New York minutes/Late January 2010

The good: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where my consort took me for a birthday lunch on the advice of someone he had lunched with the day before at El Paso Taqueria. I was expecting a long wait and attitude, but we got a window table just after walking in and the staff could not have been more mellow, which only made the preening patrons in the minority look sillier. My sinchronizada was outstanding, with melted Oaxacan cheese and just-greasy-enough chorizo sandwiched in good flour tortillas and topped with avocado slices and green salsa on the side; Bob was thrilled with his tacos al pastor despite the ridiculously undersized corn tortillas. We split a jalapeño margarita and were very glad we had not ordered two; it was scary-good — the heat made you want to take another sip instantly. WIGB? Absolutely, but only at an off-hour. 253 Broome Street near Orchard, 212 228 6710.

The not bad: Le Monde, where we landed after finding Community closing right next door after Bob’s former employer’s team picked up at DuPont award at Columbia’s J-school. I wanted to try the panisse with smoked trout, but they were out and so I settled for a better-than-average Caesar; Bob had a goat cheese-and-potato salad, and we drank too much wine to make up for getting cut off at the pre-ceremony reception across the street. WIGB? Probably. You can eat far worse around there. 2885 Broadway near 112th Street, 212 531 3939.

The mellow: Market Table in the West Village, where a friend confidently led three of us after the slow but good “Police, Adjective” at IFC while insisting he knew nothing about the neighborhood. We walked in, got a nice table, the waitress was fine with us just sharing two appetizers and a bottle of zinfandel, and they let us sit so long we ordered more wine by the glass. I can’t remember the last time a restaurant emptied out while the kitchen cleaned up and shut down and the staff stayed so hospitable. Fried calamari with guacamole and chile crema was quite good, as was the beet salad with horseradish, goat cheese and fried shallots. WIGB? Definitely, even though I was put off by the attitude at lunch when it first opened. 54 Carmine Street at Bedford, 212 255 2100.

The gruesome: Butter, where it’s a long story told in Bites but where the main courses really were on the level of what we found in our summer exploring the Hudson Valley for Geographic Traveler 20-some years ago. Our shared salad of baby arugula with pickled and sautéed mushrooms was rather lively and very promising, but then, after six more birthdays dragged past, the main courses landed. Bob’s arctic char was poached in olive oil, which seemed to have leached out all good fish flavor while imparting only richness to overwhelm the beurre blanc-y sauce. My duck breast was the scariest thing I have seen not scurrying in a dim restaurant — a brown mess mounded with green-brown strands of braised radicchio. As it does so often, the meat tasted slightly geriatric. And why would the waitress bother to make such a big deal of asking about doneness with either item if the kitchen just sent it out cooked to hell? Cheese biscuits to start, however, were nearly raw in the center. The waitress apparently fancied herself a patron, and the host, too, was more absorbed with phone and screen than with live bodies in front of him. The most pleasant person in the place was the coat check girl. WIGB? Not even for the equivalent of a blow job by a top model from another table.