New York minutes/Late December 2008

The newly good: Kefi, where my consort and I were able to walk in early on a Friday after several tries at reserving and where the mood and food could not be more vanquishing of the failed enterprises that languished in that space. We had just been on the East Side for the Eggleston show at the Whitney, and my poor consort had had to listen to my rant that diners charge way too much for crapola ($20.95 for mahi on the blackboard we passed on Madison). But was I ever vindicated: My $16.95 grilled branzino was two perfectly cooked fillets of very fresh fish laid over fingerling potatoes, caperberries, olives and seared grape tomatoes; I even ate the skin. Bob’s sheep’s milk dumplings with sausage and pine nuts put 95 percent of Italian “gnocchi” in this country to shame. The bread arrived warm with really green olive oil; the wine was $6 and $6.50 a glass; the service was tag-team perfect. And they take credit cards. (Of course nothing’s perfect — the bar was a stroller maze by the time we walked out.) WIGB? Probably constantly. It’s as Greek as your average diner anymore. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.

The good and good again: The West Branch, where we were lucky enough to get seats to eat at the bar one night and immediately reserved for the next — usually on Jesus Eve we go to a movie and stop in any bar that might be open and inevitably wind up drinking with Santa, but this time we dined with friends and hordes, on serious food. First night was vitello tonnato, clearly assembled by someone who has never had the Piemontese original with proportions of veal to mayo reversed, and fine Caesar; next night was $17 skate over tomato-cabbage risotto, seared cod with zucchini etc., haricot vert salad and shared gingerbread pudding. Dr. and Lady Bugs seemed underwhelmed after following our recommendations on the crispy quail and duck choucroute, but their choices looked good to me even though I was happy with new and different. Add in warm bread, cheap wine, attentive service and I can even forgive Bedlam-level sound and A-train-at-rush-hour seating. WIGB? Absolutely. It’s Ouest for the little people. 2178 Broadway at 77th Street, 212 777 6764.

The enlightening: The Smith in the East Village, where Bob and I stopped in rather than schlepping to Porchetta for perfection after the Greenmarket and a detour to Jams for more envelopes for New Year’s cards and where his sandwich and the place itself saved the day. Usually Bob bitches about non-specialty sandwiches, but I think the fries caught his eye, and what arrived was enough for two meals: ciabatta with big slab o’ chicken, tomatoes, greens, Cheddar, chipotle mayonnaise. It was good. My “Alsatian pizza,” not so much — I have no idea WTF I was doing ordering it in an NYU hangout, but I paid for my lack of due diligence. I had a tumbler of Argentine viognier, which helped, as did the nice hunk of chewy baguette, the free sparkling water and the snappy service. Also the room, which Bob instantly pegged as a knockoff Schiller’s (thank you, Richard Price). WIGB? Probably. I was curious to see what provoked a news story on its survival, and the answers are self-evident. 55 Third Avenue near 11th Street, 212 420 9800.