The good: Dim Sum Go Go, where we lucked in while trekking from the South Street Seaport to Nolita on a mid-Saturday and where we had mostly splendiferous food in a reassuringly clean environment (the bathrooms were even fragrant, in a good way). I haven’t eaten in Chinatown in years, since that devastating New Yorker piece on Health Department inspectors, but it was hard to resist an old favorite. We snared a tiny table fast and split perfectly fried pork dumplings, turnip cakes, steamed crab and “three-star” vegetable dumplings plus two orders of steamed duck dumplings (the waiter was right: they’re the best). Everything was delicate and carefully made and cooked right. I think the bill was about $25, and the service managed the impossible: helpful, mellow and efficient. Best of all, just as I was feeling stupid for being in a room with mostly gweilos, Pichet Ong came bouncing past on his way out, saying it was his favorite place in Chinatown. WIGB? Can’t wait till next Christmas. 5 East Broadway, 212 732 0796.
The better: Maremma, where we headed on New Year’s Eve for the second Dec. 31 and where we were just as happy we didn’t go back to searching for something new. The regular menu was on offer; Cesare was in fine form in red sneakers; Champagne was poured; the noise level was mellow until the place got busy just as we were leaving. And the food was, as always, really satisfying. He comped us the lardo and then his own salsiccia with lentils before we could order the traditional but imported cotechino, then we had an amazing apple salad, exceptional peppery farro with mussels and comped Tuscan fries. My pasta, a special with goose, was like what I would make at home with duck, but it was hard to complain when our $39 Tuscan wine from a sentimental favorite producer was also comped. We overtipped happily and came home with enough leftovers for a superb lunch. WIGB? Anytime. 228 West 10th Street off Bleecker, 212 645 0200.
The not bad: Green Table in the Chelsea Market, where I stopped in desperation one afternoon at an off-hour and where, aside from a grubby wineglass, I had a perfectly satisfying little lunch. Every place else I had tried to try between Le Du’s and Appellation was either not serving or serving junk, so I was happy to find a $14 platter built around very good trout and duck rillettes, each packed into little canning glasses and teamed with baguette toasts from Amy’s Bread across the concourse, a fine little mesclun salad and a teeny dish of pickled root vegetables (one of which cracked a wisdom tooth and I didn’t even mind). I’ve walked past this place more times than I can count but now see why it’s usually busy. WIGB? Probably. 75 Ninth Avenue, 212 741 6623.
The repeatable: La Rural, where we went back after a movie with friends who had reserved at Cafe Luxembourg but who agreed the chance to try good wines in a BYO environment was irresistible. Their shared ribeye was good, but I have to say our skirt steak was even better; the fries without the Provencal treatment were okay, while the multicolor salad had no dressing. The service was outstanding, with fresh glasses offered for our second bottle, and much charm. And, luckily for us if not the owners, the dining room was empty enough that we could almost talk comfortably. WIGB? Inevitably. 768 Amsterdam Avenue near 97th Street, 212 749 2929.
The overlooked: La Pizza Fresca, where I just remembered we ate right before Christmas with a bunch of my consort’s friends from his new universe and where the whole experience was better than it had any right to be. The waiters were fools and neglected us after the food landed, not realizing how much more they could have sold, but the cooking and wine were fine, and we got a long table out of the way of aural assault. One FOB had eaten there the night before and was thrilled to be back, steering us to the right pizzas and indulging us with appetizer choices (fried calamari, polenta with mushrooms and Montasio, etc.) Sitting right by the pizza oven added to the good vibe in a place we had given up on after a bad experience with an Italian friend years ago. WIGB? Probably. 31 East 20th Street, 212 598 0141.