So we took our $24 across the street. Of course once we sat down salads seemed absurd when there was all that charcuterie to be had, so she ordered Grand-pere and I chose the excellent $15 tourte de canard, with foie gras layered throughout. My white was all of $9, but her red took forever to arrive, as did her knife. Bread, though, was excellent. The waiter seemed disappointed by our dainty order, although he warmed right up when I asked for a kitty bag for my half-eaten paté. WIGB? Such a deal! And Wyl-E was so happy. 1900 Broadway near 63d Street, 212 595 0303.

The “terrific:” Kefi, yet again, where my friend in from a dining wasteland was quite pleased and not just because we were comped really good orzo with shrimp, feta, spinach and tomatoes. The waiter listened when he wanted something more austere than the glass of white I ordered while waiting for him, and the bottle whose name I didn’t note was a step up and poured at just the right pace as we split the always-great spreads and then swordfish and striped bass (the latter made a superb lunch next day to share with The Cat WCTLWAFW). Gary paid, which should have made me feel terrible, but the place is such a bargain. WIGB? Very soon, I’m sure. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.

The oddly off: The New French, where it was damn lucky the food was as spectacular as always and the design holds up because the service and noise level were mortifying. I didn’t realize what a bad choice it would be for the combination of a soft-spoken scholarly writer and someone who, in the immortal phrase of a friend in Treviso, “chews words.” I couldn’t hear her, and she had it even worse — at one point she thought I was talking about Craig Claiborne rather than John Hess and reacted as if I had said Paula Deen was the new Julia Child. The waitress was an absolute ditz in a half-full room: took forever to come over, had to be hailed for a second glass of rosé, forgot my friend’s second beer, never refilled the water glasses, had to be hailed for the check, had to be hailed again to be told she overcharged me by $4 (sparkling/Spanish/what’s the diff?). And if I had to hear the same track of the Mamas and Papas blasting over all the braying one more time. . . . Still, WIGB? Absolutely. That Cheddarburger with heap o’ fries is just the best. Friend was happy with fresh tuna sandwich, too. And they let us sit far, far longer than Pearl would. 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.