Archive for the ‘Tribeca’ Category

Working backward, indeed

June 2015

I have looked at the naked backsides of three women at the bar on the Cafe Luxembourg card/ad for as long as I’ve been eating for a living, but I only just learned what the damned image meant. Suffice it to say that a single guy did the explaining, which involved how mens see ladies. And that was on my third meal in the last half-year in that seductively faux-Parisian space, where the charm has held up for as long as I’ve been eating for a living despite the fact that the cooking has never really been transporting.

I thought I had figured out how to ace the menu after the first of the three meals, when another host and I made the mistake of ordering specials, which were overwrought, overpriced and underwhelming (it’s been half a year, at least, so no deets). From then on, I swore, I would only order the fish and chips. And on my second meal I was rewarded with perfection: fresh pollack, crisply fried and teamed with excellent tartar sauce, textbook frites and a little side of fresh pea purée to approximate mushy peas. The Cat was one happy cat when I kittybagged what was left of the ample portion.

Then I had to go and ruin everything by calculating how to order safely while not giving my host the impression I was a boring orderer and queering a potential deal. So I decided on a cheeseburger. Which turned out to be everything you would want in a cheeseburger — good bun, good lettuce and tomato, great frites, ramekins of not just ketchup but mustard and mayonnaise, proper rareness — but lacked that little essential. Flavor. The meat had no char or tang. Still, WIGB? Absolutely, especially if someone else is paying. You can eat the scenery.

And I guess the burger was not that lame because I trotted to the 3 train afterward to get to the Tribeca Film Festival and was feeling pretty light, having left most of my food on the plate. For my next eating experience I spotted a happy-hour sign on a new-to-me restaurant on West Broadway after exiting at Chambers, and I remembered it when my consort and I had an hour and a half to kill between shorts programs. So we walked away from the wind back to Saleya to settle onto stools for $6 glasses of wine, chardonnay from the Languedoc for me and garnacha for Bob.

Bob also wisely suggested we order a couple of small plates rather than making dinner later of a sachet of popcorn for $6.50, so we split a seriously good pizzetta topped with bacon, Gruyere and onions (tarte flambee by another name) and adequate hummus with exceptional pita (charred and perfectly salted). Bob’s no fan of chickpeas, so I got all those topping both the hummus and the little salad that came with the $14 snack.

WIGB? Definitely, if I were in the neighborhood and wanting to avoid the no-discount drinking in all the swankola restaurants near the Regal Cinemas. And not least because the design of the two-level bar is so savvy it reminded me of the restaurateur we met eons ago in Estonia who said “restaurants serve air” — theatricality is half the experience.

Also, too, it’s a good thing I never got around to writing about how negative my pals felt a couple of months back after choosing Mighty Quinn’s brisket before the Jim Jarmusch/John Schaeffer silent-film-with-music presentation down in the old Winter Garden under the new World Trade Center. All but Mr. Pulled Pork dispiritedly forked through leathery meat and agreed: Romance. Over. But then Bob and I had half an hour to forage between documentaries at the film festival and went upstairs rather than back to Le District and, at my instigation, circled back to the Mighty. All dryness was forgiven. For $9.25, that mound of meat on a bun paired with coleslaw (half-creamy, half-vinegary as the accommodating counter server provided) plus pickled celery, cucumbers, jalapenõs and red onions was easily the best deal in a food court where a grilled cheese is just a grilled cheese. To think for only $2.75 less, we could have been feasting on popcorn.

Light in the harbor

June 2015

WIGB? If you’re talking Pier A, I already did. Lunch a while back with a friend with benefits (or at least an expense account) was such a great experience I insisted my consort and I head there as a reward for me braving one of our dreary trips to the horror-movie-worthy storage center down near the old Fulton Fish Market. The setting is magical, with a huge deck outside a beautifully restored building with sight lines straight to the Statue of Liberty, and the food is far beyond what you would expect in a tourist magnet (maybe because the crowd includes jump-you-fuckers suits from surrounding office towers?) Both lunches I had fish and chips, the cod perfectly fried and matched with good tartar sauce plus excellent fat, crunchy fries (and okay coleslaw). The oyster po’ boy at the first lunch was more bread than bivalve, though, so I was glad Bob immediately went for the Buffalo chicken wings. Which were so much better than we have ever had the few times we have bothered with them in their namesake city. These were big and meaty and juicy and, again, fried right, plus they were awash in buttery hot sauce. He had a beer, I had a glass of rosé and the view did the rest. I will say service merited an A+ the first time and at best a C the second; four times a runner showed up at our table with food we hadn’t ordered, plus the waiter did not know the rosé price, which beers were IPA etc. and vanished for too long between those questions and our ordering. Both the WiFi and the computer system were down, though, so everyone is entitled to an off day. The place was also full with a wedding and a private party. And I could forgive it anything because I spotted Harry Poulakakos*, dad of the partner in the place, on my way to the hoi polloi bathroom and got to catch up to his sweetness a bit on my way back to the table. His apple not only did not fall far from the tree but has spread fruit all over Lower Manhattan, the best place to get out of New York without leaving the island. *It’s a long way from the sea of heartbreak.

New York minute/Early March 2014

March 2014

So where the hell have I been (eating)? So many satisfying places I get overwhelmed trying to remember all of them over all those months. I can’t decide whether to work backward or qualitywise, so I guess I’ll do both just to grease the neglected gears. Telepan Local in TriBeCa really was vaut le voyage on a shivery night. The space is like a cabin in the woods, right down to the JC Penney plaid shirts on the servers and the hang-’em-yourself coatroom. But the host was super-sophisticated — he shunted Ben Franklin in a yachting cap aside to seat my consort and me because we had arrived before her and whoever that guy was she was with. I wanted to try the place for the Buffalo quail I’m including in a story, and it alone was worth the $100-including-Rueda tab, the meat super-tender, the sauce Frank’s-spicy. But we also shared superb sourdough pizzetta topped with meaty-tasting Brussels sprouts, sage and pecorino, lively tempuraesque fried watercress with cashews and chili oil, just-okay arancini with bone marrow and Parmigiano aioli and spectacular smoked trout migas, the flaky fish a great counterpoint to the eggs and bread crumbs. Service was nervous but still: WIGB? Absolutely. Real energy in the room and on the plate.

New York minutes/End of January 2012

February 2012

The very close to perfect: Momofuku Ssam, where I met a friend for lunch on my birthday and where everything from attitude to kittybag was done right. The rotisserie duck was easily the best nonsmoked duck I have ever eaten, and I have eaten a lot of duck in my many years — you’d almost think it was sous vide from the tenderness and concentrated flavor, but my consort and I watched one roast on the spit on our last visit, so that can’t be true. I didn’t even get into the rice and watercress the slices came with, but I did like wrapping them up in the pancake with all the accoutrements. The $20 weekday set comes with a side, and the spiced fingerlings were pretty amazing. Fried duck dumplings with pickled red cabbage were exquisite yet again, too. Wines by the glass are a better deal in the front room, BTW. WIGB? Any day now. The best part was hearing my friend recall how scary that very corner was back in the Eighties, when another good friend was mugged right outside where we were indulging. 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street.

The superb: Aldea, where Bob and I headed for my birthday the night he got in from 10 days in Costa Rica and where seats at the chef’s counter made the perfect perches as neutral territory for reentry. His sardines were a little mushy, the skin chips in my duck rice a little fatigued, but otherwise the whole experience was sensational. I was pretty taken with the sea urchin laid over cauliflower puree on a toast as a starter, and my entree had almost too much duck breast and chorizo. Bob had to order the suckling pig after seeing it plated: a slab of almost terrine-like deconstructed/reconstructed pork seared and teamed with both kohlrabi and “crispy potato” that was like the world’s longest strip/chip. (Best part of sitting at the counter: You can ask how they do everything, and this was by mandoline.) We should have listened to the sommelier on the Basque white; as he hinted, it was pretty acidic and watery, but our shared glass of sherry overcompensated, especially with the excellent mignardises. WIGB? Absolutely. Great value, great experience. 31 West 17th Street, 212 675 7723.

The good, and good deal: Mermaid Inn in the West Village, where I led us after the dazzling “Pina” at IFC and where the waitress’s tout for Blackboard Eats made me remember the Twitter secret and where 20 percent off made a great experience even better. We split a $35 bottle of decent verdicchio with the trout over kale and the outstanding crab cake appetizer ($15 but enough to kittybag). It was before 8, so the noise level was tolerable in the old-folks back room, too. The server and hosts could not have been more hospitable. But someone needs to sit the busboy down to a free dinner and show him how it feels to have someone invade your space with a git-’er-done roughness. He’s super-efficient, but he’s working too fast and definitely too hard. Still, WIGB? Of course. 79 Macdougal Street, 212 260 0100.

The surprisingly not bad: Plein Sud in Tribeca, where we wound up after the outstanding opening of the revitalized South Street Seaport Museum and after finding our destination across the street — Nam — was in the midst of morphing into some new destination. I’ll admit I trudged to the table with dread dragging me down, because I’d read in the WSJ that the chef was mostly known for being one of those lower-end Tin Chefs, and had worked in other not-great restaurants. The place was packed, but we got a good table, and the food/service/wine all delivered. Bob ordered a not-promising $11 tarte flambee as soon as we sat down, and I would have called it quits at that, but he insisted I order something else, and the $12 beet “tartare” with Fourme d’Ambert, pine nuts and chives almost changed my mind about the sugar veg. His $21 skate with capers turned out to be even more satisfying. WIGB? Surprisingly, yes. Everyone was so nice when we were so old by comparison with the rest of the room. 85 West Broadway at Reade Street, 212 504 5555.

New York minutes/End of October 2011

October 2011

The pretty good: Nam in Tribeca, where a friend and I headed for quiet and snacks after Kurt Gutenbrunner’s superb book party at Blaue Gans (as social as being in someone’s home but with better food and real waiters working hard at keeping glasses and mouths full). The Nam waiter was a little brusque, and no one was happy to have us linger till closing time, but the food came through. We ordered four appetizers, which turned out to be way too many after pralined foie gras: summer rolls with beef and with shrimp, sausage and peanuts plus five-spice baby back ribs and grilled eggplant with ginger and lime. WIGB? Anytime I’m in that neighborhood. It’s great value in a sleek space. 110 Reade Street at West Broadway, 212 267 1777.

The even better: Red Rooster Harlem, where my consort just back from a week of food hell at a workshop in Kentucky insisted we head for Monday lunch as walk-ins and where the setting and service rivaled the cooking. I won’t eat catfish and two of the offerings involved farmed salmon, so of course I had to have the cheeseburger, which was $16 worth of excellent, sauced with a spicy mayonnaise and topped with mushrooms, red onions, tomato and lettuce; the great fries were tossed with baby arugula and lots of salt although the truffle flavor was AWOL. Bob’s “yard bird” was all it’s been billed as, a big plateful of juicy, perfectly fried breast and leg, laid over perfect collard greens with a little spicy sauce on the side. As he guessed, it was roasted first, as we learned on gawking at the kitchen and being invited over by the expediter to check out the wood oven (and then meet all the cooks). The vibe in the place that day was amazing, as were the beautifully designed bathrooms. (Not so sure about writing Crisco on the dining room wall, though — why not Spry?) WIGB? Absolutely, although I’d guess it would be insane for dinner. 310 Lenox Avenue just north of 125th Street, 212 792 9001.

The aurally alluring: Lyon in the West Village, where we met a friend who was in from New Hope for a photo event and had one request for a destination, that it be quiet enough to talk. The food and wine and service were all fine, although I’m not sure why we three were seated right up against the service/ordering station in a nearly empty dining room. But we could talk. And talk, through a second bottle of Crozes Hermitage. I think I liked the silk weaver’s brains the best, the herbed cheese spread from Lyon, because it was paired with Virginia ham and crudités and Bob was smart enough to ask how to tackle it — just wrap the ham around the vegetable and dunk. “Barbecued” duck wings were as good as the first time we had them, meaty and sticky-sweet, and I made them a main course with a side of excellent broccoli rabe, the bitterness muted by halved cherry tomatoes and sweet onions. Since I ordered those, Bob was liberated for once to grab the duck, and it was nice enough, a perfectly cooked breast over a buckwheat crepe enfolding pearl barley and kale and (imperceptible as always) “truffle.” I didn’t try the other Bob’s chicken, but he seemed happy. WIGB? Anytime. I was underwhelmed by the food in the real Lyon. This is the perfect detour. 118 Greenwich Avenue at West 12th/Jane Streets, 212 242 5966.

The addictive: Milk Bar on the Upper West Side, where I’m going to have to complain to the community board about that neon sign. It’s like a damn siren song every time I pass by, even after a party where I gorged on great cheese and still had to stop for a compost or corn cookie.

The emulative: The very different bars at Regional and Boulud Sud, both on the Upper West Side, where I was amazed by the “happy to serve you” attitude. At the former we  met a friend in from Santa Barbara to promote an admirable book, and I’d chosen it because it was nearly equidistant between where she was staying and we live. It was happy hour, and the bartender not only came over to the communal table to take our orders but volunteered that a Chianti and a pinot grigio could be had for $5 a glass, so we were able to have two for one. As we left, a proprietary-looking woman with a baby on her hip came over to thank us for coming. We will be back. At BS, I decided we need to quit wasting real money in dive bars where the crap wine is $11 or $12 a glass and you can’t hear your brain cells die for the din. Meeting a Twitter connection in from out of town, I had a nice glass of picpoul from the Languedoc for all of $9, and even as the restaurant filled up she and I could still talk easily. When another woman came in and asked us to move down a barstool, the bartender topped off our wineglasses for free for complying. As my consort had warned after having a similarly great experience there recently, the crowd is a bit fogeyish. But I’ll take it. Kids are not always all right.

New York minutes/Mid-November 2010

November 2010

The good: Lyon in the old Cafe Bruxelles in the West Village, where we were lucky enough to arrive early when it had just opened and got a nice table in a quiet corner in the back and tried not to dwell on why we had been so underwhelmed by food in the real Lyon. There it’s belly-busting heavy, so I only ordered two appetizers: escargots in risotto, a nice idea, and quenelles, which someone should have warned me were not real — chicken is foul when you’re expecting fish — although the sauce with black trumpet mushrooms was excellent. My consort loved his lamb shank on a few white beans with spicy merguez, though. And wines are a deal (starting at $7 a glass), but they took forever to arrive. WIGB? Absolutely. Although no one will take the place for authentic because the waiters are too thin. 118 Greenwich Avenue.

The pretty good under the circumstances: Donatella in Chelsea, where four of us headed after “Long Story Short” in the hellhole that is the Theater District and where the din was definitely put in dinner but the food redeemed everything. The kitchen was slammed, maybe thanks to the great review in the Village Voice, so my consort and I should have known better than to try to order things we’d loved previously. A first go-round of the fried calamari with aioli spiked with bottarga lived up to memory, but the second looked over-browned and heavy. His spaghetti with sea urchin also seemed more sodden this time. Eggplant parmigiana, though, a tiny portion in an iron pot, was exceptional if dainty for $13. And my mushroom-and-smoked mozzarella pizza was soggier than I expected but had great flavor and ingredients; the Enzo, with sausage and broccoli rabe, probably qualified as true Neapolitan because it sagged at the center as well. Comped zeppoli made our friends who know from the Jersey Shore very happy. WIGB? Probably, if we’re near there. The waitress was a bit of a ditz, and someone really needs to teach the staff which wineglasses go with which wine, but the food and value (with both food and wine) make it far better than anything on that strip. Despite the din. 184 Eighth Avenue near 20th Street, 212 493 5150.

The surprising: City Winery in Tribeca, where I stayed to try the product while on another mission and was happy to find the chardonnay straight from the barrel in the cellar was a serious wine and the flatbread made with lees left from the winemaking was beyond respectable. The special that day was chorizo and padron peppers with Manchego, and it held up well despite the charred chiles. The waitress, once she kicked into gear, was also outstanding. WIGB? Definitely, especially after Film Forum, and absolutely for a concert. 155 Varick Street at Vandam, 212 608 0555.

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-February 2010

February 2010

The good: Nam in TriBeCa, where four of us headed after the amazing “That Night’s Wife” with original score at the World Financial Center and where I could only wonder why we had never tried it before. The elegant room looks like $30 entrees, but I don’t think anything was over $18; Oyster Bay SV was only $30 when wine stores are gouging at $13 or $14. We split outstanding beef rolls and seared tuna rolls plus exceptional grilled eggplant; only the bland green papaya salad with shrimp and scabs (a k a dried beef) was a letdown among appetizers. Roast duck might not have been the freshest bird ever, but it was perfectly cooked, and a noodle dish with pork-and-shrimp meatballs and grilled pork rivaled it. WIGB? Absolutely. Len was longing for the Vietnamese coffee we saw at the next table, and it would only be safe at lunchtime. Plus the staff was so chipper. 110 Duane Street near West Broadway, 212 267 1777.

The sad: Quinto Quarto in the West Village, where we stumbled in for late lunch after finding Market Table closed for a wedding reception and where we soon learned $14.95 is no deal for two courses, wine and coffee. Bob described the food as profoundly mediocre, but I think he was too kind: My “orzo” salad of barley, radicchio and tomatoes with a dusting of grated pecorino bordered on flavor-free, as did his “ribollita,” a mess of mixed vegetables in bland broth. Worse was the baked lamb, allegedly with rosemary; it tasted as if it had been sitting on a steam table long enough to turn to mutton. Only my “bombolotti alla gricia” was half-worth eating, although it arrived cold, a mortal sin in Italy; the sautéed onions, guanciale and pecorino hung together despite the absence of the promised “hot chilly pepper.” Trebbiano and Montepulciano were big pours but also wan. Espresso and macchiato, though, tasted almost Trieste-worthy. And the waitress who made them was incredible: super-friendly, efficient, upbeat. Too bad she wasn’t doing the cooking. WIGB? If a real chef were around. The room is quite nice.

The believe-the-hype: Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, where a friend and I landed after Sigiri was closed despite the open-hours sign on the door on a less-snow-than-expected afternoon; we were able to walk right in and get seats at a relatively quiet table in the back and were soon sharing a superb pork-kimchi tamal, fabulous steamed buns with shiitakes (more like soft tacos) and spicy noodles with Sichuan sausage, spinach and cashews. I never like wine in teeny tumblers; it never feels worth $9. But that’s a tiny complaint when the staff was so hospitable, the ingredients so clean and the experience so uplifting. WIGB? Can’t wait. I’m even half-tempted to buy the cookbook. 171 First Avenue near 11th Street.

The decent: Turkuaz on the Upper West Side, where we hooked up with three friends after another great “Selected Shorts” at Symphony Space on a snowy night and where the staff let us linger well past midnight in an empty back room. Raku to start was not the smartest idea, but it kept us to one bottle of Turkish white for $32. I’m not sure the “platter” of spreads was worth $19.95; it was more the size of a dinner plate, and we got two baba ghanoush because they were out of a fifth spread. Everything tasted fine, with excellent bread, though. I didn’t try the two meat shish kebabs or $26 lamb chops, but the decent vegetable casserole was overpriced at $14.95. The bathroom was a trip, too, back to the 1950s or a backward country, with old armchairs and that disinfectant reek. WIGB? Maybe. It was certainly comfortable, with more than accommodating service. 2637 Broadway at 100th Street, 212 665 9541.

The design/food fail: Community Food & Juice across from Columbia, where Bob and I settled after a preview program on the enticing “Latin Music USA” series on PBS at the  J-School and where we might have been happier if we had taken seats on the banquette rather than evading two self-absorbed crazy women at the door. Instead we were crammed into a ridiculously tight table in an alcove where the waiter and runner could only get to the next table by slamming into Bob and where the jerk at the next table was bellowing about tits. It all made me think a new rule should be that any restaurant designer should have to suffer a meal at every table greedily wedged in. But all that might have been forgiven if the zucchini-scallion pancakes had not been both desiccated and tasteless and the shrimp dumplings had not been so sad. Only the spicy green beans with peanuts redeemed the meal. Does no one monitor what leaves the kitchen? WIGB? Not on a bet.

New York minutes/Mid-September

September 2009

The really good: Locanda Verde in Tribeca, where my consort and I trekked after the New Amsterdam Market after finding Governor’s Island oversubscribed as a follow-up destination. We made it in just before the kitchen closed on Sunday brunch, and our food came faster than anything else but water, despite the fact that the staff had that punch-drunk, end-o’-brunch demeanor. Having overindulged in so much richness — porchetta to creamy yogurt to bacon peanut brittles — at The New Amsterdam market, I was thrilled with the crostini of the day, heaped with blue crab on a spicy base with jalapeno and cucumber. (For all of $7.) Bob was equally happy with his dainty portion of maltagliatti with sprightly pesto, broad beans and tomatoes, the sauce very light and the balance sublime. We each had a $10 glass of rosé and walked out happy. The space was perfect on a brilliantly sunny September day, too. WIGB? In a heartbeat. 377 Greenwich Street near Franklin, 212 925 3797.

The good yet again: The New French, where Bob and I headed after he saw “Inglorious Basterds” in the Village while I was working and where we both had a whole new experience, not just because we sat outside. Remembering the chef’s Tabla background, I ordered the vegetable curry, which was unsurprisingly sensational (although it made me realize I will never love bok choy), with an amazingly balanced sauce and gussied-up couscous on the side rather than the rice I find so dreary. The portion was huge enough that I got lunch and a midafternoon snack out of the kitty bag I took home (Wyl-E got nothin’). Bob had the chicken pho and polished it off despite whimpering that it was too rich. The waiter seemed distracted, but it was his first night on the sidewalk, so who would complain? 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.

The good except for my food: Mermaid Inn uptown, where I landed with my Main Line friend when he chose seafood over new Greek for dinner within walking distance on a depressingly chilly night. We shared the calamari salad with feta, which was even better than usual with shiitakes tossed in with the frisee, and Don actually deemed his scallop special, with cauliflower tossed with capers, “exquisite.” The waitress was, no surprise, great, even topping off his glass of white for free (and correcting the $2 overcharge Don spotted on the special). But I was bummed by the skate, no longer a crispily seductive indulgence but a big wet slab still on the cartilage, under a watery cascade of sautéed mushrooms (regular and shiitake) with sliced garlic. And the cartilage was trouble; I started thinking I would have to dust off my restaurant-school Heimlich training when Don got a mouthful of slivers. Still, WIGB? Absolutely. Value/experience is outstanding. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

New York minutes/Early July 2008

July 2008

The ideal: Fairway upstairs, where a very motley crew of us assembled to appease some who hate fish, some who were bored with Italian and Mexican and one who wanted mashed potatoes. We walked in around 8 on a Thursday and immediately got a round table for seven and an accommodating waiter and good food at a great price (although I doubt that the Atlantans and the Illinoisans would agree on the latter). I just had the pizza with prosciutto and arugula and a few bites of my consort’s perfectly executed (for a change) skate and a forkful of my littlest sister’s daughter’s Caesar. Everyone seemed happy enough with the chicken schnitzel and skirt steak on the great-value special menus, and I will never complain about sauvignon blanc that cheap. Plus we could hear each other talk. Most of us, anyway. And for some reason, the 20 percent service included struck the outlanders as a bonus. 2127 Broadway at 74th Street, 212 595 1888.

The serviceable: Spice, where five of us took refuge in a drenching rainstorm when we set out to explore the Greenmarket at Union Square and two of the out-of-towners balked at Rosa after having tried the Atlanta branch. The place was deserted for a change, and the staff could not have been nicer. I got a noodle-free pad Thai that was gloppy and good with lots of smoked tofu and vegetables, after the crispy spring rolls, and none of us could finish our food (even with the much smaller cup-size of rice shaped in a Madonna bra). The bill with tip was $44 if that says anything — I think I spent that much on produce four blocks north once the skies cleared. 60 “Universal” (University) Place, 212 982 3758.

Also, I was not invited to the celebration of the unholy marriage but would still have chosen to trek to Tribeca to another party the same night. The chef is engaging as hell (despite his lineage), his partner’s no dummy and the pastry chef has credentials to spare (Blackbird impresses me more than the Big E, though). The space they found looked great, too, but that might be because the Sancerre-filled wineglasses were the size of Prada chalices. I only tried a little of the food, but even this chicken shunner was impressed by the deep-fried nuggets. WIGB? Soon, I hope.