Archive for the ‘Greek’ Category

New York obits

September 2014

Guilt at least is a motivator. When anything dies, remorse sets in faster than rigor mortis, and suddenly here are all these restaurants going under before I could either praise ’em or trash ’em. The first and worst was almost too embarrassing to write about, so the months flew by, and then we saw a new sign over the grimy entrance. A friend who lives in the neighborhood and had steered us right in the past suggested the hellhole over the winter, and only once we’d been seated did he volunteer that he had never braved the place. Suffice it to say the food and prices were all a classic demonstration of why Indian just can’t get a break in this town. Everything was bland and bloating and priced to keep anyone from eating as you would in the Subcontinent. I couldn’t even get it up for a hugely negative WIGB, and then we walked by recently and saw a new sign. For a place that cannot be any worse. (Update: It’s changed again. . . Reincarnation lives!)

Now I see Cocina Economica, our Sunday reliable, is no more. We went there more times than I can count, always for the torta and the cemita with spicy fries, each for about what Chipotle charges for a burrito alone. The kitchen was amazingly consistent, if often brunch-poky, and those excellent chorizo sandwiches and those fine fries never varied. The mystery is how a restaurant with Michelin, Zagat, Trip Advisor etc. decals on the door can go under. Unless it was because a Chipotle opened right around the corner on Broadway.

And then there was Seersucker, which we quite liked in a “this kind of resto could never survive in our neighborhood” way. The cocktail menu was particularly happy-making for my consort, who has started to see barmanship as more worthy of megabucks than mere wine selection. I’m a little fuzzy on what we ate cuz my photos also were, but I know I liked my ricotta gnocchi with bacon and the biscuits with butter and molasses butter and a couple of salads, plus the room and the service and the lighting.The whole situation makes me think of that old saying: “She was good, as cooks go. And as good cooks go, she was gone.”

The demise of Loi only mystifies as to why it took so long. We went there repeatedly, since it was our Fairway default after movies at Lincoln Square or Lincoln Plaza, but we never went excitedly. On our last drop-in, with the Bugses, we shared spreads and a bottle of wine at the (as always) underoccupied bar and were even comped desserts, but the place still had the stench of death about it even as the middle-of-the-road menu at Cafe Luxembourg kept the hordes coming. Can I indulge in some Realtor-speak? Put a Shake Shack in there. Nothing ambitious will work if even all the vaginal mean-muscle of the hometown paper could not undoom the location.

New York minutes

March 2013

The good: Montmartre in Chelsea, where my consort and I hooked up with friends willing to be early birds to try a restaurant open only a few days but certain to be packed soon and where our rewards started with a nice quiet table downstairs. As always with a Little Wisco joint, the service was attentive and the kitchen was not afraid of flavor or fat. Everything on the menu sounded tantalizing, and the “canapé” of celeriac in a sort of mousse topped with pickled grape sent the right message as soon as we’d ordered. Because we couldn’t order a couple of apps to take the edge off immediately, because it would tax the kitchen, we held off and just shared one, of tiny, tender escargot teamed with great garlic sausage, Swiss chard and crunchy, spicy little crumbs of potato. Our server used everything but the word stew in describing the veal blanquette, and she was right: it was a deconstructed classic, with tender chunks of meat and almost no sauce surrounded by mushrooms and Thumbelina carrots, with a little bowl of sensational mustard spaetzl on the side (looked like fries, tasted like pungent pasta). I only snared a taste of the skate St. Malo, a crisp fillet laid over Savoy cabbage with bacon cooked in Riesling with mustard, so can only say it seemed to make one friend happy. And if my ample portion of fluke was not especially juicy, it was almost superfluous since the creamed leeks and chili-crab sauce with it were so satisfying. We all shared the dessert gougeres, which sounded like profiteroles, with their chocolate sauce and toasted hazelnut,s but were in fact cheesy more than creamy-puffy. The wine list seems pretty steep, though, with the cheapest bottle (the one we chose) at $40. (Entrees were in the mid to high $20s.) WIGB? Soon, I hope. 158 Eighth Avenue near 18th Street, 646 596 8838.

The relatively good: Zero Otto Nove on Arthur Avenue, where Bob and I stopped first on a field trip out of the house on a Saturday and where, as always, the setting — Italo-Disneyesque as it is — represented half the allure. We got there early and did not have to wait long, which was a good thing because the two hostesses were having a severe breakdown in communication. And so we soon had a table upstairs overlooking the skylit dining room, and we had a potato-sausage-smoked mozzarella pizza on that table in the time it took me to get to and from the bathroom. The crust was a little chewy, but the balance of other ingredients compensated. A salad of escarole with marinated eggplant and olives made an ideal dessert; we split a generous glass of okay California sauvignon blanc (someday someone is going to have to explain how pinot grigio came to be the taste of Italy when it is the most insipid of so many whites). WIGB? Absolutely. The “Italian” restaurants have always been more Albanian, but you can forgive a lot in a setting that transporting.

The not-as-bad-as-I-anticipated: Pylos in the East Village, where we met up with a knowledgeable friend with news to celebrate and where I am very glad I was not a total bitch in pooh-poohing it because . . . she paid, even after we definitely over-ordered. I had basement-level hopes for a restaurant that I thought of as a holdover from the days when that neighborhood was a food wasteland, thanks to denizens who were either too poor to eat out or too rich-druggie to care about eating. But the place looks as polished and fresh as when we were there for a press dinner eons ago, we got a nice corner banquette and the food was surprisingly imaginative. The bean spread that came with warm pita may have been having an identity crisis, but two of the three spreads we immediately ordered compensated (the eggplant purée was as bland as the beans; tzatziki and taramasalata nearly reached Kefi level). Saganaki landed while our pita platter was empty, so it congealed while we waited; artichoke moussaka, grape leaves and oddly sweet and slightly chalky gigantes were tepid even at their hottest spots. We shared a whole grilled branzino and somehow got talked into both roasted potatoes and a sensational side of chard and spinach stewed with celery and fennel. Because it was a celebratory night, one bottle of red led to two glasses more — and two glasses sent back because they did not smell corked but certainly tasted wan. WIGB? Sure. If someone’s treating and I don’t mind rushed-to-impatient service and wine bottles stowed on the floor between pours.

New York minutes/Late September 2012

September 2012

The always good: Loi on the Upper West Side, where a friend was wise enough to reserve for seven of us as a retreat after “The Master” (AKA “2 hours & 16 minutes on Bullshit Mountain”) and where, as we had hoped, the room was quiet and the staff was accommodating. We mostly shared double orders of appetizers — the amazing eggplant, calamari with pistachios and gigantes with feta plus the rather tough cheese and spinach pies — and two superb Greek salads followed by meat and veg renditions of moussaka (I only tasted the mushroom, and it was rather brick-like). With two shared bottles of white wine, the tab was $48 a person, which seemed reasonable given the quantity of food and the swanky place itself. I’d take points off for wine that needed chilling (both bottles), slow service/busing (we had to stack empty dishes to make room on the table) and tough pita and dried-out whole-grain bread. I’d add a couple back on, though, for the grape leaves and yogurt served gratis. No question on WIGB, especially considering they let us sit there for hours while we chewed over just how craptastic the movie was.

The pretty good: Empellon in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up after confronting a 25-minute wait at Buvette nearby and where we walked right in, sat right down and had guacamole and two salsas on the table in what felt like seconds. The arbol was great, but the smoked cashew with chipotle was phenomenal, and the guacamole was nearly a match for both. (Chips are obviously housemade but were rather greasy and tough, although we certainly didn’t turn away the second “basket.”) We each had tacos, tongue for Bob and dogfish for me, and it was not a good sign that he immediately started asking what a similar dish goes for at either Toloache or El Paso. His were just the meat and the tortillas for $12. My two, for the same price, could barely contain the chunks of beautifully fried fish, green salsa, lime mayonnaise, shredded cabbage and radish slices. Maybe because the fish was so outsized, I needed those salsas. Still, WIGB? Absolutely, at least for brunch/lunch. The room is beautiful, the service so accommodating.

The half-good: Anjappur in Curry Hill, where we headed after gorging on Duane Reade potato chips with Sherry-Lehmann-level wines at a press event when we should have stuck around and had more of the re-envisioned Cornish pasties, pigs in blankets, Scotch eggs and devils on horsebacks (best food ever at the Ace Hotel). I was curious to experience the reincarnation of the French restaurant I had walked past for 30-plus years without ever trying, and the menu/diners did look more enticing than at the other two places we scoped out, so we headed in. The wine was fine, the waiter was wonderful and the food was actually above average — we shared a lively thali on which only the cardboardy bread was disappointing plus a well-spiced chicken biriyani teamed with a jazzy onion raita and fiery gravy — but my answer to WIGB? would have to be: Probably not. When we asked to take home the three-quarters of biriyani we couldn’t finish, the “hostess” just brought over a styrofoam box and a plastic bag so we could scrape our own shit, then, while Bob was in the bathroom and our overcrowded table had still not been cleared, came over to peremptorily demand we move said box/bag off the next table where we had set it so she could seat more people. I left feeling glad the place is catercorner from another restaurant space that has had 20 tenants fail — and hoping the owners walk out the same door every night to the same reminder.

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 minute/End of February 2012

March 2012

The good again: Loi on the Upper West Side, where my consort and I headed after passing up the great vittles at OSF at a showing of his short film on forced sterilization in Namibia and where everything combined to create the perfect reconnection point after his five days’ shooting on the road in Middle Earth. The hostesses gave us a great table for three where we could sit side by side, the usual plethora of freebies landed right away (stuffed grape leaves, yogurt/olive oil spread and three types of excellent warm bread) and the waiter was unperturbed when we only ordered wine by the glass and three small plates rather than any of the main courses running high-$20s into the $30s. Stuffed eggplant was exquisite, compensating for the calamari ribbons with pistachios that seemed a bit old and chewy. And the Greek salad by a fancier name was as satisfying as always despite the anemic rock-hard tomatoes — composition is good for the soul. Bonus points for a low din level and an exuberant Ms. Loi stopping by to compliment me on my scarf and talk up the menu. Who cared that we were surrounded by olds? I suspect we looked the same to them. WIGB? Absolutely, and not least because they packed up the last couple of slices of cucumber and the feta plus half the squid in a kittybag: omelet filling made to order. 208 West 70th Street.

New York minutes/Late November 2011

November 2011

The seriously good: Settepani in Harlem, where we met friends who had wanted to brave Red Rooster but heeded our NFW for dinner. Not only could we walk there and back, but everything about the sleek place was ideal even though a large family was celebrating a young birthday near our table. Which was in the front, near the window, where two of us could watch the street and all of us could hear easily. The waiter gets an A, not least for his advice on the wine and food (why do we think employees have ever eaten what they’re asked to recommend?) And that wine and food were both reasonably priced and supremely satisfying, but we all woke up the next morning most appreciative of how serene the experience had been, and how the whole attitude was like being in either of our living rooms; there was no sense of being rushed. As for the food, everything seemed cooked to order, starting with our shared appetizer of very creamy polenta topped with sausage. Spaghetti with shellfish baked in parchment tasted lively and fresh, and we’ll all still be digesting the osso buco with polenta at Christmas (which is high praise for authenticity). My mushroom lasagne was a too-big-to-finish slab topped with good bechamel that I wished had been baked longer; the kittybagged portion was even better reheated next day. But the most impressive entree was the special duck, with none of the tired/reheated aspect you usually suffer with  either breast or leg. Cabbage with it was dazzling as well (and when does cabbage ever merit that adjective?) We all split one panna cotta, billed as fruits of the forest but described as including blood orange, with a couple of biscotti plus a strawberry and whipped cream. One more indicator of Italian authenticity: The sweet was an afterthought. WIGB? I’m amazed the place is not mobbed by my own neighbors, given how good and how accessible it is. Even the panhandler on the walk home who called me and one friend “crackers” for not giving him money made it vaut le voyage. 196 Lenox Avenue near 120th Street, 917 492 4806

The good again: Loi, where my consort and I went back twice in a week for atmosphere, service and, especially, food. (Fairway: Step up your game!) The first time we went with a friend who wanted a real meal while we were just looking to top off “Into the Abyss” popcorn with eggplant and salad. Her scallops were kinda strange, but the portion was huge and everything else was outstanding: an amuse of mini-stuffed grape leaves plus Greekesque crostini, great bread with peppery olive oil, good white wine, free desserts. The second time we got snappier service but food just as great. The Greek salad by another name was a really satisfying mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and olives with a paving stone of mild cheese over the top and a dusting of anything-but-dusty oregano. The moussaka was just as marvelous as the first time, the vegetable almost melting into the meat. I didn’t try one friend’s honking-huge slab of salmon, but we all agreed the grilled calamari with pistachio and parsley sauce was outstanding. Best of all: We arrived with no reservation at a fully committed restaurant and were able not just to score a good table but were in and out for a dance performance even with the usual free desserts afterward. WIGB? Early and often, despite the crowd (sometimes “Sex & the City” raucous, other times God’s waiting room). 208 West 70th Street, 212 875 8600.

New York minutes/Early November 2011

November 2011

The good: Loi, next door to Cafe Luxembourg, where attention-paying friends suggested we meet before the snooze-inducing “Ides of March” nearby and where the only off notes were the beginning and the end. Those first: I walked in, gave our friends’ name, the “hostess” said they had already arrived . . . and then picked up the phone for a protracted call. (One thing I learned while working as a shoe dog in my downtime as a bookkeeper was that the customer in front of you always takes precedence.) And although our desserts were comped, none of them impressed us. But everything else did, especially grilled calamari with parsley-pistachio sauce, the “meat” in thin, tender twirls; a green salad with a great smoked cheese, and amazingly delicate moussaka. Service was top-level, the sound level low. WIGB? Absolutely. The celeb chef herself came by to answer questions (like how she got the eggplant so light: soaked it in milk first) and say we would be getting desserts. The curse of Compass may finally be vanquished. 208 West 70th Street, 212 875 8600.

The impressive: The Foundry in Long Island City, where I schlepped for an event I stupidly assumed was promoting salmon but was really about saving Bristol Bay in Alaska from greedy mining polluters. (As one of several excellent speakers said: “You can’t eat gold.”) I know the owners and had been to a private party there, but by car; like several other guests, I almost didn’t go because it seemed kinda scary to walk to alone from the subway. But it was not at all unnerving, and what a perfect space, with plenty of room for the bar, a separate room for the chefs’ stations, an ideal noise level etc. etc. The next organizer thinking of cramming a promo party into a Manhattan shoebox should consider crossing the water. I had a third glass of wine to soak up all the salmon and good hors d’, knowing I would be fine getting home.

New York minutes/Late January 2009

January 2009

The good: Kefi, where my consort and I met great friends for an early birthday dinner and where their shock at the inflated wine prices in the new location was offset by the superb service and unexpected freebies. We got a relatively sheltered table in the cacophony (only in Strollerland would an 8 o’clock reservation be on the late side), and the waiter was outstanding. He sold us on a $48 bottle of “Red Velvet” to start, and poured it as judiciously as a waiter would in Paris. Our orders of the assorted spreads, grilled sardines, Greek salad, sheep’s milk dumplings and Greek sausage with pita were supplemented by the kitchen’s beneficence of grilled octopus and meatballs. We even got a comped dessert topped with a candle, a wedge of semolina cheesecake in filo sauced with quince and candied orange peel. WIGB? Late and often. 505 Columbus between 84th and 85th Streets, 212 873 0200.

The sad: Harry’s Cafe, where we stupidly agreed on Inaugural night to meet a friend who lives nearby, on the assumption that “Jump, You Fuckers” would be watching the teevee. Instead, the joint was sleepy, maybe six tables filling all long night long, and the only screen was in the busy bar. But our food was pretty good, both Bob’s frisee salad with egg and bacon totally reinvented and my copious portion of duck confit on white beans with portobellos and haricots verts. We didn’t try Kevin’s cod special but were happy enough with his choice of wine, a $40 red Bordeaux that was substantially better than the red Bob chose in the low $30s. So much for the cheapest wine on a great list; this one obviously caters to people who order by price. At the high end. The waiter, though, was spectacular. WIGB? Maybe. Not much happening down there these days. You don’t even have to watch for falling bodies. One Hanover Square, 212 785 9200.

The pretty good: Bar Boulud, where we toasted my actual birthday and where we were both thrilled not to be squandering the usual 300 bucks in some swank clip joint. Thank allah we got a table in the front, near the window, because even though I reserved (in a friend’s name) the “hostesses” wanted to shunt us to the jammed bar in a room that looks like a French train station. The paté “Grand-Pere” with foie gras and assorted meats was sublime, although the toasts that came with it were charred and poor Bob had to intercept the stressed waiter at a nearby table to get a second round of them. It was so great, in fact, that neither of us could finish even half of our main courses, not my rather desiccated monkish with blowaway “super green” spinach or Bob’s hyper-rich coq au vin with fat lardons and hand-rolled pasta. Our arbois was excellent with both of those, although I’m not sure I needed the sommelier to slap me down when I ordered our starter glasses as “Champagne” —  I know Cremant is just a sparkler and would have said it with a lower-case C if I had known he was in a superior mood. I also can’t remember the last time I saw busboys and runners who looked more defeated. WIGB? Absolutely, next time we’re leaving a movie and looking for a snack and a great glass of wine rather than a meal. The crowd is a trip; the tab was half the price of a visit to the vet with a geriatric Siamese. 1900 Broadway between 63d and 64th Streets, 212 595 0303.

The always good: The New French, where a friend and I adrift at an odd hour after the Bronx Museum wound up after having farts blown in our general direction at Company and after bailing on realizing we had landed in a “Sex and the City” bus tour at Spice Market. (I refuse to eat anywhere people are wearing sunglasses indoors. In winter.) The place was empty at around 5, so we got a nice corner table and soon had $8 and $7 glasses of Italian white, followed by two of what really are the best cheeseburgers in the city.  Neither of us could come close to finishing the heap o’ fries that comes with. WIGB? Absolutely, even though I inadvertently hurt the owner’s feelings by declining comped wine. The cooking and service are holding up incredibly well. 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

New York minutes/Early January 2009

January 2009

The great yet again: The New French in the West Village, where we made our first pilgrimage in exactly two months to meet a friend and where the perfection was the same as it always is. I had had the cheeseburger on my mind since eating it on doctor’s advice last time, and it lived up to my memory: great meat cooked right, topped with sauteed onions and pickles with a chile sauce on the side; the good fries as usual came in a too-big-to-finish heap. Consort and friend had steak salads, also superb (anchovy vinaigrette is the way to dress), and she raved about her latte. A tiny table with a cushion for a window seat turned out to be ideal because we could all hear each other no matter how the throngs flowed in around us. Service and wine were also faultless. No wonder the food mafia is finding its way there, with two boldface names in one week. 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

The well worth the journey: Franny’s in the alien borough of Brooklyn, where friends who live nearby lured us with the promise of fabulous pizza and where the payoff included three of those plus amazing octopus and interesting wine (bianco di Custoza for $34 a bottle). Not to mention relatively few of the human larvae I was dreading. We shared the olive oil-sea salt pizza, one with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella and one with clams and parsley, all little masterpieces on charred bread from the wood oven. Marinated olives as a starter were fine, but the octopus, which normally is blackened rubber, was totally tender, surrounded by a few chickpeas in great olive oil. WIGB? Absolutely, with a meat lover to try the house salumi, but the whole experience actually made me want to go exploring more. 295 Flatbush Avenue, 718 230 0221.

The right place on the right night: Kefi on Columbus, where we headed on New Year’s Eve because it met key criteria for us traditionalists — regular (read: non-gouge) menu, and location before Champagne at our friend’s in the Beresford and the fireworks at midnight in the park. For those whose first question is: Was Donatella there? The answer is yes; she showed us to a table on the lower level and apparently alerted Michael to our presence, because killer sardines and amazing Greek sausages arrived between the array of always-brilliant spreads we’d ordered as a starter and Bob’s fat slab of swordfish and my appetizer-as-main-course fried cod with garlicky potatoes. We should have split a bottle of wine because we ordered by the glass as a pacing mechanism and of course kept ordering, but it was worth it. The place was packed and beyond festive, especially after Donatella went through the room passing out hats and noisemakers. Which was reassuring when we remembered how many wonderful Dec. 31 meals we’ve had over the years in just-opened empty restaurants that are now long gone (can you say Toqué!?) WIGB? Early and often. 505 Columbus near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.

New York minutes/Late December 2008

December 2008

The newly good: Kefi, where my consort and I were able to walk in early on a Friday after several tries at reserving and where the mood and food could not be more vanquishing of the failed enterprises that languished in that space. We had just been on the East Side for the Eggleston show at the Whitney, and my poor consort had had to listen to my rant that diners charge way too much for crapola ($20.95 for mahi on the blackboard we passed on Madison). But was I ever vindicated: My $16.95 grilled branzino was two perfectly cooked fillets of very fresh fish laid over fingerling potatoes, caperberries, olives and seared grape tomatoes; I even ate the skin. Bob’s sheep’s milk dumplings with sausage and pine nuts put 95 percent of Italian “gnocchi” in this country to shame. The bread arrived warm with really green olive oil; the wine was $6 and $6.50 a glass; the service was tag-team perfect. And they take credit cards. (Of course nothing’s perfect — the bar was a stroller maze by the time we walked out.) WIGB? Probably constantly. It’s as Greek as your average diner anymore. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.

The good and good again: The West Branch, where we were lucky enough to get seats to eat at the bar one night and immediately reserved for the next — usually on Jesus Eve we go to a movie and stop in any bar that might be open and inevitably wind up drinking with Santa, but this time we dined with friends and hordes, on serious food. First night was vitello tonnato, clearly assembled by someone who has never had the Piemontese original with proportions of veal to mayo reversed, and fine Caesar; next night was $17 skate over tomato-cabbage risotto, seared cod with zucchini etc., haricot vert salad and shared gingerbread pudding. Dr. and Lady Bugs seemed underwhelmed after following our recommendations on the crispy quail and duck choucroute, but their choices looked good to me even though I was happy with new and different. Add in warm bread, cheap wine, attentive service and I can even forgive Bedlam-level sound and A-train-at-rush-hour seating. WIGB? Absolutely. It’s Ouest for the little people. 2178 Broadway at 77th Street, 212 777 6764.

The enlightening: The Smith in the East Village, where Bob and I stopped in rather than schlepping to Porchetta for perfection after the Greenmarket and a detour to Jams for more envelopes for New Year’s cards and where his sandwich and the place itself saved the day. Usually Bob bitches about non-specialty sandwiches, but I think the fries caught his eye, and what arrived was enough for two meals: ciabatta with big slab o’ chicken, tomatoes, greens, Cheddar, chipotle mayonnaise. It was good. My “Alsatian pizza,” not so much — I have no idea WTF I was doing ordering it in an NYU hangout, but I paid for my lack of due diligence. I had a tumbler of Argentine viognier, which helped, as did the nice hunk of chewy baguette, the free sparkling water and the snappy service. Also the room, which Bob instantly pegged as a knockoff Schiller’s (thank you, Richard Price). WIGB? Probably. I was curious to see what provoked a news story on its survival, and the answers are self-evident. 55 Third Avenue near 11th Street, 212 420 9800.