The good again: Toloache in the theater district, where I ventured to meet a friend around 8 on a Saturday night, where we expected post-curtain dreariness and where it was just like eating in a real neighborhood. I got there first and took a seat at the bar, where the margarita inches away looked so seductive I ordered one myself, throwing off my friend. By the time we were ready to move to a table, we had to haul old ass up the stairs because the first floor was full; at least it was slightly quieter if much hotter (over the kitchen). The waiter was a charmer I remembered from last time, a guy who could sell sun lamps to Sonorans (he even pointed out that we would have been better off ordering a bottle of albarino). We split a special of crab, cheese, chipotle and pumpkin baked in a small pumpkin, with chips for dipping and a vibrant salad of quartered cherry tomatoes with onion on the side — my only regret on passing up the queso fundido for it was that it should have been bubbling hot. I had carne asada tacos in which the meat actually seemed braised, while Wally was in ecstasy over her octopus. We, being girls, had no room for the special of apple enchiladas, although that idea haunts my thoughts. WIGB? Soon, for queso fundido at least, although the skirt steak with enchilada next to that other margarita on the bar looked pretty tantalizing. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.
The not bad again: Saravanaas, where the south Indian thali is $9.95 at lunchtime, the German riesling is $6 a glass and the amplitude of the tiny dishes makes up for the sameness of flavors. Having been there often enough, I no longer get worked up about the brain-dead-to-hostile service. The place is clean, the light is nice, the food when it finally arrives is always fine. If I wanted variety and the whole spiritual journey, I would be up at Chola. WIGB? Absolutely. 81 Lexington Avenue at 26th Street, 212 679 0204.
The underwhelming: Shorty’s32, where I lured another friend who had proposed Aquagrill among other destinations and where we were lucky to escape without needing ear trumpets. And maybe if it had not been so loud and crowded we might have appreciated what the poor gifted chef is doing in a doomed space. Our food took so long to arrive we were comped a very rich Jerusalem artichoke soup with very Jean-Georges garnishes (I suspected intervention by another food writer across the room); maybe that’s why my “crab sticks” just seemed like a great crustacean forced into pollock duty. I didn’t try the chicken entree across the table but got the strong sense that a chicken shunner was not converted that night. The service was better than it had any right to be in a gang bang; the bartender in particular gets points for knowing what wines we had ordered from her before being seated after a surprisingly long wait. A few days later I ran into the above food writer at a kluster phuck and he made a good point — in my words, that real estate is restricting. WIGB? Maybe, although Provence when we fled there for a quiet drink afterward was so serene and comfortable and alluring I almost wondered why we care about food when we leave our homes with all of the above. 199 Prince Street, 212 357 8275.