New York minutes/Mid-September 2012

The always good: The Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side, where we headed on Social Media Monday, which has become the biggest incentive to eat out after three nights of Greenmarket amazingness at home. “Fish-ionista” was the password to 20 percent off four glasses of wine, a shared iceberg-bacon-blue cheese salad and my fried green tomatoes with crab and my consort’s fried shrimp. We reserved early and were rewarded with a relatively quiet table against the far wall on a night too holy-crap-it’s-fall to sit outside, then our usual perfect server came by to say hello even though he pretty much only sees us on 20 percent-off-Mondays. WIGB? Absolutely for many reasons, not least that there is no negative vibe on claiming the discount for a meal we would happily cover at full price.

The frustrating: La Mangeoire in Midtown East, where I met friends in from Seattle after one actually voiced an opinion on what to eat (meat!) and I was angling for someplace near their hotel where we could all actually talk. As I warned Dianne, it would feel like eating in NYC on our first trip north together in 1979 or so but it would be worth it. And it was. Ken got his honking slab of $36 steak, one that came with good fries and peppercorn sauce, and we dainty eaters were quite happy with crab-avocado-grapefruit appetizers as satisfying as a main course. I didn’t try Ken’s bouncy-looking profiteroles, but Dianne’s apricot tart was excellent. And the bread served with olive oil, anchoiade and olives is almost worth a journey on its own. I’ll admit I was surprised the prices are creeping toward $36-soup level — even the pared-down entree options are in the mid-$20s now — and I was kinda bummed we were stuck in an airless little alcove with a huge table of other olds close enough for aural discomfort. We were there for hours, though, so I guess I can’t complain the waitress pretty much just moved on with her life after belated dessert, surrendering any opportunity to sell more wine or even a coffee or two. WIGB? Maybe, for only one reason beyond the seriously good food — we walked outside and were almost blown back inside by the cacophony blasting from all the bars/restaurants on that avenue.

The sadly departed: The New French in the West Village, where I hadn’t been in at least a year for maybe the same reasons it’s no longer in business. It was so perfect for the longest time, then the chef went west and the food went south, and sidewalk tables were added that the staff clearly couldn’t staff. The slip in food would have been “stomachable,” but the service just became craptastic — and at the very time competition was opening up and down the same street. I do hope someone picks up the Maira Kalman wall drawings and the cool Heimlich poster. The place did so many things so right. H/t Adam for the death notice.

New York minutes/Early September 2012

The not bad: Jacob’s Pickles on the Upper West Side, where I suggested my consort and I meet for an earlyish dinner after yet another of his crazy-busy days rather than him having to politely eat another of my perfunctory meals and where the setting would compensate for almost anything. It was a perfect night and tables were open on the sidewalk, where we didn’t even mind the inauspicious beginning of hearing the woman eating a salad alone at the next table begging for a biscuit and winding up paying the tab to which it was added without ever seeing it (hire some help — taking it off is too little too late). Bob was so happy with his over-the-top burger with multiple garnishes that I neither made much of the fact that it was cooked to desired doneness without ever developing that essential hot crust, nor whined that my previously perfect “leek country sausage” had been cooked to shit. Both our proteins came with more (respectable) fries than anyone but Chris Christie would think rational (and they held up well once kittybagged). The overworked server was good, and the rosé from the tap was acceptable in a tumbler for $9 each pour. WIGB? Sure. At least the owner is now working the tables to be sure people leave happy.

New York minutes/Late August 2012

The surprisingly good: Revolucion in the JetBlue terminal at JFK, where my consort and I ducked in for lunch on our way to PGH and where the food was so worth the wait despite our being surrounded by teevees television distortions in kaleidoscopic visuals with no sound. We had actually allotted time just to eat at the airport, and it was vaut le detour on the way to the gate — the torta with carnitas came perfectly assembled, with tender pork layered with guacamole and salsa on ideal bread, plus the sweet potato fries were the best either of us had ever had, crisp and light and not at all gooey/caramelized/gross. I think that cost all of $9. We ate the tostada salad, with crisp tortilla chips buried under guacamole, greens and cheese, on the plane, so it might have suffered from the wilting languish, but it still made a perfect harbinger for the amazing eating experiences we would have for the next four days. WIGB? Happily, although I am now curious about the other (more expensive) restaurants in that gleaming food court.

The surprisingly not bad: Home in the West Village, where we wound up early with three friends after two of them got shut out of the excellent, food-heavy Ai Weiwei doc at IFC and where I at least was chagrined that we had never tried it under the “new” ownership (the old one once wrote me an unhappy letter over something I’d written in Newsweek). The menu struck me as weirdly clueless when it came to seasonality, but everyone seemed happy picking and choosing, one friend and I with the “artichoke” and pancetta cheesecake topped with tart tomatoes and capers, my consort and her husband with the pork chop over wild rice, suspiciously large fava beans and asparagus and our other friend with the clam chowder with grilled bread, plus a side order of grilled radicchio. Whole-grain bread in the basket was great, flavor-free butter not so much. We all tasted the cherry pie a la mode and split a bottle of Finger Lakes rosé for a reasonable $36, too. Judging by the server’s reactions to our questions, I doubt family meal is ever involved, though, and as much as we all appreciated being able to eat in the garden in the quiet, I personally wish I had not gone out to eat and wound up becoming a mosquito buffet. WIGB? Probably, even though the cooking is maybe too homey. Also, too: Spunto after the movie turned out to be an ideal destination for drinks in quiet, with skinny tumblers of sauvignon blanc for only $7, but why in hell do restaurants not A) train servers to check back often with a table that has ordered only drinks, just in case more could be sold and B) let busboys wipe down tables with bleach while patrons are drinking those cheap wines and picking up hints of Clorox? But at least the place was better than Cornelia Street Cafe, where Bob and I had settled in desperation the night before after “Sleepwalk With Me” when Murray’s Cheese Bar had a long wait and Pearl was just not interested in anyone at the bar who did not want dinner. Two deal-breakers: Crappy wine. Dirty.

The worth-the-death march: Covo in West Harlem, where Bob and I trudged and trudged after a so-worth-it expedition to the Caribbean show at the Studio Museum in  Harlem and after aborted attempts at brunching at both Red Rooster and Harlem Social.  We walked into the former just before noon to see about a third of the place empty but were still shunted to the nearly empty bar “until some tables clear.” As the bartender ignored us, I noticed the latter across the intersection and told Bob it was new and I’d been invited to the opening party but had passed. Just as he started to search his iPhone for the menu there, a sweet young thing suddenly surfaced to offer us a table in the bar. Which we took even though it was next to the ordering station, but we only sat  long enough to read a bit of the menu: “Yard” bird for $22? Burger for $19? Sorry. Outta there. Only to be shunted outside at Harlem Social for a lecture on how the only seats were at a high shared table and how we would have to surrender them in an hour and a half. Bob was more pissed than I on noting the the place was almost empty. But we both looked at the menu — $25 prix fixe for brunch — and walked out. I’d remembered Covo from an e-friend’s recommendation but had seen it referenced in a Harlem guidebook in the museum gift shop, so off we went. Thank allah the menu was a la carte, because that was one long walk in the heat and humidity. By the time our pizza (of the day, with spicy salami, roasted peppers, mozzarella and baby arugula) and salad (with artichoke hearts, more roasted peppers, tomatoes and more mozzarella) arrived, I would have been happy with Papa John’s. Even with an espresso, the whole lunch cost less than brunch for one over in Coolville at 126th and Lenox. The space also felt anything but Manhattanish. And we were virtually next door to Fairway for shopping and right next to the bike/walking path down the Hudson to home, five miles after we’d set out that a.m. WIGB? Maybe. That part of town does seem restaurant-deficient unless you like industrial pork in your BBQ.

New York minutes/Early July 2011

The seriously good: The Dutch, again, in SoHo, where my consort and I were able to walk right in after an early showing of “The Trip” at IFC on a holiday weekend and where the food was even better than we’d remembered. We got a nice corner table where we could sit side by side (inspiring far younger couples) in the happy front room, which is much quieter than the bar, and if the waiter was a bit ditsy and distracted and emptied the rosé bottle too fast, the busboy/runner was a total pro (little things that mean a lot: before clearing the silverware between courses, he discreetly checked the check to see what was arriving next). We’d had popcorn, so I wasn’t going to tackle a main course, which meant Bob got a rare shot at the duck option I always hog. And it was of course perfect, plus the dirty rice with it seemed even dirtier than the first go-round. We split asparagus with pork belly, poached egg and shaved bonito to start, which gets A for effort. Even the whole loaf of warm cornbread that arrives first seemed to have come into its own. But the total winner was my dressed crab, set over avocadoey Green Goddess in a Bloody Mary pool. That is the most amazing combination since the crab-jalapeño crostini at Locanda Verde. WIGB? Every night if I could. The food was even more enjoyable after the fussy stuff in the well-made movie. 131 Sullivan Street at Prince, 212 677 6200.

The seriously lame: The new Zero Otto Nove in the Flatiron, where we made the mistake of heading after the Greenmarket on Fourth of July weekend and where the fact that only three tables were occupied in the huge room should have been a warning that this would not end well. And of course the pizza we remembered as so great on Arthur Avenue, made by the same guy we’d seen tossin’ there, was half-assed, with a doughy crust and sloppily disbursed porcini and grape tomatoes over the mozzarella and Gorgonzola. The eggplant parmesan we shared to start was nearly cold at the center, which made its heaviness fork up even gloppier. The air conditioning was also emitting an annoying high-pitched whine, although the place looks to have cost a bloody fortune to design. But all that would be forgiven if not for the asshole waiter. He was not happy that he kept getting interrupted in his endless specials recitation by busboys trying to shove wads of cardboard to stop the table from rocking, on both sides. Then, when I asked the price of the special pizza, he just said: “How should I know?” Well, if you were going to be the one paying, Bub, you could keep your little secret. (He did admit what I suspected: It would be a lot more than pizzas on the menu.) And when I didn’t finish my half of the eggplant, he asked why. Excuse me? That’s between me and my hips. But his worst offense was lounging near our table so we couldn’t talk. Or dis the joint. WIGB? Not even for free pizza. Afterward we walked through Eataly to see if it was busy on that dead weekend, and we both agreed we’d have been happier eating in the Birreria. . .

The pretty good: Tenpenny in the Gotham Hotel in the Theater District, where we headed after the showing of students’ work at ICP and where the quiet alone would make it vaut le mini-voyage. The over-lit room is strange, and the emptiness didn’t make it any more inviting to us walk-ins, particularly after I’d gotten some bullshit about no tables when I’d called to reserve. But the servers were efficient, and the wine was generously poured. Pork belly tots, an appetizer, tasted underwhelming, neither porky nor totty enough. A starter of mixed spring vegetables was superb, though: roasted, raw, candied & crisped. And the black garlic spaghettini with lump crab, chorizo and charred scallions qualified as brilliant, one of the best pasta dishes ever. WIGB? Absolutely, even just to sit at the bar for a snack. Cuz it’s a wasteland around ICP. 16 East 46th Street, 212 490 8300.

The pretty reliable: Recipe, again, for my welcome back to this time zone after Italy; it’s always best there early at night before everyone gets anxious about turning tables. The cooking was not quite spot-on (pork was done to chew-toy state, and duck was too rare, and not in a good way). But the service was great. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 81st Street, 212 501 7755. Under the same category, file Luke’s Lobster just down the avenue, where we collected our free roll after having bought 10. And that one was just as good as the first one.

The always good, even better with Twitter discount: Mermaid Inn uptown, where Bob and I loved our two most recent dinners even more for 20 percent off thanks to the secret code of the night. A table on the sidewalk only made things more enjoyable on a hot night. Both times Bob had the mustard-crusted trout with crushed cherry tomatoes and spinach; I had fine roasted cod with truffled mashed potatoes once and just a perfect soft-shell crab appetizer the second outing. (Seared shisito peppers were too bland, though.) A bottle of rosé went fine with each. WIGB? No question. It’s the best place for many blocks. Plus I sent Coloradans there and they were blown away. 568 Amsterdam near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The barely bearable: The newish Spice, where we met two friends for an early dinner rather than risk the new Saravanaa and where my promise of relative quiet was a joke. It wasn’t even full and we couldn’t hear each other talk, and we all had travel tales (they were just back from Paris, Bob from Oslo). And the waitress needed remedial English. Plus lessons in how to pour wine. But if was not cheap, the food was better than it had any right to be, especially the duck wrap (although with two few lettuce leaves provided), the papaya salad and the crispy duck main course. Even the Massaman vegetable curry was above average. WIGB? Unfortunately, yes, because of where it is, and what a bargain it is. But Mermaid never looked more enticing when we walked past afterward. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

The port in a literal storm: Market Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, where a friend in from Veneto and I retreated as the rain was threatening when he had only a quick window of time for catching up before his flight home after going to B&H. I heard no complaints about his steak frites although I should probably not have dissuaded him from ordering the salmon he really wanted after a week of too many sandwiches in the Outer Banks. And I had no complaints about my BLT, which was packed fatter with bacon than any I have ever eaten; there was more than enough to kittybag. Good fries with both were also copious. I don’t recall the service but will add redeeming points for the window table with a fabulous view of those buckets of rain. WIGB? Probably. Because I need to find more places around B&H and the 42d Street movie houses. 496 Ninth Avenue near 38th Street, 212 564 7350.

New York minutes/Early September 2010

The pretty good: Mermaid Inn in our neighborhood, where I met my consort after his Columbia lecture gig on one of those miserable nights Al Gore warned us were coming, when we had to flee our sweltering kitchen yet again. After hearing the din inside, I chose an outside table, and the breeze made it bearable. As did an excellent waiter. And a glass of rosé right away. My soft-shell crab sandwich with avocado and bacon and a scattering of fries was more than decent, and Bob’s trout was cooked right and came with excellent potatoes. As a friend had reminded us, though, the place makes its profits on the wine — it’s marked up way more than the food. WIGB? Anytime. 568  Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 4300.

The not bad: Land Thai, where we hooked up with friends on another night when our kitchens were furnaces and where we cooked up a plan as we waited on the sidewalk for a table — retreat to their place for more wine once we were ejected, as we inevitably would be. So we clipped through our meal, sharing a bottle of typically syrupy Torrontes plus excellent pea shoots with garlic and an entree of wok-charred squid with a superb spicy sauce (wisely racheted back to medium) plus a great rendition of pad see yew with beef, perfectly cooked duck and, unfortunately, pretty grim fried rice with salmon (it was like what you might whip up from a kitty bag with a bit of leftover fish). WIGB? Undoubtedly. It’s great value and a nice venue with a cheery staff and lively cooking. You just need a living room close by to retreat to for conversation. 450 Amsterdam near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.

The adequate: Papatzul in SoHo, where we stopped in while furniture shopping on a Sunday because we both remembered the price and a torta and were willing to forget Bob’s disappointing chilaquiles last time we were there. And that sandwich was pretty damn good once again, even though the cheese seemed more Oaxacan than Manchego; the balance of chorizo, avocado, beans and chipotle mayonnaise in crisp roll was nearly perfect. Bob, once again, got the corta end of the stick; his tacos with carnitas needed more something — salsa, vegetables? — to bring the huge mound of juicy (dare I say succulent?) meat into proportion with the four tortillas. We only drank water and signed up for the Tasting Mexico Passport on his iPhone to get 10 percent off the tab (plus a chance to win a trip to the land of the decapitated), so we walked out for less than $20 before tip. WIGB? Sure; the music was fabulous and the waiter was energetic and the price was right. 55 Grand Street near West Broadway, 212 274 8225.

The convenient: Canteen 82, where we headed for a quick lunch while rug mats were being cut at a store on Amsterdam. Although the place was nearly empty, cobwebs seemed to be forming on a couple with a baby in a stroller at another table, but our food came relatively fast, starting with a scallion pancake that was less incinerated than the one a friend and I shared last time. It didn’t taste much of scallion and the sauce didn’t taste like much of anything, but the latter did have a few shreds of ginger that we used to enliven the sesame noodles. Bob loves fried dumplings, so we had those instead of the soup kind, and I could only eat one; the filling was too porky for me. The salad, once again, saved the lunch, with mango, avocado, jicama and tiny tomatoes atop the greens. Even the dressing on that, like everything else, was surprisingly bland, and as yet another couple came in with a young kid, we realized why: It’s a cage for baby pork (as some restaurant in Spy once referred to holding pens for stroller rats). WIGB? I’d like to say no, but the room is much more appealing than any Chinese restaurant for miles. 467 Columbus Avenue near 82d Street, 212 595 4300.

The abysmal: Le Monde, where we met friends in from Chicago to drop off his baby at Columbia, where Bob was speaking late. The location and the idea of a sidewalk cafe had seemed ideal, but I guess our memories of the place were a little too misty-colored. We wound up sitting inside because it was so miserable outside, and our table was awkward, our waitress even more so (and neglectful to boot). Even worse, the food made me embarrassed for New York. I didn’t taste our friends’ entrees, but we all shared a salad made with anemic tomatoes (in August!) When was the last time you got butter pats in wrappers, all melted and chilled back together? My duck sausage was not cooked so much as fried into a chew toy (The Cat liked it fine next day), and the potatoes with it were an inch deep in salt (and I can eat salt straight). Bob’s steak was not-great chewy meat with oversalted sides, too. All of which would have been tolerable if we had maybe had a waitress whenever more wine was needed. WIGB? Bob will be up there constantly, but it’s dead to me. Surely there has to be somewhere decent to reconnoiter?

New York minutes

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.

New York minute/Mid-June 2010

The pleasant: Trestle on Tenth in Chelsea, where I wound up with a friend up from Bethesda after waiting too long to reserve on a Saturday night and getting shut out of my first through tenth choices. We were warned a big wedding party was in the garden but took a table there and soon surmised they must have been Swiss, because they never got rowdy, so we could talk easily. And it really was a great setting, so I’m not going to feel too bad about my $22 dish, which smelled a little high — monkfish with calamari, tired clams and Swiss chard in smoked lobster broth. Gary was happier with his halibut with asparagus, mushrooms and ramps, very simply done, and with his pork shoulder crepinette as an appetizer. I did like the bread. And the ethereal waiter. And the way the busboy handled dropping a butter knife into my quarter-full wineglass: Not only did he not shatter it, he immediately offered to bring a fresh one, so after we finished the bottle the waiter split a glass for us. WIGB? Probably, mostly for the atmosphere — the food is beyond reasonable, but the wine list is kinda crazy; our $43 gruner might have been the cheapest bottle. 242 Tenth Avenue at 24th Street, 212 645 5659.

New York minutes/Late May 2010

The half-good: The New French, again, where the service, again, seriously lagged the food. Two friends and I held down a table for more than an hour and a half (not by choice) and got water and wine exactly once. And the place was not slammed, although the sidewalk tables are clearly stressing the front of the house if not the kitchen. Luckily, the special of polenta-crusted softshell crabs with favas was outstanding, with a sauce that had the best kind of flavors: cascading. The two salads (salmon, house) across from me were happily eaten down to the last bite, too. WIGB? Undoubtedly, once I get a craving for a perfect cheeseburger or some inventive fish dish. But it will be at an off-hour for sure.

The lamer than I had even imagined: The Monkey Bar, where a travel writer friend in from Santa Barbara and staying at the hotel gulled me into wasting good money on lunch. If I had checked the menu in advance, I would have refused, because it was chicken, chicken, and more chicken (even in the club sandwich, and even in the special), and I don’t eat that dirty bird.  The food costs must be 8 percent, max. I didn’t want beef but suspect the burger was the way to go. Instead I succumbed to the $26 “bacon lobster roll,” which should be cited for menu mislabeling — it had maybe four bits of the former ingredient scattered over the top. Compared with Pearl’s, the filling/bun were cafeteria quality, too. Coleslaw with it tasted decent, although potato chips seemed a definite letdown after Rebecca Charles’s fries. Leslie was quite happy with her Cobb, but I think of that assemblage as being all about the protein — an Everest of julienned lettuce with sprinklings of avocado, egg, blue cheese and, yes, fucking chicken doesn’t do it for me. A $12 glass of riesling was as unchallenging as the cooking. WIGB? Not even with Sy Newhouse.

New York Minutes/Early May 2010

The pretty good: Tre Otto on the Upper East Side, where my consort and I went in search of material for our co-op newsletter when we couldn’t face the two “new” places on our side of the park (the latest incarnations of Roth’s steakhouse and La Rural) and where the evening would have been a nightmare if we had not been accepted as walk-ins and escorted straight to a corner table in the back of the surprise garden. The narrow dining room was full of just the kind of rich, fixed fucks who ruin all UES restaurants; it sounded about as serene as a subway car, and a waitress on the run jostled me as we were waiting for the hostess’s attention. Outside was an oasis, and we stayed mellow even after seeing only one waiter had all the tables. But he was great, both personable and efficient, so we soon had wineglasses and an ice bucket for our BYOB rosé from K&D down the avenue plus good bread and olive oil. He made the grilled scamorza appetizer sound irresistible, and it was, laid over spinach with a nice drizzle of sauce. Rigatoni alla norma had been cooked and sauced right, but the eggplant was pretty taste-free. And the pizza oreganata was missing a certain herb, and could have used a few more minutes in the oven to crisp the crust, but we didn’t mind because the balance of tomatoes, anchovies, garlic and asiago was ideal. Plus we got away for all of $41 and a tip. The walk across the staggeringly green park beforehand was just Italian-American gravy. WIGB? Absolutely. But only if we were guaranteed a seat outside. 1408 Madison Avenue near 96th Street, 212 860 8888.

Also, I forgot to note that Bob and I recently had Motorino pizza, three kinds, at our friends’ apartment right down the street from the oven. It was okay.

New York minutes/Mid-September

The really good: Locanda Verde in Tribeca, where my consort and I trekked after the New Amsterdam Market after finding Governor’s Island oversubscribed as a follow-up destination. We made it in just before the kitchen closed on Sunday brunch, and our food came faster than anything else but water, despite the fact that the staff had that punch-drunk, end-o’-brunch demeanor. Having overindulged in so much richness — porchetta to creamy yogurt to bacon peanut brittles — at The New Amsterdam market, I was thrilled with the crostini of the day, heaped with blue crab on a spicy base with jalapeno and cucumber. (For all of $7.) Bob was equally happy with his dainty portion of maltagliatti with sprightly pesto, broad beans and tomatoes, the sauce very light and the balance sublime. We each had a $10 glass of rosé and walked out happy. The space was perfect on a brilliantly sunny September day, too. WIGB? In a heartbeat. 377 Greenwich Street near Franklin, 212 925 3797.

The good yet again: The New French, where Bob and I headed after he saw “Inglorious Basterds” in the Village while I was working and where we both had a whole new experience, not just because we sat outside. Remembering the chef’s Tabla background, I ordered the vegetable curry, which was unsurprisingly sensational (although it made me realize I will never love bok choy), with an amazingly balanced sauce and gussied-up couscous on the side rather than the rice I find so dreary. The portion was huge enough that I got lunch and a midafternoon snack out of the kitty bag I took home (Wyl-E got nothin’). Bob had the chicken pho and polished it off despite whimpering that it was too rich. The waiter seemed distracted, but it was his first night on the sidewalk, so who would complain? 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.

The good except for my food: Mermaid Inn uptown, where I landed with my Main Line friend when he chose seafood over new Greek for dinner within walking distance on a depressingly chilly night. We shared the calamari salad with feta, which was even better than usual with shiitakes tossed in with the frisee, and Don actually deemed his scallop special, with cauliflower tossed with capers, “exquisite.” The waitress was, no surprise, great, even topping off his glass of white for free (and correcting the $2 overcharge Don spotted on the special). But I was bummed by the skate, no longer a crispily seductive indulgence but a big wet slab still on the cartilage, under a watery cascade of sautéed mushrooms (regular and shiitake) with sliced garlic. And the cartilage was trouble; I started thinking I would have to dust off my restaurant-school Heimlich training when Don got a mouthful of slivers. Still, WIGB? Absolutely. Value/experience is outstanding. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.