Archive for the ‘Times Square’ Category

New York minutes/Late September-early October 2013

November 2013

The good despite the cat piss smell: Gran Electrica in Brooklyn, where we filled our tanks on the way to the awesome Photoville and where the hyper-hospitable service and mellow garden setting rivaled the food (despite the faint aroma). My crab-habanero-avocado tostada was outstanding and the rajas taco I tasted off Bob’s place nearly as good (with potatoes, zucchini and crema). I passed on his lengua tacos, but he was thrilled. WIGB? Absolutely, especially on a warm day — inside tables are pleasant; outside exceptional. Also, too: Gotta like a place where the olds at the next table have nothing to say to each other. Perspective, perspective

The good despite ourselves: La Vie en Szechuan in Midtown, where we hooked up with our eating Asian/Asian eating group for early Sunday lunch and where we were nearly shut out until the Mandarin speaker among us snared a table for 13. I only wanted to/got to taste about half what landed on the Lazy Susan but was thrilled with everything savory: tea-smoked duck, cucumber sticks, Sichuan pickled cabbage, braised iceberg lettuce, dumplings with spicy sauce, cuttlefish in a marvelously peppery-rich sauce etc. (No ox tongue and maw or pig’s ears for me, though, thanks very much.) Desserts reminded me why meals in Chinese restaurants so often end in orange slices. Pumpkin sort-of-fritters were just sugary, black sesame dumplings in a sort of soup just . . . interesting. Still, WIGB? Sure. But for once with a smaller group. Even though it would average out to more than $20 a head for a full eating expedition.

The good again: Melba’s in Harlem, where we took an Italian friend for an American experience and where we pretty much wound up baffling him. He ordered the macaroni and cheese at my instigation and while it was as beautifully balanced between noodles and dairy as last time, it was mighty salty. All mains come with two sides, and he followed my lead on the onion rings but went for collards after I tried explaining they were greens (you Americans — colors are things? blues? greens?) He left them untouched just as another Italian friend did when we couldn’t translate beets, ordered them and then heard him say: Oh. I hate those. Diego also is no fan of mushrooms, so the excellent spring rolls went untouched by him, although we both dunked the onion rings in the sweet-hot sauce that came with them. Bob liked his smothered chicken well enough; the $34 red was good enough. And the whole experience came to less than $100 with tip for three. WIGB? It put the din in dinner, but yes. The people are so hospitable and the cooking above average.

The good for what & where it is: Boi Noodles across from Bob’s CUNY gig, where we headed after the slowwww and silly “We Are Who We Are” screening (really, you cannibals? you get fresh prime meat and make stew viewers think is chili?). We just split a smoked duck banh mi that would have been exceptional if the bread had been better. For $7.81 it was a steal. WIGB? Sure, and not just for a meal. The Vietnamese grocery selection is pretty dazzling.

The good except . . .: River Deli in Brooklyn Heights, where we were steered from Photoville by a former workshop student of Bob’s who’s taken those lessons and gotten richer, who mentioned it was the bee’s knees on Trip Advisor. The space, a corner deli converted to a Sardinian cafe, was charming as hell despite the three kids at a window table kicking and knocking over shit. The waitress rated A, the Southern Italian wines the same. But the food? We could have been eating in Rome. The eggplant “stuffed” with radicchio and mushrooms was pretty crude, the malloredus timidly sauced and teamed with sausage with that awful pig-pee taste you get with industrial pork. WIGB? Quite honestly, no. But I would steer others there. It’s so close to the Brooklyn Bridge Park and so charming. And people nearby with only espresso and a shared dessert seemed blissful.

Also, too: Elizabeth’s is always good and reliable, most recently for an early dinner after Bob had been trapped inside all day. Rosé at a sidewalk table would have been enough even if the Cobb salad had not been so well-proportioned or the chicken (so Bob said) so nicely cooked.

New York minutes/Late June 2012

July 2012

The good again I: Northern Spy in the East Village, where we met friends who live down the block but had never been and where the staff was impressively unfazed by the squirming toddler in our perfect booth. Even she liked all the starters: the airy-crispy gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and sage, the farro with lamb bacon and egg and the unfishy bluefish rillettes with pickled onions on garlic toasts. My consort’s pork with black-eyed peas was good and hearty, so I was okay with my unexpectedly dainty asparagus salad with fascinating egg. Poor Mom had to miss the good chocolate cake. WIGB? Absolutely. Especially now that I know why it’s so Brooklyn: It was priced out of Brooklyn. (And because Dad introduced us to a great Spanish wine bar just down the block for an after-Turley Cinsault glass or two: Pata Negra, where the server could not have been more accommodating and I tasted a new-to-me godello.) 511 East 12th Street, 212 228 5100.

The good again II: Loi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with a gallery-crazed friend in from DC and another from way uptown and where we had the usual superb service and full swanky-joint experience even though we only shared first courses and a salad. This is the rare restaurant that treats every ass in the seat as valuable, and given that it never filled even on a Saturday night, the Athens owner is smart to keep us coming back for less. (Her visits to every table are also very savvy.) I was underwhelmed by the grilled sardines even though my expectations were already low, and I didn’t try the octopus because I just can’t do it anymore. But like everyone else, I thought the baby eggplant with feta mousse was sensational, the amuse of stuffed grape leaves superb and the gigantes redeemed by the unbilled cheese with them. Sea urchin with “crispy pita chips,” though, probably needed the lemon I didn’t squeeze over my two spoonfuls. We also split a dessert, about which the least said the better. (Oh, I’ll elaborate: It was the kataifi, it was soggy and it tasted better when dessert was a giveaway.) Bob’s and my $10 glasses of wine were good, and came with excellent recommendations by the waiter, and the bread basket was beyond generous. Plus the service was almost surreal, yet again: Waiters in suits catering to us as if we were spending megabucks in any other white-linen dining room. WIGB? Anytime. Not least because it’s so nice to be among old pharts and feel young.

The good again despite the din: Toloache in the Theater District, where we wound up after trying Anzas in the newish Hyatt on Fifth Avenue and being spurned both upstairs and downstairs. The place was packed even after curtain time, but we got a table fast and soon had decent wine and the quesadilla with huitlacoche, then overstuffed but fabulous brisket and carnitas tacos, then a salad with jicama and avocado. WIGB? Undoubtedly, but I think next time we’ll try the new outpost on East 83d Street. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The gone-to-hell: Tre Otto on the Upper East Side, where we landed on a super-hot night seeking refuge from our own kitchen and where Bob dropped way too much money for dinner in a garden sauna. We made the mistake of strolling through the gorgeous park up to a tapas place I’d read about on 103d & Lex, only to decide the menu looked pedestrian and the wines seemed overpriced, then swung by ABV, only to be told we’d face a half-hour wait for a table in Bedlam populated by young uns all the same age and skin color, so we figured Tre Otto was a safe bet. And it turned out to be like eating in Rome in August: Immigrants slopping it out in the kitchen, overstretched staff neglecting too many tables, followed by sticker-price shock. I only wanted a Caesar salad, and it was not awful, if underdressed with a few too many rusty leaves. But Bob’s $18 pasta with “Trapanese” pesto turned out to be a few gummy noodles in a bowl of glop. As the waiter warned, it was heavy on the garlic, although light on any other flavors. The bread was rubbery, the rosé $45. And the sweat? Immeasurable. We baked like pizzas. WIGB? The next night we were back on that side of town, for dinner at friends’ whose gorgeous terrace overlooks the reservoir, and they, too, wondered: Why did that place go to hell so fast? I blamed the clientele and will probably never get invited back.

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 minutes/Early March 2011

March 2011

The surprisingly good: The Astor Room in the landmark Kaufman Astoria Studios, where four of us were lucky enough to land after a great couple of hours at the Museum of the Moving Image across the street when Pachanga Patterson did not appear to be open and M. Wells was too far and too overcommitted with a 40-minute wait. I had low hopes, seeing the half-empty if hugely atmospheric room (the old actors’ commissary), but it was the first day of Saturday brunch, and the promise of free Bloody Marys (or mimosas) certainly sounded seductive. And these would have been spectacular at any price, thick with horseradish and each tall glass topped with both a lemon wedge and a caperberry. We passed plates, so I can vouch for my consort’s jerk chicken and waffles (juicy, perfectly fried breast and leg); Diane’s spinach and goat cheese omelet with, as billed, “robust flavors” plus accompaniments of both roasted potatoes and salad; my own lump crab melt with avocado and tomato under a blanket of melted Fontina, and Len’s “Astor Disaster,” a crazy-sounding but very harmonious layering of French toast, barbecued short rib, bacon, poached egg, Cheddar and onion rings. Who cared that the fries with his and my order were just industrial? The bill, with one coffee and a Lavazzo espresso, was all of $55 before the tip. Lagniappe: The chef, a David Burke protégé, came out to chat. WIGB? Absolutely. What better double bill for the Alain Resnais program at the museum? And the fried oyster and egg sandwich looked pretty enticing. 34-12 36th Street, Astoria, 718 255 1947.

The good again: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where we stupidly assumed we’d have the room to ourselves after 8 after a work drink for a story and where the half-hour wait was well worth it. This time we were seated in the “garden” room, which was also a plus. We split popcorn with “bacon butter” to start, so I could finish only part of my portobello sliders, awesome as they were: mushrooms grilled like beef, topped with Fontina, layered in brioche with lettuce and “green” tomato that looked more yellow, and teamed with spicy remoulade. I could swear Bob made me taste tender lamb on polenta or grits, but it doesn’t appear to be on the menu now. WIGB? For sure. This is the new Theater District, with serious cooking in the hours when restaurants are usually dark. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The not bad: Piadina in the West Village, where friends lured us back for the “cheap and awesome food” despite our recollection of the namesake dish tasting like quesadillas in an Irish Catholic orphanage (hint: like communion hosts stuffed with scraps). And they were quite right. The room was charming, the salad was satisfying and my $14.50 garganelli in cream with peas and a plethora of prosciutto proved to be outstanding. I didn’t taste our friends’ food, but they seemed happy, so I’ll assume Bob’s watery orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe had to be an aberration. Points off, too, for the dismissive service. I will never understand why, if times are so tough, so many waiters just clear wineglasses and plates without asking: Hey, suckahs — want anything more? WIGB? Maybe. It was pretty cheap. (More points off, though, for cash-only.) 57 West 10th Street, 212 460 8017.

The apparently forgettable: Superfine in DUMBO, where the Bugses and we headed after hearing Gabrielle Hamilton talk about her memoir at Powerhouse Arena and where we were able to walk right in and sit right down and hear each other, which was key with Dr. B p*ant-gearing up to appear on the Colbert Report next night. I was a little unnerved on passing the pool table on the way in, but it’s a pretty nice space. And the reds we ordered were pretty good and affordable. Otherwise, I know there were steak frites and grilled mahi passed around, and I had decent pasta with goat cheese, broccoli and pancetta; the fourth dish has escaped my cranial sieve. WIGB? Possibly if we wound up in that neighborhood on a cold night again. Otherwise, Hecho en Dumbo on the Bowery is calling. . . 126 Front Street at Pearl, 718 243 9005.

Quick takes: Luke’s Lobster on Amsterdam came through yet again with meaty, overstuffed, thoroughly satisfying lobster rolls for all of $15 apiece. Fedora in the West Village came through with a totally transporting bar, the best argument for preservation (I could almost see Dawn Powell knocking back a few stiff ones there). And Terrizzi in Astoria delivered as a total trip, the one bakery we dared walk into after passing so many that looked so industrial. Sfogliatelle seemed Naples-worthy, with flaky dough and a sweet ricotta filling, and it came with character from the elderly woman in charge. She said we could find something like it in “The City.” Maybe. But not with her salesmanship.

New York minutes/Early August 2010

August 2010

The pretty good: Landmarc in Tribeca, where we wound up after the W debacle and after passing by and up Plein Sud because the menu posted outside looked (to Bob) too familiar and (to me) as if you could already see the cheap paper it was cheaply printed on crumbling after the place went under. (I hope I’m wrong; someone big liked it fine.) We got a window table downstairs and soon had an outstanding fontina and mushroom flatbread topped with arugula and crispy prosciutto in front of us, then half-bottles of white and red ($20 and $18 together seem like a deal compared with either a bottle or by the glass most places). My chopped salad was enhanced by hearts of palm, and his skirt steak with chimichurri sauce was flavorful if fibrous and came with decent fries. Service was great, view was good. And the four salty caramels with the check didn’t hurt. WIGB? Absolutely. 179 West Broadway near Franklin, 212 343 3883.

The pretty bad: RedBowl in Williamsburg, which we staggered into after a superb party nearby in a loft apartment with a backstage view of the Nas/Damian Marley concert against the Manhattan skyline and after our rube-like reconnaissance of the blocks around it. The basil pancake was surprisingly satisfying, but we made the mistake of listening to the distracted waiter about which of the duck main courses was best. The Cr should have been followed by ’appy rather than ’ispy; the $16 half-bird was really desiccated, even before it was blanketed in flour-tortilla-like pancakes with tired scallion shreds and sweet sauce. Usually one duck item on the menu is a warning. Now I know six are an Orange Level alert. Wine was $6 a glass, though, and the clean bathroom was very welcome before the ride home.

The bad except for the food: Toloache off Times Square, where we reflexively headed for a snack and glass of wine after the surprisingly good “Kids Are All Right” on 42d Street and where our punishment was dismissive service and delayed food. It wasn’t even full when we said we were two, but the hostess shunted us to the bar, which would have been fine if the bartender had not been in major hose-down mode, busier cleaning than tending to our order. While I sat watching the oven and what went into and came out of it. Only when Bob asked for a second glass did he check, and when the waiter sheepishly brought out the two plates, we both asked: How long was it sitting in the kitchen? He didn’t answer, and it was still warm enough not to send back, but still. The huitlacoche was as good as it always is, and the “costilla” with steak and chipotle BBQ sauce even better. But it was not a $60-plus-tip experience. WIGB? J’doubt it. Lots of new places are opening around there.

The we-put-the-din-in-dinner: Motorino in the East Village, where, luckily again, someone else was paying and where I left wondering how the waiters retain their sanity, let alone their hearing. We split the excellent “fire-roasted” mortadella with cherry tomatoes, basil, olives and pecorino, and it was about six universes away from the fried bologna I was envisioning (although the only way to eat bologna is fried, and fried crisp), then a pizza margherita and a special pizza with prosciutto and, if I remember right, burrata. I will never warm to wine in tumblers. Although now I wonder if those aren’t meant to be emptied and used as ear trumpets.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2010

March 2010

The good: Kefi, yet again, where I was unforgivably late for a Friday night reservation with friends but where the staff let the three of us hog a table for hours. When I got there they were halfway through good potato chips with tatziki and their first glasses of wine, and the conversation got so spirited we were soon mostly through a bottle of the Skouros before we got around to ordering. Sue was so persuasive I ordered the macaroni and cheese, something I almost never do, but she was right: it was not the usual stodge; the combination of sharper cheese and greens made it more like a respectable baked pasta. We shared a good Greek salad, and Donna was thrilled with her grilled octopus with chickpeas. The staff was so patient we didn’t even object to the overcharge for the glass of wine Sue canceled before we ordered the bottle, just paid up happily. WIGB? Of course, even though it does get loud on a Friday night. And all agreed we would never want to go out for Greek but are always up for Kefi. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.

The good II: Toloache, yet again, where my consort and I hightailed for a little more food after hors d’ (by Restaurant Associates) before a screening from our friends’ doc on “How Democracy Works Now” (begins soon on HBO). The place was relatively quiet, and we had wine before us in minutes, followed by the huitlacoche/truffle quesadilla (still more of a cheese crisp, with only one tortilla, but excellent since the woman chef was back at the oven) and a great salad with jicama, almonds and tamarind vinaigrette. WIGB? No need to ask. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The not bad: Bhojan in Curry Hill, where Bob and I made our way after the Greenmarket for Saturday lunch and where he admitted only on finishing that he never wants to go out for Indian. “I got over my red-checkered-tablecloth idea of Italian, but I still think of that street with Indian,” he said, meaning Sixth, where the old joke was that one kitchen spewed into every restaurant, and poorly. This place was a thousand years more modern, looking like someplace swank in Calcutta or Mumbai, with upside-down kadais on the ceiling as decoration and light fixtures made of green wine bottles and a bathroom enclosed in clouded glass. And the thalis, both my Gujarati and his Punjabi, were a pleasure to explore, all 10 or 11 elements from chutney to four kinds of bread, and worth the $16 weekend price (smaller ones at lunch during the week are $8). My curds and a salad of sprouted mung beans were particularly good, and the dal and black chickpeas special rivaled them. And for once there was enough bread, good bread, to scoop up as much as I could eat. I even liked my dessert, “sweet curd,” flavored with saffron and flecked with chopped pistachios. The service was a little slow, but we overheard a waiter saying the place was not even officially open yet, despite having been touted in the Times. WIGB? Maybe, although every time we head to that neighborhood there’s something new to try. 102 Lexington Avenue near 27th Street, 212 213 9794.

New York minute/Early March 2010

March 2010

The pretty good: Toloache off Times Square, where we met friends for a mutually geographically convenient dinner on a sloppy-wet night and where everything but the huitlacoche quesadilla (now more of a cheese crisp) was as good or better than usual, aside from service glitches. The friends did pay for chips and exceptional salsa at the bar when they arrived first, and their investment was never ferried to the table, but that oversight was corrected with a second batch later. Plus my $10 sauvignon blanc was charged at $9. Consort and I split the downscaled quesadilla, then three overfilled tacos: a special with beef, cheese, poblanos and avocado; pastor, and cabeza, with crispy/tender veal cheeks. The other side of the table ordered the $35 Restaurant Week specials and made appreciative noises. WIGB? Of course, but maybe we should find out where the great woman chef who used to make the quesadillas is working now. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

New York minutes/Late December 2009

January 2010

The pretty good: Great N.Y. Noodletown in Chinatown, where my consort insisted we head after hearing from a chef at an amazing party that the God of Momofuku had been inspired by a dish there. We hadn’t been in years, but aside from the price of the roast duck to go, nothing seemed to have changed much, although the staff was mellower and the proportion of Caucasians was higher. We waited briefly for wedged-in-tight seats at a communal table and had steaming-hot tea instantly. Ordering duck rolls from that kitchen was not the smartest move, but the two of them benefited from great ingredients if not skillful frying. Bob got advice from both a tablemate and the waiter on the quest dish, and it was both surprisingly simple and lively. I’m a duck junkie and almost overdosed on roast duck on rice. We walked out stuffed for $14.25 including tax and tip. WIGB? Absolutely. 28 1/2 Bowery at Bayard, 212 349 0923.

The pretty bad: The Edison Hotel’s cafe off Times Square, where I met a friend in from the mashed potato mines in Boston who needed to eat close to Penn Station and which I will not dignify by calling the Polish Tea Room. Despite two sentences in Times Square, I’d never been, and now I see why. The room has its weird charm, but time apparently stopped in the kitchen about the time grape jelly in individual packets was invented. The toast was industrial, the fatty bacon (which I’d ordered crispy) was stringy-scary, the scrambled eggs had something crunchy in them I hope was shells; only the home fries were respectable if not great. My friend succumbed to stewed prunes and an order of blintzes with sour cream; the latter choice, she said, would have been better with something acidic. The damn things were huge, though. She had coffee, I was too timid and settled for club soda, which was served in a plastic Coke cup. The ancient waiter was shuffling evidence that decades of experience don’t always pay off. WIGB? Not on a bet. Good thing I’d noticed online that the tip is included or we would have felt even more ripped off.

The decent: Dhaba in Curry Hill, where Bob and I wound up for a fast lunch after the Wednesday Greenmarket when I needed to do a curry-leaf-and-Kalustyan’s run and his choice, Tiffin Wallah, had too long a line for its $6.95 smorgasbord. I guess we got our extra $3 worth: A table opened up fast, and the app and bread were waiting on it by the time we got through the mobbed buffet line. As always, I had only veg (saag paneer, aloo matar, kadhai bhindi, dal, plus curds and chutneys) and was fine with it all; Bob indulged in lamb and various chicken curries, too, then we split the carrot dessert. Can you say filling? Dinner was a mesclun salad followed by popcorn. . . WIGB? Maybe. The  place looks great, and the staff has almost gotten its act together. 108 Lexington Avenue near 28th Street, 212 679 1284.