The geographically good: West Bank Cafe, where we retreated yet again after a movie down the street (the overwrought “Precious”) when our first choice, Chez Jacqueline, was dark. We just had good salads, the inevitable Caesar for me and the endive with blue cheese mousse for my consort, plus wine, but the hostess let us take up a table for four (admittedly, in a nearly empty room). Points off for distracted service, but WIGB? Absolutely. It’s reliable and affordable in a food desert. 407 West 42d Street, 212 695 6909.
The not bad: La Petite Abeille in Tribeca, where we wound up because of my bad planning and Bob’s growling stomach after the Greenmarket on Greenwich and before our friend’s gallery opening on Duane (with amazing pictures of the “vanishing continent’s” icebergs). I had thought we could try Bouley’s market, but they’ve really got to turn down those steam tables — the duck is desiccating as you watch — and the Vietnamese place we both remembered appears to have vanished. So croques madame and monsieur it was. I had the former, which was more like a grilled cheese than an open-face affair, but it was surprisingly satisfying, with a big mound of decent fries and just enough greens with a half-tomato flavored with julienned basil. The food took three years to arrive as my stomach started grumbling in harmony, but it was worth the wait and the cacophony of shrieking children (why does only the Upper West Side get dissed for being stroller central?) WIGB? Inevitably. 134 West Broadway, 212 791 1360.
The stuff-stuff-with-heavy: Candle Cafe on upper Third Avenue, where we agreed to meet a great photographer friend in from Chicago with his vegetarian daughter, who was in town to check out colleges. Another meat-spurning friend had recommended it, and it was what it was, but surprisingly busy (as we were coming in, an older woman was stomping out, muttering, “I can’t take this!”) The mezze plate with hummus, tabouli, olives and paratha-esque bread with it was promising, but the “Indian plate” I ordered just to tempt fate failed to deliver. Aside from the vibrantly seasoned blackeye peas, the components were all stodgy: chunks of sweet potato and turnip; Russia-worthy chunks of cabbage; a huge mound of yellow rice, and a diabetes-inducing date chutney plus more of that respectable bread. Bob’s chipotle-grilled tofu, though, was surprisingly great. The portions, of course, were huge. I could be vegetarian if I lived in India. Not on the Upper East Side. WIGB? Not likely.
The promising: Focacceria Piccola Cucina in the Village, where we ducked in on a reconnaissance after our too-filling lunch at Abeille and could not resist a $4 slab of the regular focaccia al formaggio because the “kid” selling it sounded so Italian (and not in the waiter-in-a-snooty-restaurant way). Even reheated the next day, it was a respectable version of the Ligurian specialty, with the right proportion of thin dough to oozy crescenza cheese. The shop is tiny, but it looks like one you might wander into in Recco. And it’s nice to see Minetta Tavern inspiring a better quality of food options on that street. WGIB? Have to. 120 MacDougal Street, 212 677 7707.