New York minutes/Early December 2007

The good: Mermaid Inn uptown, where the noise level was not as brutal on a second visit and where the food and service were actually impressive. We walked over after the excellent “Gone Baby Gone,” around 7:30 on Saturday night, and expected a line out the door but were instead assured by the hostess the wait would be more than 10 minutes. Then we had just enough time to get our $9 glasses of gamay and gruner at the bar before we were seated. The very personable waiter, after promising four oysters in the grilled appetizer and delivering three, poured our second glasses with a very liberal hand to compensate. A special of grilled Arctic char seemed strange, laid as it was over rings of pasta and a mound of broccoli rabe with chilies, but it worked brilliantly. And the very meaty, nicely seasoned lobster sandwich not only came with excellent Old Bay fries but was made with a real brioche bun rather than a hot dog holder, which may be traditional but actually sucks. Who cared that the free chocolate mousse was overly gelatinous yet again? WIGB? Absolutely. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The not bad: P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Square, where the cold drove us for proximity’s sake with another couple after the nearly interminable “I’m Not There” and where the one drawback was the buffoons bellowing at the bar next to the oversized booth where we were trying to decide if we had seen art or annoyance. My Caesar salad was fine, Bob’s chicken potpie was big and our friends seemed happy with a burger and a big salad; the Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet was about $35. The waiter was one of those relentless if pleasant upsellers, but the vibe in the place was definitely “happy to have your business.” WIGB? Probably. Buffoons are inescapable, and it is temptingly close to the best art house for miles. 44 West 63d Street, 212 957 9700.

The great: Chola yet again, where I met up with three friends for a long lunch and where the waiters not only let us linger unbothered but were even pleasant as we finally left, maybe because having a table occupied drew a second wave of diners for that always satisfying buffet. Every time I go it seems new temptations are on offer; this time a tomato chutney was exceptional. The bread baker was on a roll, too. No wonder all the other Indian choices on the block are all but empty. WIGB? Constantly. 232 East 58th Street, 212 688 4619.