2023 wasn’t all bad…

Once I started thinking about the best meals my no-longer-consort and I ate in 2023 I couldn’t stop, not least cuz my phone retains everything far better than my cranial sieve does. And it contains thousands of images.* I did an international roundup for Buffalo Eats, since we get around, but these are my top visually amplified memories from what really is the greatest city in the world. 

The most lavish dinner we had here all year was at Essential by Christophe in our neighborhood (the wide-open UWS), where we indulged in the full sit-down experience in the swankola dining room, with Michelin star-meriting service. But we’ve since been back twice to the bar for dinner, since they make it so welcoming. The one centered on the A+ cheeseburger we split ($24, a Manhattan deal), was the most spectacular, since it started with the dining room amuse and ended with the dining room petits fours. (Well, we also indulged in hamachi tartare with avocado, and intricately dressed deviled eggs, and scallops with sunchokes.) The bartender is exceptional, the ideal mix of total pro and total pal. 

Another meal that felt like #beattherich at their own game was on the sidewalk at One White Street in Tribeca, which offers a $316 prix fixe with wine upstairs but also lets you do far more affordable a la carte at street level, with deceptively simple dishes like grilled bass with clams and wild ones like shaved fennel salad with yuzu, anchovies, blue cheese and pistachios. We just wandered by around the time reviewers were raving and lucked into a sidewalk table. 

Dame in the West Village was also awesome on all levels, not least for the upbeat servers delivering the likes of grilled oysters with green chartreuse hollandaise and grilled caraflex cabbage with mussels and horseradish. (The best takeaways from eating out this year were what to buy to eat in, like that cabbage, and like maitake mushrooms.) Lord’s, the newer restaurant from the same team, was a letdown, from the distracted service to the heavy food, however. Maybe it’s a guy thing.  

Untable in Brooklyn (no website) impressed us and friends with its inventive Thai, like larb tofu, crab croquettes and “What the Hell Fried Rice” (served with spicy ingredients you can mix in to taste). Llama San and Llama Inn were also transporting, with their exquisite mix of Peruvian and Japanese; the latter, in Brooklyn, felt like eating at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. We also had sensational classic Lebanese food — and wine — twice in the streetery at the very upscale Illili in NoMad. (As always with Middle Eastern, the mezze make a feast.)

We loved Caleta in the East Village for the cerebral dishes served at a tiny counter in the tiny shop, especially the cassava chips topped with anchovies and the ceviche tostadas and the pickled mussels on toast. We had a nice-enough Indonesian meal at Wayan in Nolita but a dazzling dinner at the couple/owners’ new Ma-Dé. The softshell crab was perfection, as were the fava bean dumplings and ramp hummus with toasts and crudites, but what stood out was the Huatulco cocktail made with smoked rhubarb amaro. Which is now often an essential ingredient in Bob’s nightly cocktail at home. 

The closest thing to eating in Atlanta was at Peaches Prime in downtown Brooklyn: spinach and artichoke dip with chips; quintessential shrimp and grits, and, as billed on the menu, the ultimate egg, bacon and cheese sandwich. The very stylish, friendly crowd was half the experience. We also had excellent service and food at the new incarnation of Gage & Tollner, especially the she-crab soup, Parkerhouse rolls and crabcake with frisee and lemon aioli.

King in Soho was also all it was sold as, during one of those lulls when it felt safe to eat in a small, crowded dining room, especially for the grilled scallops with blood orange and bottarga and the roasted monkfish with tomato, fregola, rainbow chard and aioli.

We didn’t eat all fancy food over this last year of this ceaseless pandemic, though. Wu’s Wonton King, the last place we met up with our eating Asian/Asian eating friends to show support for Chinese restaurants back in early 2020, again came through big time with pan-fried dumplings, soup dumplings, ribs, stir-fried greens, roast duck and Peking duck buns. Adda, in Long Island City, was the best Indian, in the coolest environment, we had away from home all year. And we ate Mexican out at least once a week (and more often at home). 

So if I can pull it together, my next post will be on all the NYC destinations we hit return on at least once. And after that where we ate outside the country and outside the greatest city in the world. I already did Atlanta.

*Pro tip, tho? A notebook is a more reliable memory-jogger — I can pick one up from a trip to France or Italy 20 or 35 years ago and recall every detail of a day just by a few scribbles on what we ate, and where. (The where is especially problematic with the phone. I assume I will always flash on the name and food. But not in CDMX, or Toronto, and other places where Google is not your friend…) 

New Jersey minute

The camera roll on my phone is where meals go to die anymore, but I’m motivating myself to note the better (and some of the worst) ones here as Twitter itself dies a slow death. So what was on the table on the Fourth of July, as we searched out a restaurant in Jersey City (via The Infatuation) before a fireworks party? Four of us shared everything at Kitchen Step, and the best dish arrived first: A whole smoked maitake drenched in spicy coconut curry sauce over triangular miso-scallion rice cakes. Mushrooms really should be the new meat. Airy gnocchi were better than the tomatoes, peas and mushrooms paired with them in a pallid sauce, and the St. Louis smoked ribs were not great simply because they had no chance: the pork was not great. But the little kale Caesar salad was, like the maitake assemblage, well-conceived and -executed, with bite-size greens teamed with farro, smoked Gouda, candied walnuts and mint. WIGB? Absolutely. The place was pretty and lively, the service was casually great and the Ceretto Arneis* that goes for $25 minimum in wine shops was all of $44. 

*A varietal that’s the water of Piemonte, which is one reason Torino is my second favorite city. 

2022 seems so recent & so distant

       

Wrote this for my pals at Buffalo Eats, who always generously include this outsider in their insider roundup. Holds up almost halfway into 2023, I think:

This procrastinator and her consort actually ate better in 2022 than we ever did in the Before Time, mostly because we were much more discriminating as restaurant prices had to go up but also because I did research and made reservations. Winging it really doesn’t work when you have to scope out which places have tables outside in this tridemic, and which are worth braving indoors when COVID case counts are down. 

 Interestingly, our real standout meals were not mostly in the alleged food capital of America but farther afield (at least in Amtrak distance). Our favorites in Manhattan included Llama San in the West Village, a Peruvian/Japanese spot where every dish is exquisite, and which might be the only place anywhere where brunch is better than dinner. Steelhead trout ceviche with togarashi, avocado and crispy squid was sensational, as was duck confit with egg, rice and the Peruvian chile sauce huancaina.

 At Wildair on the Lower East Side, we had four-star food (and killer wines) in the street, like jerk prawn skewers and pissaladiéclairs, the traditional pastries turned savory with a filling of anchovies, caramelized onion, tapenade and cheese. We went out for Mexican maybe 50 times this year, and while Fonda in Chelsea and in Tribeca always turned out classic queso fundido perfection, two meals from more innovative kitchens were most memorable: Arctic char aguachile with caviar, and a tlayuda layered with the unlikely but sensational combo of celeriac purée, beans, figs and endives on a crisp tortilla, at Atla in Noho, and roasted kabocha squash served over charred cabbage with sour orange mayo and pepitas at Empellon Waterline on the Upper West Side. Laser Wolf in Brooklyn was vaut le voyage for the salads and pickles alone, although the whole trout was one of the best fish we ate all year. (All meals comprise the platter of 10 salatin, a grilled main and a dessert of soft-serve “ice cream” with pomegranate and date molasses for one price.) 

Our saddest favorite meal was at Rebecca Charles’s Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village on one of the last nights before it closed for good, after an impressive 25-year run. The crab cake and the smoked salmon on johnnycake were, as always, stellar, the whole grilled pompano impeccable and the shoestring fries — the only shoestring fries worth eating — good to the soft/crunchy last bites. 

 For one of our rare eating expeditions outside the city, I picked the Washington Post’s restaurant critic’s brain before heading to Baltimore, which guaranteed we ate phenomenally well.  Tom Sietsema was right about Alma, Charleston (“fine dining,” for sure), Cindy Lou’s Fish House on the waterfront overlooking the Domino’s Sugar sign and especially about the tennis ball-size jumbo lump crab cake at Faidley’s in the total-trip Lexington Market. But our blowaway meal was at Clavel, which did Mexican even better than New York, with masa made in-house that was so great we bought a bag to schlep home. Tostadas, tacos, tamales and mixtas (a twist on quesadillas) were all fabulous.

Because Philadelphia is only 80 minutes away by train, and because we have good friends there who loan us their houses, we made five treks south and had dazzling meals almost everywhere every time. It’s a seriously underrated food city. Fiorella, aKitchen, Parc, Kensington Quarters (now with a seafood-centric menu), Cantina La Martina, Barbuzzo, Pera, Pizzeria Vetri, KPOD (new-wave Korean), Down North Pizza, Via Locusta and Le Virtu were just a few of the greats. Even the Mike’s BBQ cheesesteak we had to eat on a park bench in the cold was a revelation. 

Our favorite meal, though, was outside at River Twice, one stunning dish after another, with the most personable service. The charcoal-grilled soft-shell crab covered in golden Osetra caviar was just one bit of brilliance. Close seconds would be our two dinners at Gabriella’s Vietnam, starting with the water fern dumplings and ending with the justly celebrated shaking beef. 

Finally, even I have to concede our trip to Maine was worth braving maskholes on crowded planes and airports. Eventide in Portland again produced many sublime dishes, like a crab roll with yuzu mayo, squash tempura with pickled mushrooms and wondrous bluefin tuna pastrami. In Biddeford, the “new Portland” just outside the bigger city, everything was fried right at Fish & Whistle, dinner at Magnus on Water was a revelation (not least for the Japanese turnips two ways with caviar and creme fraiche) and even the hipster Palace Diner was worth the crazy-long wait for the over-the-top bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich with jalapeños.

Maybe the most memorable meal of 2022, though, was with friends in Boothbay Harbor. We had planned our Maine trip to stay with them, but a heart attack got in the way. We booked hotels and used the plane tickets anyway, then a medical miracle happened: Our host was sent home early and felt well enough to have us over for super-fresh raw oysters, corn chowder, perfectly broiled oysters, one of his wife’s gutsy salads and her signature dessert, sliced oranges dusted with cardamom powder. As with every meal in a streetery, it was reassuring to realize it’s the food and company that matter more than the setting in this weird age of uncertainty. 

Before & after civil rights amazement

The bad news when we got back from five days of walking six to ten miles every car-free day in Atlanta? I weighed exactly what I did the morning we flew off. 

The good news? I weighed exactly the same even after the most indulgent lunches and dinners every damn day. 

So which tastes were most memorable? Not in any order, but:

—The house biscuits at South City Kitchen, rivaled only by the perfectly rich and meaty she-crab soup and the perfectly fried, goat-cheese-stuffed green tomato slices + the Nashville hot fried chicken sandwich with pickles and white barbecue sauce.

—Roasted oysters at Miller Union, and the blood orange mousse. (Also the white from the Canary Islands, despite the sommelier’s warning it tasted “musty.” TF?) 

—The signature crab fritter and the amuses (especially the oozy gougeres) and the cheese course of ribboned Parmigiano with black garlic-date oat cake at Bacchanalia + the Banner Butter, which they sent home along with our other unfinished food.

—Fake shrimp at Slutty Vegan with A+ crinkle fries tossed with more than enough salt and spices. (The faux burger was also vaut le voyage from the MLK Park.)

—Parmesan polenta bites at Lucian, where the omelet was also all it was cracked up to be (although pretty much what  Bob had on the last night of our trip to Paris for 50th-birthday decadence when he couldn’t face more foie gras). The place is more restaurant than bookstore, but we did score an amazing apple book. Which we gave to an applephiliac friend, so I can’t recall the name.

—Coleslaw and roasted oysters at the W.H. Stiles fish joint in the Ponce City Market, which outshone our shared fried oyster po’ boy (good but not up to best thing I ever put in my mouth in Lafayette, LA). 

—Green papaya salad plus hamachi collar and sweet potato salad with crab at Talat Market, in the awesome neighborhood of Grant Park, every bite of which made us marvel at and despair over how much mediocre Thai there is back home.

—Marsh Hen Mill grits with bacon, Tuscan kale and tomatoes from Bob’s shrimp order at White Oak Tavern, our first lunch, where it was just a mystery how the server pegged us as not-from-around-heres when we had the tourism promo mag spread out on the table. 

—The charcuterie board (deviled ham, smashed Spotted Trotter salami and Benton’s smoked hog jowl) at the just-opened Holeman & Finch + the bok choy with sherried shrimp butter and the roasted shiitakes. 

—Olive bread from the Saturday Peachtree farmers’ market. Which went especially well with that kittybagged Banner Butter.

We didn’t have one meal that was bad. The one weak one was my fault, because I was so fried from all the walking that I insisted we go to a place close to our Sonder. A place near all the downtown hotels, and on a Saturday night. And despite the stressed servers and the cleanliness issues with wineglasses, it was far better than it had any right to be. The grouper ($36, but good luck finding that in NYC!) was grilled right, as was the accompanying (woody) asparagus, and the wedge salad was as good as any back home. Mints at the host stand shoulda been a warning, tho… 

Oh, and the hed? This must-experience in the most American city right now. I couldn’t do it, but it includes a simulation of a lunch counter where you can get a sense of how brutal the assaults on students trained to protest nonviolently really were. Not for nothing is there a box of tissues at the exit of just that exhibit.

Worth the weight

My favorite reaction to the Modigliani show at the Barnes was from a young with half their head shaved who muttered to their companion: “Lots of artists had to be working around this time. Why this guy?” (We laughed, cuz we knew: Connections — we once saw an amazing show at the Albright-Knox in Buffalo on his network of artists — and . . . the right dealer.)

After this last Amtrak ride south to Philadelphia we did not have one less-than-A-rated meal, either. aKitchen was superb as always (sweet potato-apple soup with pickled mustard greens + roasted trout with smoked celeriac remoulade). We had better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be dim sum (chard dumplings, eggplant mapo tofu, caterpillar bread etc.) at Bing Bing in South Phila after a stop at Ash and Embers (or was it Embers and Ash? or neither) where Bob had a killer Penicillin2 cocktail. We had a dazzling lunch of mushroom pozole and choriqueso cemita (aka sandwich overloaded with chorizo, cheese and guacamole) at the brand-new, very stylish El Chingon in South Phila. With our friends H&J we had an over-the-top dinner at Laser Wolf in Fishtown, where you get 11 or 12 salads/pickles with your grilled mains (we went to the Brooklyn branch for Bob’s b-day last year, for a shared grilled trout & it was more satisfying than the three mains this time). And our last dinner* was also with H&J, at River Twice, which is our favorite place in the second-best food city in America: seven sensational small courses (like bay scallops in cocktail sauce consommé, and crab on rice “porridge” with seaweed, and razor clams with celeriac and smoked bacon, and chestnut ice cream with foie gras butterscotch) + the chef threw in an extra of Jersey grits with uni butter and shaved truffles. Then we almost missed the train home because we took our time near “home” in South Phila with breakfast: boring but perfect for me (scrambled, home fries, toast, bacon) and brilliant for Bob (bacon-scallion-Cheddar waffle with sunnyside egg).

Circling back to the Barnes: The Garden restaurant was surprisingly good, too. And good value. We had a cake’s worth of crab on the avocado toast.

*Before dinner we looped back to check out Solar Myth, the bar we had noticed had opened under the Boot & Saddle neon sign on South Broad, and it was totally worth it. The by-the-glass wine list was quite sophisticated, and the staffers could not have been friendlier. If we weren’t on a food death march, we might even have stayed for the live show. If it had had seats. (Our other how-Phila-has-changed excursion was up to Mount Airy with H&J to check out the new Black-owned grocery outlet. We all found stuff to buy.)

WIGB, overall? Hope we make it back as often as last year, when we went five times. 

Also, too: Our first stop on detraining was at the SEPTA office to update our “metrocards,” and of course we never even used ‘em. It’s always walkable in Philadelphia.

Up from “The Flavor Genome”

Picture yourself on a couch in the lobby of the Whitney after the kick-ass, so-urgently-political Biennial, and you’re trying to find a place to have a nice (not stand-up-in-a-stall-at-Chelsea-Market) lunch and Yelp is no help as you back-and-forth on restos you both like but have been to way too often. And then it comes upon you that Cookshop gets so much Twitter love and is just a High Line walk away. The last time I was there was with another professional eater, and I suspect her ears are still ringing from our brunch. But my consort and I landed right before 2 on a Wednesday and got a table for four in the back where we could sit side by side and not yell even a little bit. An hour later we walked out pretty much wanting to RT everyone who touts the hell out of the joint. We split an order of tempura-fried squid that transported me back to my best meal in Torino last summer, at a seafood resto in the great open-air market, where I had the perfect combination of fresh seafood and precise cooking. The little, light, just-salty-enough rings were laid over lemon aioli, so we got to dunk when you needed to, after appreciating the freshness and the frying. Bob’s lamb sausage sandwich was also world-class if messy, with the not-gamy-at-all meat stuffed into a bun between black olive aioli and pickled cucumber slices and teamed with faultless French fries. My asparagus “casserole,” though, was just what i deserved for ordering for $15 what I could have done at home for a coupla bucks: blanket a few spears with a sludge of melted cheeses. Coffee, though, was outstanding. Rosé? Ditto. WIGB? Not at crunch time, but absolutely. 

New York minutes

My road to hell is apparently being paved with receipts from dozens and dozens of restaurants signifying my good intentions of writing about the good, the bad and the just okay (and, also, too, the surprisingly not bad). So I’m forcing myself to type about our latest meal out, the one where my consort noted we had had all appetizers the night before and I had to ask: Where did we eat last night?

(Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, FTR, which was, yet again for like the eighth time since it expanded, close to perfect — points off for no “bread” offered, but we didn’t need it given that we were eating light with oysters on the half-shell [for Bob], fried calamari, wedge salad and grilled octopus with frisee, gigante beans and paprika aioli [again for Bob; I ain’t eatin’ no near-human]).

I actually had done a little research before we headed down to IFC for the amazing “Cameraperson,” so we were able to resist the fine-and-affordable siren song of Baker & Co. in order to stroll a couple of blocks north to the new Seabird, downtown relative of Mountain Bird, that awesome East Harlem destination that unfortunately represents a paving stone on my cluttered-desk highway (thanx again, Cheese Jenkins). It was only 7:30 or so and there were actually sidewalk tables available, but we headed into the din for our dinner.

I could complain about the table being too small, but the servers were too friendly; our main one jokingly offered to eat what she recommended if we didn’t like it although we would still pay. We took the cheaper of her recommendations, passing on the $32 bouillabaisse after she translated it as if we were rubes. Salmon poke with avocado and seaweed was about 10,000 times better than I expected, with the perfect balance among fatty, fatty and tangy. Crab and artichoke cheese dip was like a flashback to the TGIFriday’s 35 years ago where we agreed to move to NYC, but with real artichokes and real crab and good chips for dipping. “Fried oyster taco” proved to be three, each with a huge fried mollusk set over coleslaw (marred by celery). Ms. Charming apparently forgot to put in our last order, for the “crab lasagna mac-and-cheese,” because it took forever, but it was worth the wait, with an insane amount of lump crab in and atop the creamy shells with a touch of tomato sauce. Our $44 bottle of albariño was poured a little too fast, but maybe that’s because we were thirsty from the #bestintownpopcorn. WIGB? Absolutely, but only in a party of two able to lip-read.

Plus one . . .

When I was totting up our favorites, I forgot about Parm, Upper West Side division. Which has become one of our regular destinations after the Sunday Greenmarket because it’s the rare egg-free and day-drunkless environment on Sunday afternoon. We always sit in the bright and sunny back room and always split a perfect eggplant parm sandwich (hero is too big) along with Buffalo cucumbers, awash in hot sauce and chunky with blue cheese. As a starter, we have either the very satisfying fried zucchini, which now comes with cocktail sauce and a spicy mayonnaise, or the artichokes casino. And the tab is about what a lobster roll plus a lobster combo at Luke’s would cost. Some of our Upper West Side friends don’t get the place or the tongue-in-red sauce menu. But then they apparently haven’t eaten as much in Italy, cuz they’ll settle for the earnest but sad “true Italian” in other restos.

New York minutes, scattered

Pizza Beach on the Upper East Side has many attractions: a cool setting with oversized color sand-and-water photos on the walls; a jazzy menu; unusually melanin-rich front-of-the-house representation. But I think we liked it best for the birth-control ad down the banquette. We got there crazy-early on a Sunday evening for reasons too depressing to discuss, and we walked in realizing it would all be kiddles. But the hostess seated us at a boothette in the back and things were fine till one of those unhappy rich families who are all alike walked in. It was not as bad as babbies on a plane, but it was annoying when the 2-something went ballistic. Luckily, they moved on soon. And our shared Tuscan kale salad turned out to be outstanding, with the julienned leaves interspersed with pickled red onions and grana padano in a mustard-seed vinaigrette. And while the crust on our pizza did make you want to leave the bones behind (more Piadina than Marta), the topping was sensational, with thick cheese, a generous paving of peppery “salumi” slices and a lavish sprinkling of microgreens to give the illusion of vegetables. The wine list was impressive as well, with 40 wines for $40 and a fair number of those available by the glass for $10 (Falanghina for me, Nero d’Avola and Barbera for Bob). WIGB? Absolutely. Although I have to take points off for the hostess denying us a four-top in the window because she was holding it for a bigger party. We walked past it on the way out to see it sitting just as we had on the way in: Empty.

And now I’m repeating myself: Once upon a time we would have been thrilled to find ourselves just a block or so away from Roberta’s at lunchtime when we could probably have walked right in. But now that you can pass a pizza oven by that name anywhere in Manhattan, the exotic allure dims a bit. Which is how we would up going back to Northeast Kingdom on our outing to “East Williamsburg” aka Bushwick to drop off a chair to be reupholstered. Nothing else in the neighborhood seemed inspired, and we knew this would be good. From the super-peppery bloody mary to the smooth coffee the place delivered, yet again. Bob’s fried chicken sandwich, with a crunchy crust and juicy meat set off against shredded cabbage, probably outdid my burger, which, for all its gilding with mushroom duxelles and caramelized onion, was just okay beef slightly overcharred. The fries with it were fine, though, and Bob’s greens were perfectly dressed. The waitress was superb, and our booth came with a sidewalk view of the exotic street.

That night we had a flawless meal, yet again, at Baker & Co. in the West Village, where we met a friend in from Veneto who wanted to eat light. It was a Monday, so the place was quiet and empty, which was perfect for talking even in the glassed-in garden. As always, the ricotta-garlic spread for the bread started the dinner right. My salad was a marvel of flavors and textures, with tender kale and a showering of ricotta salata over roasted delicata squash rings, with toasted almonds and tahini in the dressing. Bob and Diego had the roast chicken with truffle-garlic fries, as great as it’s always been. And Diego was impressed by the Italian red. The occupant of the fourth chair, in from the Outer Banks, had a pizzetta and a beer and seemed satisfied as well. Beyond the food and service, it’s such a perfect spot pricewise.

And here some notes from various receipts on my cluttered desk: BEA in Hell’s Kitchen proved to be the perfect place for a good 18 people to gather for a drink after a showing of the very moving “Overburden” at CUNY — our reserved area was quiet enough for talking, the servers were superb at running separate checks and the wine was both decent and affordable. Wisely, we did not order any food. Elizabeth’s, the neighborhood standby we keep swearing off, sucked us back in on a sidewalk-cafe evening over the summer; the white was fine and my Cobb salad what it always is. But Bob was loving his lamb burger until he found a sheet of paper in the middle of it. I guess it was the liner between patties, but it was gross. They took the $18 charge off the bill, but still. And I shouldn’t have wasted 10 months waiting to write about the Empire Diner, because the Buffalo skate wings were pretty great the night we lucked into a table. But now they are no longer on the menu since the chef left. It was a “WIGB? Nope” anyway.

Expedience . . .

My latest filing under “reach should exceed grasp:” This layabout’s hard-working consort has a newish rule that we can only go out to eat if we will eat something substantially better than we could eat at home. And I did, after all, train as a chef, cook in a restaurant, cater and spend nearly half my lifetime developing recipes for $ (I just did an average there; otherwise it once would be $$$$). But sometimes the rule gets bent. Sometimes four times in one week.

The high had to be a lucky find after the New Museum and a Di Palo’s run (for the cheapest Illy + best Parmigiano-Reggiano in town). Our pal in from DC had not had lunch, and we reflexively headed to Parm in NoLIta when I remembered we always pass by and wonder about the sidewalk cafe at Gelso & Grand, the enticing restaurant on the corner where a deli once sold Italian products and snacks like arancini in my street food days before the Twitter ate my life. I would have been happy with pizza only slightly better than the tourist crap in all the other cafes on Mulberry, but the $19 “Inferno” was actually excellent: good-to-the-bones crust, lots of capicola, a sweet-burning heat to the sauce. Whatever the plural is of bruschetta were also fabulous, one set topped with a shell-bean puree plus pancetta, the other with burrata, cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of Port reduction. The best part: An order is two, but your three-top can get a third for $5 more. Rosé from Lombardy was a decent pour for $12. Service was perfectly attentive. So, WIGB? Absolutely. The people-watching was jaw-dropping — suffice it to say that stretch of Little Italy is one more place where you will not spot Bill Cunningham.

The low, however, was easily brgr, where we wound up after the Sunday Greenmarket when Bob unexpectedly expressed interest in a burger, something that crosses his screen about once a year (so I know to click on it). I had waited what felt like six days for one to be overcooked a few weeks before at Fairway’s cafe, so we couldn’t go there, and my stomach still feels distended from the hangover one I had at Spring Natural on New Year’s Day, so we couldn’t go back there. Unfortunately, I remembered neighbors saying they had been getting good grass-fed burgers at brgr, and we wandered over to Broadway. Not only did the things take just short of forever or Fairway. The flavor was as AWOL as the vowels in the name. Neither the meat nor the “Cheddar” nor the mustard nor the tomato nor, even, the bun had any taste at all. We just kept eating and eating, hoping the next bite would pay off. Nope. (And the fries were seriously lame, too.) It says it all that we stopped in Zabar’s afterward and found one small sample of mangalitsa ham was a “wake up, tastebuds” mouthful. WIGB? The clincher was doing the math and realizing Fairway was a better deal, at $9.50 including fries; these were $8.50 plus. No wonder that logo has always reminded me of Goatsie.

Almost as disappointing was the brisket at Mighty Quinn’s in the West Village, where we trotted after the awesomeness that is the new Whitney. Once again, it was dry and chewy and not particularly barbecue-y. The chain had redeemed itself the other week at Birchfield Place, but I have to concur with Bob: It will be a long time, if ever, before we brave that stuff again. It’s a good thing we only split one sandwich, and it’s a good thing it came with the usual generous sides of coleslaw and pickles (celery, onion, cucumber and jalapeño) for $9.50. And we only needed that because we had fortified ourselves before tackling all floors of the museum by sharing a couple of carnitas tacos off the Taco Truck on the gorgeous High Line. Those were more tortillas than (dull) filling.

The fourth exception to the rule was West Bank Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, to which we resorted for proximity’s sake after the genius of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (which, beyond the great script, photography and acting, boasted some fud jokes, including rabbit andouille). Our friends had suggested Taboon, but the prices online were insane (no wines under about $45, entrees in the $30s) plus we had gotten the brush-off when we stopped in one night after a “Daily Show” filming. Here, with the After Eight menu,  we got a $35 Provencal rosé, a reasonably quiet table and the usual reliable, good-value cooking. My eggplant parmesan teamed with arugula and tomatoes, for $15, was almost Parm level (The Cat WCTLAFW approved to the point of stealing the salad off my plate the next day). Bob and Diane’s chicken breasts were juicy, with a fine sauce and lots of side vegetables including mashed potatoes (The Cat really approved). And I didn’t try Len’s shrimp but approved his wild mushroom risotto balls with their good truffle aioli for dipping. WIGB? Anytime we’re trapped in that tourist wasteland. Also, too? Upper West Side restos should offer After Eight menus. Bill ’em as stroller-free.