The pretty good: Fatty Crab, where the friendliest, most efficient service ever compensated for fatty duck that was more chewy duck. Even the music was welcoming rather than head-banging. I went for an early lunch, and the one waiter was wrangling half a dozen tables while lavishing attention on all of us. The bok choy was also the best ever, and both the duck and the rice under it were seasoned and garnished perfectly. Only the meat was a problem. Ever since the first chef moved on, the best thing on the menu has become a challenge rather than an indulgence, and I can’t tell what has gone awry. I just know the fat and flesh resist rather than melt when you take a bite. WIGB? Yep. When it’s on, it’s on. 643 Hudson Street near 12th Street, 212 352 3590.
The not bad: Republic, where I finally succumbed in a weak moment after resisting for as long as it has been there and I have been going to the Greenmarket. I wanted something quick, there was a table outside, the waiter had water and a menu to me before I could reconsider, and I wound up wondering why I had resisted for so long. The curried duck noodles were better than dispiriting (as that kind of combination so often is), the wine was not shiver-inducing, and the waiter was almost scarily efficient (no notebook, three tables’ orders taken at once, all delivered with no problem). When I schlepped inside to the bathroom, one floor and 14 miles away, I remembered what had kept me at bay. I hate communal tables. WIGB? Eventually. 37 Union Square West near 17th Street, 212 627 7172.
The trying: Charm Thai, where I felt compelled to try a lunch because it is new and close but where I walked out $14 lighter feeling cheated, and that was with the tip. The duck salad came with a plethora of unannounced raw mushrooms, which I never eat since a morel dealer in Oregon told me 15 years ago that they can hatch spores in your gut, while the steamed dumplings were more like little diapers full of spinach and oddly funky taro. I couldn’t figure out how to eat them with fork or fingers, and no chopsticks were on offer, so I tried and failed. The place looks nice, and the waitress was pleasant (although an old guy across the room was losing it). WIGB? Probably. It’s too close for comfort. 722 Amsterdam Avenue near 95th Street, 212 866 9800. [Early May 2007]