The good, even though: Recipe, twice. The first time it was four of us, early, and we dutifully got into the Epago program, sharing the macaroni and cheese with corn, peas and bacon as an appetizer (good, not great) and a nice panna cotta for dessert, plus one bottle of wine, and happily going on our way. As always, the main courses were superb, both my halibut and The Consort’s huge pork chop. All in all, a perfect evening. So great that I came home and reserved for two nights later with a new guy in town, one who doesn’t understand that you only rent a table in this town, especially in a tiny, very good restaurant. Food and service were again superb (I had the duck, we shared a crab cake), but we were having such a great time discussing the sorry state of the world and America’s sorry part in it that we kept ordering more wine until finally the host had to come by and tell us people had been waiting 15 minutes for our table. Or, here’s the check and what’s your hurry? It was rather mortifying, even under Bob’s name. WIGB? Only for lunch for a while, I guess. It is the best restaurant in the neighborhood at that price point. 452 Amsterdam near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.
The improved: Cafe Luxembourg, where we met friends for an early dinner on Saturday and reveled in the best part of Manhattan in August — no assholes. Only afterward did they confess that they had preferred Compass because they had had rushed and un-fun experiences here. But this great waiter let us take our very long sweet time talking before ordering, so we could enjoy the great room and the mellow noise level. I never think of the food as brilliant, but my hanger steak was beautifully cooked and well matched with bearnaise, broccoli rabe and potatoes “confit,” and Bob’s good branzino came with baby leeks and a very spicy tomato compote. Dr. Bugs seemed happy with his lobster roll (we were with his fries), while Lady Bugs’s corn ravioli with truffles could have used more of the former. I also tasted the shared chocolate-coconut terrine, which was like stacked Almond Joys but better than that sounds. But the best thing that landed on the table was the mango gazpacho, tomato-free and very lively with cilantro oil. The food was so much better than I remembered that I actually tracked down the waiter to ask if the chef was new, and he seemed taken aback. WIGB? Absolutely. Not many places in this town are that reliable. 200 West 70th Street, 212 873 7411.
The right place on the right night: The Corner, the latest incarnation at 93d and Columbus, where we recharged our batteries the night we got home from Istanbul and then remembered to meet up with a young friend reeling from a sting by a Portuguese man o’war on her vacation in North Carolina. I thought she would get into the three-for-$10
“steak” sliders at happy hour at the bar, but she landed first and chose a sidewalk table; luckily her favorite things were available there, too (although they were pretty overcooked). I had the quite respectable gazpacho, a huge bowlful, while Bob ordered the crab cakes again. The salad with cheese and almonds that I had liked the first time must have needed dressing not on the side, though, because Pam didn’t seem to attack it with gusto. WIGB? Totally. It’s close by, the setting’s great and the food hasn’t disappointed. 680 Columbus Avenue, 212 280 4103.
The wrong place on the right night: Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, where I have always wanted to go but where the food was too small-plates for the occasion, which was a chance to reconnect with a photographer friend in from New Hope who’s spending more time in front of the camera than behind it these days. He was happy with the amazing beer selection, we less so with the wines served in Chimay goblets (message: don’t go to a beer specialist for anything else). But I should have understood the food would come out as the cook got it together, and that portions would be tres petite. We shared the good fried sausage slices with mustard and the shisito peppers, then one Bob had the bratwurst sandwich and the other, not sure why, “The Piggery salami,” which was seriously good but decidedly dainty. I usually drag our friend to more high-end places than he would like, but I think I aimed too low this time. WIGB? Sure, if I were in the neighborhood, after a movie and looking for something little in a convivial room. And had cash on me. 43 East Seventh Street, 212 982 3006.