The not too bad: La Palapa, where I wound up at late brunchtime after the Saturday market when I literally could not trudge another step, let alone the few blocks to Cabrito. It’s not much of an excuse, but I still think I did better than I would have if I’d stayed at Wildwood with the fat tourist at the next table almost in my lap and the cheesy music blaring and the waiters so oblivious and the patent bogusness of the place so palpable. The chorizo in my cheesy eggs had zero flavor, but the $9.95 plate came with decent guacamole and a big slab pond of black beans, and the three salsas helped. WIGB? Stranger things have happened. 359 Sixth Avenue, 212 243 6870.
The not too horrible: Rohm Thai, where I stopped for a quick, cheap lunch rather than my usual queso fundido fix after the Wednesday market. The host and waitress were excellent, and the place is reasonably attractive, but it would be a stretch to describe the food as any better than mediocre. “Sauteed” duck off the $9 lunch menu was really a few hacks of a crispy breast, a dollop of bland peanut sauce, a big heap of rice and a lot of broccoli florets and carrot coins with no perceptible taste, only texture. A salad was included and maybe should not have been: a leaf of iceberg lettuce, a few carrot strips, a mushy tomato slice and a tidal wave of sweet dressing. WIGB? Maybe — my consort’s office gets takeout often, so it’s possible I just ordered badly. And how many Thai restaurants offer duck as an alternative to chicken, beef and tofu? 27 East 20th Street, 212 228 7681.
The hellish: Cafe du Soleil, where I stupidly led a friend who wanted to eat outside on one of those glorious evenings recently and where the usual bus fumes, traffic noise, pooping dogs and other sidewalk nuisances were supplemented by the most astonishing performance ever by a howler monkey. I got there first and chose a table next to a really old couple, not realizing they were just finishing, let alone that a kiddy ride was just outside the picket fence. By the time Donna arrived, an older guy with a trophy baby had taken their place, and two human larvae were shrieking to the incessant tune of “It’s a Small World After All.” Before long the 18-month-old with the huge diamond earrings in her pierced ears was joining in the symphony, and the more the show-off dad — and what was apparently his son from an earlier marriage — ignored her, the louder she got. Donna was more perturbed by the other parents, who were blithely ignoring the chaos on the ride, but even she finally had to say she would offer to help the dad but knew she would wind up holding the kid. Which would do neither of us any good as we tried to drink away our dejection over her ridiculously undercooked salmon and my slimy duck pizza. (Who knew fake mozzarella now comes in smoked flavor?) It got worse, too: the father actually stuck the kid in the stroller and pushed it out to the curb, then walked away as if abandoning her. Which of course only made her scream louder. Only the intervention of another mom now letting her own kid ride wild calmed the baby down somewhat. If I were the investing type, I would be putting all my money into psychotherapy clinics. Some seriously fucked-up kids are going to need all the help they can get. WIGB? Never at feeding time for the privileged and the oblivious. The bread, olives, wine and waiter were all fine. 2723 Broadway near 104th Street, 212 316 5000.
A tale of two cappuccinos: The Sheep Meadow Cafe charges $4, uses paper cups and plastic spoons, requires self-service (and busing) and lets you sit as long as you like. Bouchon, in the dread TWC, charges $4.25 plus tax and tip, uses real china and silver, has a hostess and waiters (one a live ringer for a character in the original “Office”) and lets you sit as long as you can resist the steady upselling and finally the subtle but very effective hints that your welcome is now officially outworn. So which one had the better beverage? Maybe it was a case of no expectations, but the one in the park actually surmounted all the strikes against it. Bouchon’s was scorched. Of course, life is a series of tradeoffs. As my date at the Sheep Meadow notes, the bird shit was free.