New York minutes/Late September 2012

The always good: Loi on the Upper West Side, where a friend was wise enough to reserve for seven of us as a retreat after “The Master” (AKA “2 hours & 16 minutes on Bullshit Mountain”) and where, as we had hoped, the room was quiet and the staff was accommodating. We mostly shared double orders of appetizers — the amazing eggplant, calamari with pistachios and gigantes with feta plus the rather tough cheese and spinach pies — and two superb Greek salads followed by meat and veg renditions of moussaka (I only tasted the mushroom, and it was rather brick-like). With two shared bottles of white wine, the tab was $48 a person, which seemed reasonable given the quantity of food and the swanky place itself. I’d take points off for wine that needed chilling (both bottles), slow service/busing (we had to stack empty dishes to make room on the table) and tough pita and dried-out whole-grain bread. I’d add a couple back on, though, for the grape leaves and yogurt served gratis. No question on WIGB, especially considering they let us sit there for hours while we chewed over just how craptastic the movie was.

The pretty good: Empellon in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up after confronting a 25-minute wait at Buvette nearby and where we walked right in, sat right down and had guacamole and two salsas on the table in what felt like seconds. The arbol was great, but the smoked cashew with chipotle was phenomenal, and the guacamole was nearly a match for both. (Chips are obviously housemade but were rather greasy and tough, although we certainly didn’t turn away the second “basket.”) We each had tacos, tongue for Bob and dogfish for me, and it was not a good sign that he immediately started asking what a similar dish goes for at either Toloache or El Paso. His were just the meat and the tortillas for $12. My two, for the same price, could barely contain the chunks of beautifully fried fish, green salsa, lime mayonnaise, shredded cabbage and radish slices. Maybe because the fish was so outsized, I needed those salsas. Still, WIGB? Absolutely, at least for brunch/lunch. The room is beautiful, the service so accommodating.

The half-good: Anjappur in Curry Hill, where we headed after gorging on Duane Reade potato chips with Sherry-Lehmann-level wines at a press event when we should have stuck around and had more of the re-envisioned Cornish pasties, pigs in blankets, Scotch eggs and devils on horsebacks (best food ever at the Ace Hotel). I was curious to experience the reincarnation of the French restaurant I had walked past for 30-plus years without ever trying, and the menu/diners did look more enticing than at the other two places we scoped out, so we headed in. The wine was fine, the waiter was wonderful and the food was actually above average — we shared a lively thali on which only the cardboardy bread was disappointing plus a well-spiced chicken biriyani teamed with a jazzy onion raita and fiery gravy — but my answer to WIGB? would have to be: Probably not. When we asked to take home the three-quarters of biriyani we couldn’t finish, the “hostess” just brought over a styrofoam box and a plastic bag so we could scrape our own shit, then, while Bob was in the bathroom and our overcrowded table had still not been cleared, came over to peremptorily demand we move said box/bag off the next table where we had set it so she could seat more people. I left feeling glad the place is catercorner from another restaurant space that has had 20 tenants fail — and hoping the owners walk out the same door every night to the same reminder.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2010

The good: Kefi, yet again, where I was unforgivably late for a Friday night reservation with friends but where the staff let the three of us hog a table for hours. When I got there they were halfway through good potato chips with tatziki and their first glasses of wine, and the conversation got so spirited we were soon mostly through a bottle of the Skouros before we got around to ordering. Sue was so persuasive I ordered the macaroni and cheese, something I almost never do, but she was right: it was not the usual stodge; the combination of sharper cheese and greens made it more like a respectable baked pasta. We shared a good Greek salad, and Donna was thrilled with her grilled octopus with chickpeas. The staff was so patient we didn’t even object to the overcharge for the glass of wine Sue canceled before we ordered the bottle, just paid up happily. WIGB? Of course, even though it does get loud on a Friday night. And all agreed we would never want to go out for Greek but are always up for Kefi. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.

The good II: Toloache, yet again, where my consort and I hightailed for a little more food after hors d’ (by Restaurant Associates) before a screening from our friends’ doc on “How Democracy Works Now” (begins soon on HBO). The place was relatively quiet, and we had wine before us in minutes, followed by the huitlacoche/truffle quesadilla (still more of a cheese crisp, with only one tortilla, but excellent since the woman chef was back at the oven) and a great salad with jicama, almonds and tamarind vinaigrette. WIGB? No need to ask. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The not bad: Bhojan in Curry Hill, where Bob and I made our way after the Greenmarket for Saturday lunch and where he admitted only on finishing that he never wants to go out for Indian. “I got over my red-checkered-tablecloth idea of Italian, but I still think of that street with Indian,” he said, meaning Sixth, where the old joke was that one kitchen spewed into every restaurant, and poorly. This place was a thousand years more modern, looking like someplace swank in Calcutta or Mumbai, with upside-down kadais on the ceiling as decoration and light fixtures made of green wine bottles and a bathroom enclosed in clouded glass. And the thalis, both my Gujarati and his Punjabi, were a pleasure to explore, all 10 or 11 elements from chutney to four kinds of bread, and worth the $16 weekend price (smaller ones at lunch during the week are $8). My curds and a salad of sprouted mung beans were particularly good, and the dal and black chickpeas special rivaled them. And for once there was enough bread, good bread, to scoop up as much as I could eat. I even liked my dessert, “sweet curd,” flavored with saffron and flecked with chopped pistachios. The service was a little slow, but we overheard a waiter saying the place was not even officially open yet, despite having been touted in the Times. WIGB? Maybe, although every time we head to that neighborhood there’s something new to try. 102 Lexington Avenue near 27th Street, 212 213 9794.

New York minutes/Late December 2009

The pretty good: Great N.Y. Noodletown in Chinatown, where my consort insisted we head after hearing from a chef at an amazing party that the God of Momofuku had been inspired by a dish there. We hadn’t been in years, but aside from the price of the roast duck to go, nothing seemed to have changed much, although the staff was mellower and the proportion of Caucasians was higher. We waited briefly for wedged-in-tight seats at a communal table and had steaming-hot tea instantly. Ordering duck rolls from that kitchen was not the smartest move, but the two of them benefited from great ingredients if not skillful frying. Bob got advice from both a tablemate and the waiter on the quest dish, and it was both surprisingly simple and lively. I’m a duck junkie and almost overdosed on roast duck on rice. We walked out stuffed for $14.25 including tax and tip. WIGB? Absolutely. 28 1/2 Bowery at Bayard, 212 349 0923.

The pretty bad: The Edison Hotel’s cafe off Times Square, where I met a friend in from the mashed potato mines in Boston who needed to eat close to Penn Station and which I will not dignify by calling the Polish Tea Room. Despite two sentences in Times Square, I’d never been, and now I see why. The room has its weird charm, but time apparently stopped in the kitchen about the time grape jelly in individual packets was invented. The toast was industrial, the fatty bacon (which I’d ordered crispy) was stringy-scary, the scrambled eggs had something crunchy in them I hope was shells; only the home fries were respectable if not great. My friend succumbed to stewed prunes and an order of blintzes with sour cream; the latter choice, she said, would have been better with something acidic. The damn things were huge, though. She had coffee, I was too timid and settled for club soda, which was served in a plastic Coke cup. The ancient waiter was shuffling evidence that decades of experience don’t always pay off. WIGB? Not on a bet. Good thing I’d noticed online that the tip is included or we would have felt even more ripped off.

The decent: Dhaba in Curry Hill, where Bob and I wound up for a fast lunch after the Wednesday Greenmarket when I needed to do a curry-leaf-and-Kalustyan’s run and his choice, Tiffin Wallah, had too long a line for its $6.95 smorgasbord. I guess we got our extra $3 worth: A table opened up fast, and the app and bread were waiting on it by the time we got through the mobbed buffet line. As always, I had only veg (saag paneer, aloo matar, kadhai bhindi, dal, plus curds and chutneys) and was fine with it all; Bob indulged in lamb and various chicken curries, too, then we split the carrot dessert. Can you say filling? Dinner was a mesclun salad followed by popcorn. . . WIGB? Maybe. The  place looks great, and the staff has almost gotten its act together. 108 Lexington Avenue near 28th Street, 212 679 1284.

New York minutes/Late April 2009

The good again: Aquagrill in SoHo, where we headed for our default brunch after the Saturday Greenmarket and after every other destination we considered had the usual egg-heavy menu. The place was quite busy, with the outdoor tables all full, but it was running at peak performance. We got a nice table (albeit next to the overactive linen closet), were served good Spanish rosé and warm breakfast breads right away and had our food almost too fast, given the long lines for the one-seat bathrooms. I ignored the lack of provenance on the salmon BLT and just enjoyed the perfect balance of fish against crisp bacon, mayonnaise and baby arugula on a ciabatta. Bob’s warm shrimp salad had nicely cooked shellfish with well-dressed potatoes on more baby arugula. The biscuits were exquisite. What was most impressive is that the bill, including one coffee, was about what really nasty Cabrito had cost the Saturday before; my sandwich with good fries was a buck less than the still queasy-making chorizo biscuits and gravy. Plus we were thanked at least four times on our way out. WIGB? Inevitably. They have restauranting down to an art. 210 Spring Street, 212 274 0505.

The not bad: SobaKoh in the East Village, where nine of us wound up after an opening at Leica Gallery and where the tiny room and excellent service made it the perfect destination thanks to one smart guy who lives in the neighborhood taking charge. The menu was huge, but soba with grilled duck and scallions jumped out at me, while Bob was taken with eggplant stuffed with ground duck for his soba. Japanese and I are not on familiar terms, but I was happy enough with our food, especially since the sake kept coming. Our young friend who barely drinks was floored by the $42-a-head tab, but that’s how it goes when you order $55 bottles. The best part is that even in a group that ridiculously large, it was easy to talk. And the waitress happily took a combination of cash and I think five credit cards. WIGB? Not likely, but only because soba sounds enticing about once in a decade. 309 East Fifth Street off Second Avenue, 212 254 2244.

The not great: Baoguette in Curry Hill, where I wandered in very hungry after the Wednesday Greenmarket on my way to Foods of India and where I paid for my stupidity in ordering the $7 “sloppy bao,” billed as spicy curried beef but more like a cafeteria special. The bread and the pickled vegetables and especially the heat were all good, but it was the kind of ground beef that comes with a remorse guarantee. What mostly struck me was how dull it was: After the third bite, whatever thrill there was was gone. The people were pleasant and efficient, though, and the thing was obviously prepared with a level of care. WIGB? Not likely, especially after I realized I could have had a full buffet with lots of vegetables for a couple of dollars more just up the avenue.

New York minutes/Mid-April 2009

The really good: Fatty Crab uptown on second try, where my consort and I snagged seats at the bar away from the din and where we scored with food, service and lagniappe. It was a choice between a crappy table right inside the door or a 20-minute wait, so we settled for the latter and stayed put once we saw what people around us were eating. The bartender was patient and solicitous, too, pouring glasses of Grüner to try before filling them and doing a serious selling job on the special chicken-and-oyster banh mi, endorsed by the guy to my right. I had gone in wanting only wine but agreed to the green mango salad to go with the Fatty Dog Bob ordered; we were halfway through it when the touted banh mi landed. The bartender admitted he had gotten so distracted selling it that he had put it through as an order, so he said we should take it for free while he got the right dish. And it was all he said it would be, as was the dog, actually XO-flavored sausage in a soft bun. Best news: The mango salad is back in proper proportion. WIGB? Absolutely; the kitchen has hit its stride. 2170 Broadway near 77th Street, 212 496 2722.

The pretty bad: Cabrito, where we settled after schlepping around the West Village after the Greenmarket, finding the new Vietnamese place in Time Out a long way from open and the menu at Centro Vinoteca a little unpromising. I should have known not to enter any restaurant with exactly two customers at prime brunchtime, and we paid more than the $12 price of the entrees: The arepa “biscuits” under the fried eggs and chorizo gravy on my plate were sawdusty-dry and too thick by half; if the eggs had not been cooked so hard oozy yolks might have helped, and I hate oozy yolks. Worse, the “gravy” separated out into fat and chunks, to the point that it will be a while before I brave chorizo again. Bob shelled out $7 extra for goat, and it was certainly better than my food, big chunks of the meat with three fresh tortillas, chopped onions, cilantro, salsa borracha and crema. Guacamole was not bad, either. But both of us nearly fell asleep on the subway home, and both of us needed naps before heading out to a dinner party. Does goat have tryptophan? WIGB? Nope. Second time was the turnoff.

The promising: Dhaba in Curry Hill, where I stopped for fortification before getting all but thrown out of a shop for taking out a notebook and pen. The buffet lunch is $9.95, and if it was not Chola-level it was redeemed by the naan, far superior to what I have had anywhere else in town. I prefer veg over non-veg and was happy enough with the potatoes, spinach, peas and dal on offer, but people who eat lamb and chicken would do better here. Two tandoori drumsticks arrived with a little plate of limp fried potatoes and other vegetables as an appetizer, and they were actually pretty good. The carrot dessert was also surprisingly satisfying, and I have no sweet tooth. I missed the raita and the mango pickle. Service qualified as discombobulated at best, but WIGB? For sure, for lunch. 108 Lexington Avenue near 28th Street, 212 679 1284.

The gruesome: Nha Trang One, where I stupidly wasted my one jury-duty lunch thanks to a notebook jotting about it being a favorite of an admirable chef and where the F&W tout posted in the window should have been a warning. I studied both lunch and dinner menus for a long time, realizing as I slowly turned the pages that I knew way too little to be even trying to navigate the cryptic descriptions, before randomly pointing at something in the beef section starred as spicy. Five seconds later a mound of gray meat and white rice with big nasty hunks of onion arrived, and it was so profoundly disappointing I called the waiter over to ask for spring rolls — grease absolves many sins. But these, which arrived in all of 10 seconds, were even nastier, more wrapper than filling with no discernible flavor. The people were nice, and the bathroom was wild (black fixtures), and the $4 wine was a big gobletful. But WIGB? Not a Chinatown chance in hell.

New York minutes/Late July 2008

The if-it-were-a-candidate-it-would-be-presumptuous: Bar Milano, where a friend lured another friend and me to take “advantage” of Restaurant Week and where we all staggered out two hours later senza $46 apiece and underwhelmed to boot. Value-wise, I guess I can’t complain; they threw in an extra course for the $24.08. But the kitchen must have been on muscle relaxants — the gap between each of those four courses was long enough to write a cookbook. The weirdness that is RW also tainted the experience; waiters don’t want to be accused of pushing, so they don’t do what they might any other week and offer refills on wine etc. From the two to three choices for each course, we chose mostly the same things: ribbons of Tuscan kale drenched in creamy dressing with wonderful mini-croutons; rabbit terrine (I passed); “conseci” stuffed with chard and ricotta (gummy) and tagliatelle with ragu (salty); trout on “montecato” (bland), and “frittelle” with alleged rhubarb. I liked the last taste best, mostly because it was more vegetal than fruity. Bread plates sat empty the entire meal while I saw other tables dunking into olive oil, and the flatware fought the plates and bowls for balance and largely lost. Even half-full, the place was noisy (and we got a great table for three near the front). I can’t imagine setting foot inside at dinner. In any other city, this would be the swankiest joint in town. They spent the bucks, on the bathrooms, the liquor carts, the design in general. But soundproofing? Not so much. WIGB? Not likely. 323 Third Avenue at 24th Street, 212 683 3035.

The redeemed: Crema, where a friend and I retreated after getting our minds set on Mexican after Aimee Mann at Barnes & Noble, only to be told Rosa Mexicano had more than an hour’s wait. I had sworn I would never go back, but the host this night was so welcoming and gave us the quietest table in the front so quickly that it was hard to hold that grudge. Even for $18 quesadillas. We split the guacamole, which was light on jalapeno, cilantro, onion and tomato, but the chips were good. Kevin was a bit flummoxed by the weirdness of his top-shelf margarita, but I realized it was the mescal giving it the woodshed aspect. And my second choice of wine, after the Veramonte was gone, was decent enough. WIGB? Maybe. 111 West 17th Street, 212 691 4477.

The time-warpy: Pete’s Tavern, where I met my friend for a drink for proximity-to-Barnes-&-Noble’s sake and where the wine choices and prices ($6 for sauvignon blanc) were right, plus the happy hour feast was movable: a little guy came around repeatedly with a tray of fried things and teeny triangles of gummable “pizza.” The place reeks history (O. Henry), and it is undeniably cool that it exists in a city hellbent on destroying anything that might be able to support a 30-story high-rise. On the debit side, the bartenders do seem to respond only to their hung patrons. WIGB? Maybe. Nostalgia can be a very good appetite. 129 East 18th Street at Irving Place, 212 473 7676.

New York minutes/Early January 2008

The good I: Resto, where we headed for something new after our usual Saturday morning at the Greenmarket and where we both were made ridiculously happy. The place was bright and sunny at midday, the staff actually seemed happy to serve us (even the poor busboy who had no idea what the Belgian word on his T-uniform meant) and the food, service and drinks were outstanding. I succumbed to the burger after spotting three around the room, and it was well worth the $13 (with good fries and a nice mound of dressed mesclun). The meat was meaty, even though the waitress said it had to be cooked through to the kitchen’s taste, and the accessories were perfect: excellent Gruyere, pickles, red onion and mayonnaise. My snout-loving consort of course went for the salad of crispy pig’s ear with poached egg, and even his squeamish longtime companion was impressed — the bits of fried flesh were like cracklins, a perfect match with the bitter frisee and runny egg. My glass of Gruner was just what he wanted, his cafe americano, made to order, what I wished I’d ordered. WIGB? Can’t wait, for a more challenging meal. 111 East 29th Street between Park Avenue South and Lexington Avenue, 212 685 5585.

The good II: Harry’s Cafe, where we took refuge after a disastrous chocolate event that at least was held at a hotel with a smart concierge who suggested a short walk to Stone Street. We started at his recommendation, Adrienne’s Pizza, even though we had already been there and suspected it would be jammed, then I insisted we move around the corner. Harry’s was pretty full but very mellow, and the food was the best we’ve had there: My lump crab-avocado-tomato salad was blowaway, like a parfait, and Bob’s shrimp club was enough for two. The red/white wines by the stemless glass were good, the service attentive, the noise level un-abusive, and we got out for well under $80 with tip. As a bonus, we were able to interrupt Harry himself in a booth and catch up a little bit. His son is seriously rising. WIGB? Happily. One Hanover Square, 212 785 9200.

The bad: Pipa in the ABC Home store, where I gimped in on Wednesday in desperation near the Greenmarket after finding Bocca had only a $20.95 lunch special (I never need two courses). It took a while to get waited on, but if the decent sauvignon blanc came fast the check took forever. I ordered the portobello “burger,” which was doomed by the cheese on it — billed as mozzarella, it had the texture of that slimy snot on slices in pizza joints all over the city anymore. The mushroom seemed to have been cooked eons in advance, and the “truffle sauce” seemed to have been vanquished by the other accouterments. As I left I spotted Phil Suarez having a high time at the reception desk and wondered why he wasn’t covering his head. WIGB? Not on a bet.

New York minutes/Last o’ 2007

The pretty good: Barfry, where I retreated after finding Pearl closed for Xmas break and where I had a great crab cake po’ boy but the strangest service even though only one other diner was in the joint at lunchtime. The waiter behind the bar pointed me to a table and let me sit while he did a few chores before finally bringing a menu and weirdly funky-tasting water. Then he disappeared into a back room or basement to retrieve milk and was gone so long I considered leaving, but Pearl was closed. I think it took longer to order than to eat, since the check shows 22 minutes elapsed. But that $15 sandwich was superb, with great crunch to the crab cake and lots of little pickles in with the dressing and chopped lettuce. It was too big by half, but that’s a tiny complaint. I also had a $10 Tasmanian chardonnay that really needed a proper wineglass rather than a ridiculous little tumbler. WIGB? Probably, although my money goes farther at Pearl and the thought of that glass sent us to Jane the next night . . . . 50 Carmine Street, 212 929 5050.

The not bad: La Rural, where we headed for a Sunday dinner to avoid washing dishes and where we got the deal of the month. Because it’s BYO, we split a big salad, a heaping order of “Provencal” fries and a skirt steak so huge we had leftovers for burritos the next day, and the bill with a good tip was $42. The meat was good and perfectly cooked, very fast, and the fries were fine, too. The engaging waiter remembered us from when the place was Pampa; it looks nicer now but still takes cash only. And because it was nearly empty, it was luxuriously quiet. WIGB? Happily. 768 Amsterdam Avenue near 97th Street, 212 865 2929.

The charming: Tiffin Wallah, where the room and the Koizumi-look-alike waiter compensated for the sub-Saravanaas cooking at Saturday lunch. The hand-washing sink is in the dining room, and it’s the coolest one imaginable; the walls are hung with great black-and-white photos from India, while the waiters’ area has shelves filled with Indian gewgaws. And the behl poori was everything Irene Sax promised: spicy, crunchy, a great blend of cooling and hot. The Mysore sada dosa with coconut chutney and sambar was big and greasy, though, and the best thing in the Gujarati thali was the dessert, which says everything given how cloying Indian sweets can be. The bread was too greasy to eat, and the curries were one-note; the two fried bits were also sodden. No wonder most of the clientele was not Indian. WIGB? Maybe, as an antidote to Saravanaas hostility. 127 East 28th Street off Lexington, 212 685 7301.

The annoying: Jane, where we landed after the truly extraordinary “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and where the ample portions at low prices had to be weighed against the crazy-making service. Why do restaurateurs insist on stinting on waiters? Six busboys are not much use if they can’t take an order for a second glass of wine with the entrees. Plus the waitress was really a waitron, with a chip implanted that made her unable to deviate from her water-selling script. I ordered the $19 veal Milanese because it came under an arugula-tomato salad, and it was literally the size of the not-small plate; that and the flavor made me wonder if it was really the ingredient with top billing. My consort’s $23 scallops were also oddly gargantuan, but they came in a spectacular chile sauce with pozole and bacon. Wines by the glass started at $8, but I had to switch to the $10 sauvignon blanc after the not-great viognier. WIGB? Maybe — price and proximity to two movie theaters are not to be underestimated. 100 West Houston Street near Thompson, 212 254 7000.

New York minutes/Late November 2007

The good: Dean’s, where my consort and I headed with two friends to discuss the meaning of death in the superb “No Country for Old Men.” We got there just before 10, but the host was happy to seat us and the waitress was amazingly patient as we dithered over what to order; best of all, there were only a few tables still occupied and it was as quiet as our living room (if much warmer next to the oven). We shared a surprisingly excellent multi-cheese square pizza with mushrooms, a too-big salad with arugula and lentils and a small order of average fried calamari, plus a bottle of nero d’avolo, and the bill was about $35 a couple. WIGB? Soon, but on the late side. The pizza was even great the next day. 215 West 85th Street, 212 875 1100.

The bad: Cafe Frida, where I think I swore I would never go back and where I was of course spotted by a friend walking past. Never, it turns out, is not as long as you might think on this end of the island — I had almost succumbed to City Grill for a quesadilla when I thought I could walk just a bit farther and maybe at least get a glimmer of Mexican magic. I should have left when I saw three tables waiting for food at very late lunchtime, or at least when I saw the three tiny quesadillas are now $13. But my feet were failing me, so I suffered tired, cracked tortillas around slimy cheese and shiitakes, with a tiny ramekin of bland salsa and a side dish of mostly chayote with a tiny bit of the promised spinach and corn. Even without the din that drove us away for what we thought was for good, the mystery is why a hostile clip joint is still in business when earnest Jacques-Imo’s is being dismantled right next door.

The reliable: Les Halles, where we took refuge from turkey overkill and where we got the usual expertly done food with just slightly more addled service. The place was packed with people whose size would bar them from Barneys, and with huge family groups taking photos, so it took a while to get a waiter’s attention. But the steak frites with salad for $17.50 was as excellent as it always is, and the “hachi parmentier de canard” was like a French shepherd’s pie with truffle oil for perfume. The read and butter are top quality as well. Four dollars buys a whole pot of coffee, and Bob happily drank it all. WIGB? Any Saturday for post-Greenmarket lunch. 411 Park Avenue South at 28th Street, 212 679 4111.

New York minutes/Latish October 2007

The good again: Toloache in the theater district, where I ventured to meet a friend around 8 on a Saturday night, where we expected post-curtain dreariness and where it was just like eating in a real neighborhood. I got there first and took a seat at the bar, where the margarita inches away looked so seductive I ordered one myself, throwing off my friend. By the time we were ready to move to a table, we had to haul old ass up the stairs because the first floor was full; at least it was slightly quieter if much hotter (over the kitchen). The waiter was a charmer I remembered from last time, a guy who could sell sun lamps to Sonorans (he even pointed out that we would have been better off ordering a bottle of albarino). We split a special of crab, cheese, chipotle and pumpkin baked in a small pumpkin, with chips for dipping and a vibrant salad of quartered cherry tomatoes with onion on the side — my only regret on passing up the queso fundido for it was that it should have been bubbling hot. I had carne asada tacos in which the meat actually seemed braised, while Wally was in ecstasy over her octopus. We, being girls, had no room for the special of apple enchiladas, although that idea haunts my thoughts. WIGB? Soon, for queso fundido at least, although the skirt steak with enchilada next to that other margarita on the bar looked pretty tantalizing. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The not bad again: Saravanaas, where the south Indian thali is $9.95 at lunchtime, the German riesling is $6 a glass and the amplitude of the tiny dishes makes up for the sameness of flavors. Having been there often enough, I no longer get worked up about the brain-dead-to-hostile service. The place is clean, the light is nice, the food when it finally arrives is always fine. If I wanted variety and the whole spiritual journey, I would be up at Chola. WIGB? Absolutely. 81 Lexington Avenue at 26th Street, 212 679 0204.

The underwhelming: Shorty’s32, where I lured another friend who had proposed Aquagrill among other destinations and where we were lucky to escape without needing ear trumpets. And maybe if it had not been so loud and crowded we might have appreciated what the poor gifted chef is doing in a doomed space. Our food took so long to arrive we were comped a very rich Jerusalem artichoke soup with very Jean-Georges garnishes (I suspected intervention by another food writer across the room); maybe that’s why my “crab sticks” just seemed like a great crustacean forced into pollock duty. I didn’t try the chicken entree across the table but got the strong sense that a chicken shunner was not converted that night. The service was better than it had any right to be in a gang bang; the bartender in particular gets points for knowing what wines we had ordered from her before being seated after a surprisingly long wait. A few days later I ran into the above food writer at a kluster phuck and he made a good point — in my words, that real estate is restricting. WIGB? Maybe, although Provence when we fled there for a quiet drink afterward was so serene and comfortable and alluring I almost wondered why we care about food when we leave our homes with all of the above. 199 Prince Street, 212 357 8275.