Archive for the ‘thai’ Category

New York minutes/Late May-mid-June 2013

July 2013

The good: Petite Soo Chow in Cliffside Park, N.J., of all places, where I met up with my Asian-eating/eating-Asian pals for Saturday lunch and where, as usual, leaving the ordering to the experts was the right thing to do. Also as usual, 17 dishes for the nine of us came to $22 a head with a good tip. Of course the soup dumplings and the Shanghai-style fried buns were superb, but I also had things I would never anticipate in a Chinese restaurant (like a cruller, more like deep-fried unsweetened dough, meant to be dipped into soy milk, and a gluten dish called sweet bran twist) and things I would not try again (kelp, in strips cutely knotted like bow ties but too fishy for me). The best dishes were the silk squash/loofah, like a more interesting chayote; the turnip cakes, in a flaky dough and flavored with teeny shrimp; the spicy sprats, served cold in a sensational sauce; the stewed pork riblets in brown sauce, and the super-tender pork belly in preserved bean sauce with water spinach, meant to be eaten in steamed buns. WIGB? It was a schlep — 45 minutes on the 159 bus from the Port Authority — but,  actually, yes. As good as the food was, the service matched it. 607 Gorge Road, 201 313 1666.

The sad: Boulud Sud on the Upper West Side, where I reserved for my consort’s birthday after we had to cancel Lafayette and he acknowledged proximity should trump excitement the night he was packing for a three-week trip to Prague and Bulgaria to work on a short film on the Roma. But oh, was it bleak. Since our first dinner shortly after it opened, we’ve (separately) been quite happy with drinks at the bar, and maybe that’s why it felt so bar-ish when we walked in and had to wait to be seated after being amazed OpenTable had had tables at just about any hour we could choose. We did wind up with a street view in a relatively quiet corner, but it was just grim. I faced into the room and could see servers lined up while we waited, and waited, for service, and we actually got our appetizer before our drinks. Fried artichoke hearts had us both recalling Rome, where at least in the ghetto they’re crispy, and my quail entree had me re-imagining ill-advised ordering in the past. As I Tweeted next day, quail is the new duck, and not in a good way — chefs serve it way past liver stage. The birthday boy didn’t complain about his paella, though, and we both agreed the olive oil with the bread was outstanding. WIGB? Never for dinner, maybe for a drink. It was shocking the menu had barely changed since our first visit, it was annoying to see so many more tables crammed in and it was disheartening to look at the crowd and think: “This is just the commissary for 15 CPW.” And you know what discerning tastes rich fucks have.

The pretty great: City Grit in Nolita, where Mike Andrzejewski was cooking and where my dinner with strangers turned out to be not just endurable but fun. The venue is a funky store by day but becomes an informal restaurant with communal seating at night, and they do things right. All six courses were served seamlessly, and wine orders were taken and delivered expeditiously. And the food was fabulous, starting with just-shucked oysters with cucumber, chile, ginger, lime and sweet rice vinegar (yes, I’m cribbing from the menu). I was queasy about the “nigiri of otoro and beef heart tartare with white soy, lardo and chile flowers,” mainly because of the base, the organ meat chopped to simulate sticky rice, but the topping was so sensational I didn’t mind the gory bits that accidentally wound up on my fork. Smoked salmon belly BLT was nicely done as well, with iceberg for the L and the fish for the B; the red and yellow beefsteak tomatoes were compressed into a cube. The sea scallops in the next course were beautifully seared and perfectly cooked, then teamed with julienned crisps of pig’s ear, baby red mustard, pickled Thai chilies and a wild smoked egg yolk. I should have left more room for the sea robin laid over risotto cooked like paella, with garnishes of chorizo oil, olives, piquillos and sherry vinegar glaze. And I definitely should not have underestimated “Vietnamese coffee and white chocolate bar,” which turned out to be a very cerebral but satisfying reinvention of all those elements into a sort of Asian tiramisu with substance. Dinner, prepaid, was $60 before wine, and a deal at twice that. A couple of glasses of muscadet at $9 a pop were also worth it. WIGB? Absolutely. It was good and fun. As was the company: the chef’s wife, a couple of his best customers in from Buffalo, business connections who live in Brooklyn, a young German woman in publishing in town on business and a guy from my neighborhood who just likes to eat well with strangers.

The disappointing: Momofuku Ssam in the East Village, where I met up with a caustic blogger pal for lunch after dangling the temptation “duck gorditas” in an email and where we both walked out underwhelmed for the first time ever. The duck set featured the usual beautifully cooked meat, but the pickles with it were short on finesse, and my pal would know. The duck dumplings had the feel of an appetizer the kitchen had had just about enough of, thank you very much. And the duck gorditas were too easy to eat but ultimately came off as reinvented Mexican nothingburgers: greasy masa disks overfilled with could-be-anything meat and gloppy sauce. As always, though, the service was snappy and the wine well-matched to the food. WIGB? Probably. Duck is not just a four-letter word.

The good again and again: The Smith across from Lincoln Center, where we had reserved a table for four after the outstanding “A Hijacking” just up Broadway and where even the short wait at the bar after we arrived early flew by when a manager offered us a mistakenly poured beer for free after we had ordered a large carafe of rosé, and even split it into tastes. We could have had a table inside in Bedlam but were happy to hold out even though we wound up with the best view ever of the multi-culti cast of characters heading in and out of the Citibank ATM lobby. But the service and food were so much better than a restaurant across from Lincoln Center should provide. We split excellent seared shishito peppers and an order of tempura green beans, and I had a nice-enough chopped salad and a few bites of Bob’s fine trout Milanese with good potatoes. Our friends seemed happy with the roast chicken and the pork chop, and we all liked the silly dessert. (They’re all silly.) WIGB? Absolutely. On my two trips to and from the downstairs bathrooms, the staff vibe was so positive. They have a license to mint money, but they appear to be sharing the wealth.

The half-good: Spring Natural Kitchen on the Upper West Side again, where I connected with a picture-editor friend and her daughter in from DC and a coupla photo friends from the neighborhood and where it was a damned good thing the food was so good because the service was on the other side of abysmal. The table next to us got their entrees and their check before we even managed to put in our food order. It was partly our fault for saying we needed a bit more time to negotiate the long menu, but it was mostly the fault of the kind of waitress who thinks busing a table comes before getting requests into the kitchen pipeline. Luckily, my cheeseburger was pretty exceptional, with good meat cooked right and topped with both mushroom and onions. My only complaint was that it was almost too big, although The Cat WCTLWAFW had no complaints. WIGB? Undoubtedly, the alternative pickings being pretty slim in this neighborhood. And for the third time, the welcome was truly welcoming; I got there first and the host had a table set up for the five of us by the time the others arrived.

The different: Cheburechnaya in Rego Park, where we hooked up with our Asian-eating/eating-Asian group on a cold, wet Sunday and where everything beyond getting lost in the cold and rain was a trip. This was kosher cooking from part of the former Soviet Union, and it reminded me of eating in Turkey. By the time we dripped in, everyone was already tucking into the outstanding salad with red peppers, cucumbers, red onions and olives (dressed, we later learned, in Wishbone Italian), the superb carrot and cumin salad, the good hummus and bread and the pickled cabbage. I got just a taste of the chebureki,  which I’d describe as sort of cheeseless quesadillas, filled with veal, with mushrooms and with “meat.” Lagman, described on the menu as a soup with pasta, beef, mixed vegetables and assorted spices, reminded me of a fresher, heartier Campbell’s. I knew I was in for trouble when the samcy with ribs started making the rounds: a flaky pastry with my least favorite meat tucked inside; Bob said I should try just a bite with the onions, but it was way too lamby for me. And that was followed by sword after sword of grilled meats from the long butcher case behind us: lamb testicles, lamb hearts, boneless chicken and cubes of lamb fat that had everyone else moaning in ecstasy. A plate of fried beef brains also landed on the table, but even if I weren’t skeert of mad cow I would have passed. We also had a little mountain  of irresistible French fries drenched in oily garlic — interestingly enough, at $5 they cost more than most of the meats. Beyond the food, the crowd was quite something — a huge table celebrating a wedding or other ritual event, another huge table ordering bottle after bottle of vodka, tables of women with Cokes and pints of hootch. Our table, however, drank Borzhomi, a mineral water with a pretty fair amount of sodium to cut the fat. WIGB? It was fun, but once was plenty. Although we did all enjoy gawking and buying in the many Russian markets nearby. They don’t call it Regostan for nothing. 92-09 63rd Drive, 718 897 9080.

The “price is right:” Land Thai on the Upper West Side, where a friend in from Connecticut for job interviews met me for lunch on another rainy day and where, as always, it was hard to complain about two courses for $9. We both had the springrolls and I was fine with the cashew curry. And although the place clearly makes its money by spinning tables, the staff let us sit there as long as we wanted.

The unfortunate: Sindicato de Cocineros in Greenpoint, where I had dinner on a monsoon night with four friends and where I have to judge a restaurant by the lowlifes it  attracts. The place was brand-new and chosen by two of the friends who used to live nearby, and it had its charms: widely spaced tables, a warm vibe, a deejay who played great bits of LPs at just the right sound level. The margarita was only adequate,* but our shared starters were sensational: the guacamole very limey and topped with snappy radish slices, and the mollete a couple of crisp slices of the usual torta roll topped with beans, chorizo, cheese and salsa. I’m not so sure deconstructing a gordita was such a wise idea because it was hard to get all the elements — ground beef, beans, crema, cheese, lettuce — in one bite, and the masa itself was doughy. I didn’t try either order of tacos on the table, or the pork, but the flan was okay. So WIGB? I had to come home and Tweet: Not on a bet. When we were all leaving in the raging downpour, I went to retrieve my $40 MOMA umbrella from the heap at the door and some hipster asshole had made off with it. To the restaurant’s social media manager’s credit, they did notice my carping and promise me a new umbrella if I DM’d my address. I am, however, still waiting . . .

*The vaut le voyage: Nights and Weekends, also in Greenpoint, where I had the best margarita of my long life. I met one of the Sindicato tablemates there early but late for our appointed hour, which was too bad because this drink was huge. And smoky. And spicy. And just absolute perfection. For all of $10. Apparently the food is pretty good there, too, so WIGB? Next time I need to scratch the margarita itch, I’m getting on the B to the E to the G.

New York minutes/November 2012

November 2012

The good: Elizabeth’s near us, where my consort and I wound up after the amazing “Argo” when the Mermaid Inn had a 45-minute wait on Social Media Monday and where we were able to walk right in, sit right down and have a couple of glasses of wine and way-above-average food in relative quiet. Both of us had been wondering why we hadn’t been back, and it was so worth the revisit, not least because the place itself is so attractive. I just had the crab cake appetizer with apple-fennel salad as my main, and it was so generous I took home one of the two heavy-on-the-lumps for next day. Bob was thrilled with his roast chicken, juicy and flavorful and surrounded by watermelon radishes and fingerling potatoes in sauce. WIGB? More often, for sure. It’s not cheap for the neighborhood (the crab cakes were $15), but you definitely get what you pay for.

The good and cheap: Land Thai on the Upper West Side, where Bob treated me to lunch after we waited an hour and a half to vote and then my ballot was repeatedly rejected by the scanner. He suggested Seasons, but I figured we should keep walking south for far better food in a nicer room at a lower price. Nine bucks is quite a bargain for jungle curry and spring rolls even if the latter are a bit greasy. Bob was just as happy with his shrimp overkill: first soup, then pad Thai. WIGB? Anytime. Anxiously awaiting the new Mexican two doors north.

The not bad: Kefi on the Upper West Side, where I hooked up with a friend camping out on a couch across town after the hurricane when it made more sense for her to come to me than for me to ride the bus twice across the closed park. She seemed satisfied with her lamb burger although it looked rather cooked-to-grey to me, and we both loved the array of spreads. Best of all, the waitress was fine with us taking our time ordering our wine as she wrangled tables with moms and kiddles, nannies and kiddles, bizguys doing biz. WIGB? Definitely, especially now that I know the Health Department has made it clean up its act.

The port in a storm: Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side, where I suggested a friend in from Connecticut doing errands nearby meet me on a gray, gloomy and nasty-wet day when we could use a little transporting to Salzburg. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so we waited about 45 minutes for a table, but at least we got a good one with a park hint. I was quite impressed by my crepes with smoked trout, which had been rolled up like Austrian burritos, and Mary wasn’t complaining about her sausage; we both liked our gruner. WIGB? Not soon. The waiting was the hardest part, and so many other places have opened nearby for ladies who lunch.

The vaut le voyage: Phayul in Jackson Heights, where we met up with a few friends from our adventurous-eating group for Saturday lunch. Years ago I remember Bob making a date with a GQ writer with whom he’d worked and us meeting at a Tibetan place because at that point I “don’t eat Chinese.” He was baffled, but this proved there is a difference. One connection had eaten there before, so he knew to order two types of momo (dumplings), potato and beef, plus the “bread,” and everyone else chimed in on a chicken dish, a pork dish, a blood sausage dish, a tongue dish, a cucumber-peanut-chile salad, a soup with beef and radishes, and a potato dish with julienned strips stir-fried with ginger and chilies. Six of us did a pretty good job cleaning all those small plates for $17 a head. The servers could not have been nicer, although none of us thought to ask them to close the window that had half the table eating in coats. What mattered was the kitchen, and it was clearly cooking everything to order with serious care. WIGB? Probably not only because there are so many other places to explore — we passed three other Tibetan and/or Nepalese places as we wandered the neighborhood afterward.

The typically well-done: Eater’s awards party, this year at the Bowery Hotel where, again, both food and wine were so easy to access and the crowd was all worth engaging with (aside from the short real estate lech who cornered me). A nice touch was the check-in list on tablets, rather than those silly clipboards with 50 pages of teeny type the girls in their little dresses need to flip through. I had great buttermilk-fried quail and a short rib “meatloaf” but will have to note that some of the other dishes seemed straight out of Monty Python. Not sure what to think about a meat doughnut . . .

New York minutes/Mid-May 2012

May 2012

The pretty good, Chinese division: Hunan Manor in Midtown, where my consort and I wound up after a liquid opening at ICP when his first choice had a 30-minute wait. The place has the sad bare-bones look of so many Manhattan Chinese joints, but we were encouraged to see only ethnically appropriate faces at other tables as we were profusely welcomed. It probably wasn’t fair to order what we love in Flushing, but we did. And the tea-smoked duck might actually be superior; as we ate it, it tasted almost steamed, but next day it was grease-free and intensely smoky. Hunan-style stir-fried mustard leaf is better at the cousins’ place (thinner garlic slices, defter cooking), but not by much. Cold bean curd, Hunan style, was heavier, though, and while Bob is a total pan-fried pork dumpling junkie, even he agreed these were clunky. WIGB? Of course. It’s an hour closer, with treatment just as nice. 339 Lexington Avenue near 39th Street, 212 682 2883.

The pretty good, Thai division: Pure Thai Shophouse in Hell’s Kitchen, where a friend and I headed after being thwarted first by the bedlam at Toloache and then by the peculiar bar food menu at the otherwise perfect Xai Xai, and where the staff was just patient enough with two women who wanted mostly to talk while soaking up wine. Wally’s traveled in Thailand and immediately picked up on the crowd (authentic) and the food (smells/looks: authentic). We just split three appetizers, all above average: vegetable spring rolls, fat steamed vegetable dumplings and crispy fried tofu with peanut sauce. With two glasses each, it was $31 each with tip. WIGB? No question. 766 Ninth Avenue near 52d Street, 212 581 0999.

The pretty good, aside from the understaffing: Jacob’s Pickles on the Upper West Side, where we met a couple of friends on the early side and where we could only wonder why we had put off trying the place for so long. The food was shockingly accomplished for the neighborhood. I think I scored with excellent house-made sausage with leeks that came with respectable fries, good mustard and a great ketchup alternative (along with pointless braised cabbage), for all of $15. The running-hard waitress screwed up two orders, so gracious Bob took the Caesar with fried chicken no one had asked for and Len got his biscuit with fried chicken smothered in mushroom gravy plus grits; both were superb. I don’t think you go there for spinach salad, but Diane’s came with Niman Ranch bacon, blue cheese and mushrooms. We shared a couple of bottles of the rosé on tap, too. The mystery is why a restaurant that puts so much thought and energy into the menu, the sourcing and the drinks program skimps on staffing. WIGB? Looking forward to it but hoping they hire some waiters and runners in the meantime. Jeebus. 509 Amsterdam Avenue near 84th Street, 212 470 5566.

New York minutes/Early December 2011

December 2011

The nearly perfect: Momofuku Ssam, where my consort suggested we head for lunch on a good friend’s advice after our neighborhood Greenmarket diverted us to Union Square in search of turkey nether regions and where we could only wish for an uptown branch, ideally slightly north of the Milk Bar. As directed, we ordered at the back counter and chose seats at the elevated communal tables facing the rotisserie; while Bob was washing his hands and I was back ordering a glass of wine, our first three choices landed: sublime pulled-pork buns with smoky mayonnaise; broccoli crunchy with smoked bluefish vinaigrette, and perfectly fried duck dumplings laid over pickled red cabbage teamed with sriracha mayonnaise for dipping. Our duck sandwich (banh mi, the menu did not say) was just as sensational, the filling like sliced duck sausage. Every single staffer was professional but engaged, too. WIGB? Can’t wait — especially after watching a duck spin on a spit and everyone around us tuck into rotisserie duck on rice, with or without chive pancakes. 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street.

The seriously good: Osteria Morini in SoHo, where we were able to meet Jersey friends dying to try it because we reserved (online) on a Monday night. We under-ordered, but I at least felt full after tasting three pastas and a bit of two mains (seafood in brodo, mixed grill). The pastas were Italy-worthy, particularly the garganelle with radicchio, cream, prosciutto and truffle butter and the stracci (“pasta rags”) with mushrooms. One friend also knew to ask for the off-the-menu chocolate dessert, essentially a big bowl of melted chocolate. Service was relaxed but superb, and the noise level was bearable. But the wine list tilted toward downtown; the cheapest still red was $46 (at least it was as singular as promised). WIGB? Definitely, although we may try another White joint first. 218 Lafayette Street near Spring, 212 965 8777.

The pretty good: Sookk on the Upper West Side, where we met up with Dr. Bugs before his appointment with our landline and where the food/space were so much better than you would expect in this glasian wasteland. I realize lunch in is a whole other experience from delivery, but I’d rate it at least a B. The room is tiny but nicely designed, even if the textile rolls on the walls do invoke a fabric store, and the staff is super-accommodating. The deal is $7/8 for sublime soup plus appetizer of choice plus main course (w/ or w/out rice) plus coconut ice cream. No wonder none of us cared that our curry/pad see euw/rama dishes were just adequate — fresh hot sauce helped. The good shiitake spring rolls only needed to be dunked into the fried chicken dumplings’ sauce to sing, and the dessert was as finely wrought as the soup. WIGB? Can’t wait, especially with vegetarian friends who are still wasting time/calories at Aangan close by. 2686 Broadway between 102d and 103d, 212 870 0253.

And the abysmal: Landmarc in the dread TWC, where I am mortified to admit that I led five others after the too-long, too self-congratulatory “Artist” in overpriced-restaurantland  and where everything was one step above a diner. I asked the hostess for a quiet spot, and after letting us the reserved cool our heels in the crowded entrance while walk-ins were seated she led us to a back dining room with interrogation-room lighting where two huge tables were sitting, un-set. And we took it because she promised “privacy.” And it went downhill from there. We split the chewy, gummy fried calamari, and it arrived before our wine. (If the waiter had put in the app order later, he might have sold a second bottle.) The busboy cleared away bread plates sloppily before our “mains” arrived, one of which, the calves liver, looked like a fried-hard abortion. (Sunday special of spaghetti and meatballs looked emptied from a can by that good old chef, Boyardee.) And my Caesar looked as if someone had flicked something from a nostril onto rusty-edged romaine; I sent it back while audibly hoping no one spit on it (the replacement was okay). The waiter went AWOL, the busboy crudely cleared everyone’s plates while one person was still eating and we had to beg for water refills. At least it wasn’t deafening, but by the end we had all noticed the sound went up whenever a song started and then down again. We spent too much time after the table was cleared thinking of where we should have gone (consensus: Loi). Thank allah someone thought to check whether service had been added before we surrendered credit cards: Yes, it was 20 percent on the taxed total. WIGB? That AWOL waiter resurfaced to toss out a jaunty “see you later” as we were leaving, and it was all I could do not to respond: “Not on a fucking bet.” I’m even having severe reservations about ever going to Ditch Plains again. I ruined five people’s evening.

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 /Latish May 2011

May 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York minutes/Even more latish March 2011

March 2011

The half-good: Pure in Hell’s Kitchen, where my consort and I headed after the MOMA Meyer night when he was hungry and I was just curious about the midtown cousin to Land. We were already arguing about something I was right about (food shortages as the cause of upheavals in the Middle East), so it was lucky we got seats within a few minutes at the bar facing into the noodle kitchen and soon had the distractions of wine and food. All the whites looked fruity, but my viognier made sense once I tasted the special crab salad with peanuts, chilies and lime. The salad itself was sensational, the first thing I’ve eaten in Manhattan that ever gave me a sense of the pyrotechnic aspects of Thai cuisine, and the almost syrupy wine countered it. Bob, unfortunately, ordered off the regular menu and was penalized with one of those interchangeably gloppy/bland big plates (bean sprouts, noodles, shrimp, scallions). Still, the room was pretty jazzy and the service was A+ even in our cramped quarters, right next to the “shophouse,” a few shelves with esoteric ingredients like durian chips. WIGB? Absolutely if I’m down that way again. Otherwise, I’m more determined to broaden my horizons via Land’s menu. 766 Ninth Avenue near 51st Street, 212 581 0999.

The vaut le voyage for adventure’s sake: Q in Port Chester, where a Louisiana/Texas friend who now lives in Greenwich lured us with the promise of great barbecue and a diversion in the Batali/Bastianich shops in that immigrant bastion. Several lessons were learned, starting with the fact that total luxury on venturing to the ’burbs is being able to walk off the train and into downtown, without the usual clambering into a car to be spirited off to parts unknown. So within five minutes of detraining Metro North to Stamford we were wandering around the Tarry market, ogling the meats and pastas and cheeses etc. and succumbing to focaccia as round and high as San Francisco sourdough and a packet of Manicaretti’s extraordinary garganelli. Next door we tried some Italians reds from the well-curated selection after checking out the menu at the Tarry Lodge restaurant, which Kevin said serves food that’s too salty and that we saw was clogged with old white Greenwichers. The bare-bones BBQ joint he walked us to next was much classier than I expected (the sink’s in the dining room, sure, but we were right between Greenwich and Rye). And we did have to order at the counter, but from then on it was a total restaurant. I shoulda listened about the brisket, which was not just as dry as the cliché but also fatty and tough and not really flavorful; at least the potato salad I ordered alongside was quality stuff. Bob fared better with a quarter-slab of ribs, meaty and juicy and smoky, and Kevin’s pulled pork nearly bested that. Drinks were also a deal: a second round of two drafts and a sauvignon blanc came to all of $13. WIGB? Sure. After we try the Mexican restaurants Kevin’s raving about. Especially since we learned Metro North cops will retrieve a 12-year-old irreplaceable Kenzo scarf if you happen to leave it on the train at 125th Street. 111 North Main Street, Port Chester, 914 933 7427.

New York minute/Early January 2011

January 2011

The not bad: Tue Thai Food in the West Village, where we ducked in after the Saturday Greenmarket rather than head home and recycle leftovers for a fast lunch and where I made the mistake of trusting a certain Tyro No More, who’d recommended the roast duck noodles in NYMag’s delivery issue. That wasn’t on the lunch menu, but the charming waitress brought the dinner menu to show me how it was described and how much it cost — $5 more than the four-item lunch specials. I would not have been happy if I hadn’t tried the stuff, but I envied Bob his four-item lunch special of good Thai fish cake with peanuts and sweet-hot sauce, spicy drunken noodles with tofu and bamboo shoots, green salad and Thai iced tea, which tasted as if it had been steeped in an ashtray but grew on me. I had to slog through only a big bowl of bland noodles in bland broth with a surfeit of duck that tasted the way duck all too often does in restaurants: verging on geriatric. Extra points to the waitress for delivering two choices when I asked for hot sauce. WIGB? Sure. It’s in the right place at our right time. 3 Greenwich Avenue at Sixth Avenue, 212 929 9888

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?