New York minutes/Early August 2008

The predictably good: The New French, where my consort and I schlepped after buying way too much at Union Square and where our reward was food not dissimilar from what we could have made out of our many bags at home (aside from the fries) but where the whole experience was just self-indulgence with Provencal rose. I finally got my tuna sandwich with great fries; Bob had the Nicoise-inspired salad with salmon, with a great anchovy dressing. Half the pleasure of eating there is just appreciating the design, which is why lunch is so much more rewarding than dinner. You can see and hear. 522 Hudson Street, 212 807 7357.

The predictably abysmal: Hudson Beach Cafe in Riverside Park. Even in the dark, a salad cook should not think the proper proportion in a Caesar is 1 cup dressing to 1 1/2 cups Romaine. Gruesome would be an understatement. I didn’t dare brave a bite of Bob’s burger, but his fries were just what you would expect in a joint that exists solely to take advantage of people too un-enterprising to pack a picnic. Thirty-five bucks a head?

The adequate: Mermaid Inn uptown, where Bob and I headed in search of neutral territory after 2 1/2 weeks apart and where we were lucky enough to arrive so late we got a nice big table outside, away from the bedlam inside. The gazpacho with peeky-toe crab was much better this time and the calamari-frisee-feta salad was fine, plus he seemed happy with his special of seared octopus. Wine, service, “bread,” were all what they always are.

The more than adequate: Cafe du Soleil, where I wound up with a wise-beyond-her-years friend new to the neighborhood who had suggested a reprise of Sookk but decided she wanted something different once we got to the door. We scored a sidewalk table far from the nightmare of the mechanical rocking horse and survived a waiter who apparently pegged us as two non-tippers by gender alone. Pam lost her gazpacho virginity, only to have the experience ruint by the cilantro I had assured her would be nowhere near it (she has the Zest gene when it comes to that taste). But she was a good sport and just fished out all the offending greenery and picked at the side order of squash and eggplant we also ordered. I went for the endive salad with blue cheese and walnuts and couldn’t really complain. As always, busboys, olives, bread and wine were unobjectionable. Lots o’ new stuff opening in the neighborhood, though.

New York minutes/End o’ May 2008

The atmospherically good: The Sheep Meadow Cafe, where a friend and I connected for an early dinner and where the scenery is well worth eating at any price. We were the second table of the night, so the waiter was hyper-attentive even though we wanted to dawdle before ordering. And $8 sauvignon blanc in a small plastic cup turned out to be surprisingly easy to swallow. The bravely burger-free menu is heavy on meat, but Donna wisely chose the grilled trout with salsa verde when I stupidly ordered the grilled portobello (the $16 price would have put me off if I hadn’t bought four pounds for lasagne for my consort’s birthday party for $5 to $6 a pound just a few days earlier — not much of a markup there). At least my vegetarian steak was properly cooked; the mushrooms in the grilled vegetable medley that came with it were underdone. My fries were also superior to her potato salad, both included on the plate. WIGB? Eating in any park on a gorgeous evening is such a transporting experience that we could have been served rat burgers with roach frites. But here you can watch the young grill jockey in his crisp whites and shorts cook it clean. Central Park, just inside the 69th Street entrance on the west side, 212 396 4100.