New York minutes/Mid-September 2008

The pretty good: Artisanal, where I met my consort and a good friend with his new wife simply because they were staying a couple of blocks away and where I reserved with my own name to ward off any disaster (although Seth does love to collect NYC dining disasters with us; he will always tell the story of the leather jacket stolen in a restaurant and the coming home afterward to find a guy puking on our apartment building’s doorstep). We got a relatively quiet table after the three of them had downed their $20-a-glass wine at the bar (and had sent back dregs that were poured first), and we were comped warm gougeres. By then it was late enough on an 8:30 reservation that no one wanted more than appetizers, so we shared the fondue of the night (Morbier with apricots and not blowaway), then really good duck-foie gras rillettes, far-better-than-average steak tartare, acceptable tuna carpaccio, strange watermelon-feta salad and grilled octopus that they all liked but I passed up. We also had okay chocolate marquise and drank way too much wine, and the guys had to have grappa as the new mom nodded off, but we still got away for $125 a couple before tip. I had to study the bill next morning to figure that out. WIGB? Yep, but only under my own name. 2 Park Avenue on 32d Street, 212 725 8585.

The seriously good: Yerba Buena, where I headed in desperation to meet my consort and friends in from Portland, O. — I hate the East Village, but the chef is from the great Toloache, so why not? I got there first and took a seat next to a braying asshole at the bar and spent my first 10 minutes with $10 Uruguyan sauvignon blanc sinking into deeper despair, since Latino drinks could bring out the braying asshole in monks who have taken a vow of silence. And I was losing it when we were shown to a table right by the bar with the BA, because the room is very tiny and potentially excruciatingly loud. But it’s amazing what stellar service and really good food does for a bad mood. Not to mention cheap wine — we had two bottles of $30 Uruguayan blends and could not have been happier. We split good guacamole and the excellent picada: a frites cone filled with amazing chorizo chunks, tostones and yucca balls, with a little ramekin of great red salsa on the side that we fought to keep to dunk the last guacamole chips in. I didn’t like the one main course we ordered, the suckling pig, because it had that pig funk I can’t abide (too much time in Iowa as a 20-something), but the appetizers we shared were mostly great, particularly the empanadas, the arepas with beef short ribs and the fried calamari (the fish tacos were good but the main ingredient tasted many days from the water). As good as the food was, we were all blown away by the service (and I reserved in consortial name). WIGB? Absolutely, especially after anything at Landmark Sunshine so close by. 23 Avenue A at Second Street, 212 529 2919.

The underwhelming: Grom in the West Village, where we cabbed after dinner with the P.O. friends who were craving gelato when the Laboratorio was long closed for the night. There was no line, which was good, and the scoopers were beyond patient, but Bob and I realized why we had never had the stuff in Torino. It’s just okay, and it’s really ridiculous to pay $4.75 for a tiny cup even when a friend is paying. The vanilla-chocolate stracciatella had a weird coconutty undertone, and the salted caramel scoop with it would definitely not make Haagen-Dazs bag the dulce leche. Only Heidi’s grapefruit gelato jumped. WIGB? Been there. Done it.