The pretty good: Fairway Cafe, where my consort and I retreated after finding the Sheep Meadow Cafe closed on a Monday night and where we actually had the best service ever if not the greatest food. The waiter ran up to us as we walked in, said a window table was opening up in a few minutes and then stayed attentive throughout the meal. The great lure there is always the $5 sauvignon blanc from New Zealand (half the price anyone else extracts), but my consort was craving rose and got taken in by the “seaside tipple of the filthy rich” for $7.50, which actually turned out to be white zinfandel’s poor French cousin. The $6.50 shiraz was much better. I hadn’t had a real meal in a couple of days, so I ordered skate, which was fresh enough but not expertly fried; Bob’s game hen, though, was outstanding, very flavorful and juicy. The paltry frites also kicked the steamed potatoes’ ass. 2127 Broadway at 74th Street, 212 595 1888.
The pretty great: Pearl Oyster Bar, where I got to indoctrinate a first-timer in the total bliss of the fried fish sandwich at the bar, the only place to sit at lunch. It was halibut for a change but, as always, totally fresh, cooked just right and perfectly balanced with the bread, tomato, lettuce and drippy tartar sauce. And the fries were outstanding again. I took half of mine home for lunch the next day (it was still good), but she soldiered on to the last bite, even while observing that “this sandwich is like Moby-Dick.” We seemed to be surrounded by VIPs but couldn’t imagine anything bigger or better. 18 Cornelia Street, 212 691 8211.
The not too bad: Dean’s Pizzeria, where we stopped after a party with a couple of friends to soak up the dangerously fortified vodkas we’d ingested and where we survived the lack of air conditioning by snaring a table just inside the door, in a breeze. The salad for one was enough for all of us, and we took a third of the mushroom-sausage pizza home. The crust struck me as more Pillsbury this time, and half the mozzarella had that weird sliminess turning up everywhere, but it did the job. 215 West 85th Street, 212 875 1100.
The strange: The Modern, where I’m not sure a press lunch should be used to judge the “real” kitchen but where the food was actually so peculiar I have to say so. Gabriel Kreuther has always been a favorite chef, so I was surprised that the first course was just a bunch of ingredients on a plate, mostly lobster; I ate it all because I knew lamb was on the way, but it was really another of those Mormon marriages. As for the lamb, the huge honking slab on the T-bone was nearly impossible to saw through with the knife provided; at least the Alsatian gnocchi with it were gummable. And the dessert was really amateur hour, a clumsy chocolate tartlet with an oozing center that overwhelmed the two ports it was meant to complement. All very odd. But the company was excellent, the service beyond superb. Just not sure I’d go back and spend my own money on the fancy side of the bar.