New York minutes/Late October 2009

The always good: The Mermaid Inn uptown, where my consort and I hooked up with a friend in from out of town and another friend from way uptown after Kefi proved to be horologically undesirable on a Friday night. We sat in the old folks’ pen, which at least provided quiet enough to make our DC friend realize we had traded energy from the front room. As always, the food at the price point was pretty much faultless, although I did suffer serious remorse on seeing the latest incarnation of the skate land before our DC friend and realizing it was about as lame was last time I braved it. Cartilage is trouble. My salmon with lentils and turnips was sublime (at least then — kittybag included only the fish, not the accouterments, for next day). Our shared salad of calamari with cheese and frisee was better than it had any right to be. And of course the newbies to the place were thrilled with the free chocolate pudding and fish fortuneteller. Bob and I split a bottle of Chilean Jimenez sauvignon blanc that we probably would not order again, but what the hell — it was the right place at the right time. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The newly good: Roberta’s in Bushwick, where I accepted my payoff for nattering on Heritage Radio Network, in the backyard of Hipster Central a long way from the closest subway stop on a weekend when the transit gods were crazy. I followed emailed instructions and waited at the bar even after arriving late and was ready to head back out into the rain when it occurred to me to ask if my hosts had noticed I was on the premises. While waiting to be retrieved, I did have a fair amount of time to study the menu and wonder why wine prices were so high in a neighborhood young friends fled a year ago as too desolate. But all that was forgotten once we took off our headphones and headed to a table. The co-host’s recommendation of a shared Bibb lettuce salad with Gorgonzola and dried cherry vinaigrette plus walnuts was brilliant, and our Crispy Glover pizza with guanciale, egg and mozzarella needed only salt to reign as best pizza of the three I’ve had lately. The price was also right (HRN guests get a food credit), and the company and conversation were beyond worth the journey. WIGB? Absolutely, if I’m ever out that way again and carrying cash. 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, 718 417 1118.

The surprisingly good: West Bank Cafe, where Bob and I headed in search of cheap/decent after paying $5 extra a ticket for misreading the schedule for “Where the Wild Things Are” on 42d Street and winding up in the Imax theater. The din was deafening as we walked in, but the hostess led us to a table in a glassed-off section too close to the bar, and the waiter and busboy took it from there. I regretted ordering my usual Caesar once all the appetizer options sank in, but Bob shared his excellent chicken with Robuchon-wannabe potatoes plus seasonally appropriate vegetables. The olives and bean spread with bread also took a serious edge off. Two glasses each of wine pumped up the bill, but it was still a serious deal. 407 West 42d Street near Ninth Avenue, 212 695 6909.

The trippy: El Parador, where we wound up after sticker-price and aural shock at all the other possibilities between a photography opening at SVA and the C train home from Penn Station. Lines out the door from Bar Milano north made me nervous until I remembered a friend loved this time-warp, and both of us were astonished at the scene when we entered under a tired awning so far east toward the river: It was packed with young people. The host said it would be a 20-minute-plus wait for a table, so we settled in at the bar and ordered on the cheap side: mushroom quesadilla, sautéed chorizo, shrimp seviche. The salsa was remorse foretold, almost sweet and hinting of Cincinnati chili, but the chips and and bartender compensated. And our “mains” were outstanding. The best part was scanning the reviews posted on the wall on the way out, ranging from the Herald-Tribune to NYPress (by Panchito’s successor). WIGB? Sure. 325 East 34th, 212 679 6812.

And the vaut the voyage: The New Amsterdam Market at the South Street Seaport, once again, where I ate and loved Marlow’s chili, Porchetta’s porchetta sandwich, Dickson’s sausage, Saltie’s eccles cake, Hot Bread Kitchen’s freshly made corn tortilla, plus assorted cheeses. I was not so crazy about Bklyn Larder’s fennel sausage with undercooked beans, and I didn’t brave the longest line, for Luke’s lobster and crab rolls. We also bought a habanero chile from the Queens County Farm Museum and a slab of extraordinary Vermont cheese from Anne Saxelby and Liddabit Sweets’s salted chocolate caramels (Tootsie Rolls gone wild), plus olive bread at a bargain $5 from Sullivan Street Bakery. This market is an amazing addition to the city, and I think it works because it’s neither a free free-for-all nor a gougefest but an ideal blend of  sampling and selling. All it needs is a wine-by-the-glass section. Or at least beer. Next market is November 22.