The seriously good: Toloache, where we headed after a beer-infused photo show at Splashlight Studios (and after I had run into the chef’s wife at Zarela’s party) and pretty much got dinner and a show. No one was at the door, so we seated ourselves right in front of the brick oven where an astonishingly efficient woman was assembling everything from guacamole to quesadillas. It was close enough to kitchen and bar to expect the worst, but the waiters were great — various members of a small crew arrived quickly, brought beer and wine fast and not only delivered our food efficiently but stopped back to say they were not the best servers but wanted to be sure we were happy. The chicken tacos were exceptional, and the queso fundido with huitlacoche may be the best in town. It was served with fresh flour tortillas rather than corn, and we had no trouble getting one more made to order. The place is noisy as hell, but the huge menu holds enormous promise. WIGB? Can’t wait. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.
The uncomfortably good: Hill Country, where I was uncharacteristically happy but where my four escorts were put off by the butcher paper for plates, picnic tables and head-banging noise level. What can I say? One friend requested barbecue, and this is the best I’ve found, at least close to where everyone was planning to be. Whatever bitching went on I couldn’t really hear, but I have to say the jalapeno sausage and the creamy/spicy potato salad were extraordinary. We also liked what we tasted of the brisket (stupidly, I warned them off the “moist” because I remembered it as fatty), the pork ribs and the beef ribs. And maybe I don’t eat cafeteria food often enough, but the corn pudding, macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole also were nothing I would throw off my butcher’s paper. Yeah, it was noisy, and it was a mistake to go there with these friends. But it was real barbecue, and the staff is really cheerful. WIGB? Yes, but with no more than one other eater. 30 West 26th Street, 212 255 4544.
The promising: Bar Stuzzichini, where my starving consort and I headed after realizing there was no way we could make it home to cook any of the multiple bags of food we had just burdened ourselves with on Union Square. Saturday turned out to be a good day to experiment, because the brunch special for $13.75 included a quartino of prosecco (or Bellini) — how bad could be a spaghetti-egg-cheese “torta” be? Bob, on hearing that the tidbits were the specialty, insisted we get three for $12, and they were quite a deal. Panelle (deep-fried chickpea triangles) were a little sodden but surprisingly light; zucchini scapese was even more awash in olive oil but had great mint and garlic flavor, and the octopus salad was fine even for someone who gets weirded out by eating such a smart specimen. That spaghetti cake was fine, with baby arugula salad and super grilled bread, and my consort’s eggplant parmigiana would have been as good as any in Parma or Rome if the eggplant had been Italian rather than seedy American. On the deficit side, the tables were riculously small in the front, where everyone was crammed, and the service was ditsy. When Bob was finally able to order a glass of wine after his entree arrived, I tried to move my drink to make room and wound up knocking the bread basket onto the floor. I apologized, saying we didn’t need it anyway because I had bread, and the waitress said: “You could have told me.” To which I pointed out: “He didn’t.” WIGB? Yep. It’s tantalizingly close to a certain park where I find myself at least twice a week. 928 Broadway near 21st Street, 212 780 5100.
The really bad: Goodburger, where I found myself for no defensible reason after the Greenmarket and in a major funk. I was in no shape to sit down to a real lunch and so ducked in after spotting this newly opened and seeing it had alternatives to potentially Topps meat. The BLT, even tsunamied in “the works” of onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo, was one step below your average Greek diner’s — it had two strips of bacon max, industrial tomatoes and iceberg lettuce on supermarket white bread. And the cheese fries I spotted while waiting to order were incredible: They had absolutely no taste, despite having something oily and melty in two colors draped across them. The noise level was painful; it made McDonald’s sound like a Buddhist temple. Maybe the burgers are as good as the big media blurbs on that takeout menu promise. But WIGB? Not even if you put a gun loaded with mad cow to my head.
The well-serviced: Adrienne’s Pizzabar, where we made our way after a great promo event put on by Bob’s newfound heroine at the Spiegelbar at the South Street Seaport for her new edition of the superb NFT (Not for Tourists Guide) to New York City. It was quite a scene, like right out of a travel article on Eutopia: Half a dozen or more restaurants packed and spilling over onto a brick-lined street. We found seats on benches at the pizza place on Top Guide’s recommendation and had a nice if overly sweetened arugula salad followed by a just-the-right-size margarita pizza. The next table of assholes was acting the part as we started to order, so a runner took our requests and brought the beer and wine and salad instantly. Then we sat. And sat. Finally a couple who arrived after us at the next able was delivered what we suspected was our pizza. Said runner intercepted the other runner to say get another margarita to us ASAP, and within five minutes we had an adequate pizza plus the promise of a free round of drinks. We ordered them and sure enough, they were off the final tab as the waitress said the pizza was on the house as well. And it was coming clear why that street has to be the busiest in all of New York. Who cares about food when the people between you and the kitchen do so well by you? WIGB? Anytime. What a show. 54 Stone Street, 212 248 3838.