The good again I: Northern Spy in the East Village, where we met friends who live down the block but had never been and where the staff was impressively unfazed by the squirming toddler in our perfect booth. Even she liked all the starters: the airy-crispy gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and sage, the farro with lamb bacon and egg and the unfishy bluefish rillettes with pickled onions on garlic toasts. My consort’s pork with black-eyed peas was good and hearty, so I was okay with my unexpectedly dainty asparagus salad with fascinating egg. Poor Mom had to miss the good chocolate cake. WIGB? Absolutely. Especially now that I know why it’s so Brooklyn: It was priced out of Brooklyn. (And because Dad introduced us to a great Spanish wine bar just down the block for an after-Turley Cinsault glass or two: Pata Negra, where the server could not have been more accommodating and I tasted a new-to-me godello.) 511 East 12th Street, 212 228 5100.
The good again II: Loi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with a gallery-crazed friend in from DC and another from way uptown and where we had the usual superb service and full swanky-joint experience even though we only shared first courses and a salad. This is the rare restaurant that treats every ass in the seat as valuable, and given that it never filled even on a Saturday night, the Athens owner is smart to keep us coming back for less. (Her visits to every table are also very savvy.) I was underwhelmed by the grilled sardines even though my expectations were already low, and I didn’t try the octopus because I just can’t do it anymore. But like everyone else, I thought the baby eggplant with feta mousse was sensational, the amuse of stuffed grape leaves superb and the gigantes redeemed by the unbilled cheese with them. Sea urchin with “crispy pita chips,” though, probably needed the lemon I didn’t squeeze over my two spoonfuls. We also split a dessert, about which the least said the better. (Oh, I’ll elaborate: It was the kataifi, it was soggy and it tasted better when dessert was a giveaway.) Bob’s and my $10 glasses of wine were good, and came with excellent recommendations by the waiter, and the bread basket was beyond generous. Plus the service was almost surreal, yet again: Waiters in suits catering to us as if we were spending megabucks in any other white-linen dining room. WIGB? Anytime. Not least because it’s so nice to be among old pharts and feel young.
The good again despite the din: Toloache in the Theater District, where we wound up after trying Anzas in the newish Hyatt on Fifth Avenue and being spurned both upstairs and downstairs. The place was packed even after curtain time, but we got a table fast and soon had decent wine and the quesadilla with huitlacoche, then overstuffed but fabulous brisket and carnitas tacos, then a salad with jicama and avocado. WIGB? Undoubtedly, but I think next time we’ll try the new outpost on East 83d Street. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.
The gone-to-hell: Tre Otto on the Upper East Side, where we landed on a super-hot night seeking refuge from our own kitchen and where Bob dropped way too much money for dinner in a garden sauna. We made the mistake of strolling through the gorgeous park up to a tapas place I’d read about on 103d & Lex, only to decide the menu looked pedestrian and the wines seemed overpriced, then swung by ABV, only to be told we’d face a half-hour wait for a table in Bedlam populated by young uns all the same age and skin color, so we figured Tre Otto was a safe bet. And it turned out to be like eating in Rome in August: Immigrants slopping it out in the kitchen, overstretched staff neglecting too many tables, followed by sticker-price shock. I only wanted a Caesar salad, and it was not awful, if underdressed with a few too many rusty leaves. But Bob’s $18 pasta with “Trapanese” pesto turned out to be a few gummy noodles in a bowl of glop. As the waiter warned, it was heavy on the garlic, although light on any other flavors. The bread was rubbery, the rosé $45. And the sweat? Immeasurable. We baked like pizzas. WIGB? The next night we were back on that side of town, for dinner at friends’ whose gorgeous terrace overlooks the reservoir, and they, too, wondered: Why did that place go to hell so fast? I blamed the clientele and will probably never get invited back.