New York minutes/Mid-January 2009

The good: Hecho en Dumbo, where I met my consort after an excellent afternoon with a fellow language junkie over in Brooklyn Heights and where the food and prices were worth the oily after-effects (you’ll leave there smelling as if you just ate at Ugglesich’s in New Orleans). I also suspect the place might be brutal, noisewise, later in the evening, but around 7 on a Monday night it was superb. We split the best guacamole in eons — what looked like a mingy portion was actually ample with the warm chips — and then outstanding sopes topped with crab and with chorizo etc. Wines and service were also better than I would expect. WIGB? Undoubtedly, given that the prices are right and the place is right around the corner from Bob’s underheated office. 111 Front Street, Brookyn, 718 855 5288.

The also-good: Zoma, where a table right next to the arctic-breezing door was the one downside to dinner for four of us with one injera spread with mounds of well-spiced vegetables and another with lamb, chicken and sirloin. The price was certainly right — I got there first and ordered a $7 glass of sauvignon blanc to keep me company in the cold, and then we split a bottle of red and it all came out to all of $25 a person. The place looks great, and the staff is surprisingly attentive and efficient. I don’t know enough about Ethiopian cooking to be critical, but I liked most of what we ate, particularly the red lentils, which could pass for Indian. WIGB? The price is right. (Cash only, though, and reservations are respected.) 2084 FDBlvd (Eighth/CPW) at 113th Street, 212 662 0620.

The adequate: Metro Marche in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where we headed for proximity’s sake after an opening at ICP and an encounter with NYC’s nastiest outside a Hillary event (pedestrians forced to walk in the street? no problem!) The place was the busiest I think I’d ever seen it, but the bouncer/manager was doing a better job than the cops; when three girls tried to use the same bathroom, his shoulders stepped in. Wine, service, my pizzette were all fine, but Bob’s frisee salad looked as if it had walked in from Weehawken: tired, overdressed greens mixed with soggy lardons and weary walnuts. It didn’t matter, though, because the subway entrance was mere steps away on that brutally cold night. WIGB? Inevitably. The crap going in across the street at the shrine to Pinch’s ego doesn’t look much better. 625 Eighth Avenue near 41st Street, 212 239 1010.

The unsettling: Pearl, where I was so disoriented by the emptiness at lunch that I must have set myself up for disappointment. When I got there exactly no one was at the bar and two tables were occupied in the “dining room,” but that didn’t stop the bartender from pushing around a couple of foreigners who did not understand why they had to wait for a complete party to be seated and who were told to “take any stool on the wall” when one went to the bar to sit down while the other was on the phone; the surliness even after one ordered a bottle of “Champagne” almost made me embarrassed to be a New Yorker. It’s the first time I ever thought about how one letter separates “rule” from “rude.” (Or maybe I’ve just been kicked around too much in countries where I don’t speak the language.) As for the food, I got my usual fish sandwich, and the bread was so huge I ate quite a while on one half before finding the cod in all the sauce and lettuce. I guess it was what it always is, but for the first time it struck me as almost gross. Fries and muscadet were fine, though. And the bartender/enforcer was certainly efficient with my order. WIGB? Yep. Any place can have an off day, with or without extenuating circumstances. 18 Cornelia Street.

The cheap and cheerful: Cafetasia, where we ducked in after freezing our bones and metal off on Union Square and where my crab Rangoon and Thai-eggplant-loaded green curry together cost about the same as the pound and a half of organic stew meat we had to buy at Whole Foods because the Greenmarket only had goat and pork. For the same $7.50, Bob had gyoza (lame) and udon (respectable). The place was packed, but the staff was outstanding (we got a table immediately in a room designed for communal eating). I just wish I had been two tables away with the male couple who were on their second bottle of wine at 12:30 on Saturday. WIGB? Probably. The green curry sauce was much gutsier than Spice’s, and the price was tres right. 38 East Eighth Street, 212 529 2363.

The painful: Ninth Street Espresso in the Chelsea Market, where I met a friend for our once-a-year coffee and where I can’t remember when I have felt more bilked (and she bought the $3.50 cherry scone at Amy’s afterward). The Camorra have killed for a less muddy cappuccino. For $4 at that.