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.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2009

The always great: Both Kefi and the New French, where I should be weary of the menus but where we find ourselves heading over and over. We met friends for a late Sunday supper at the former and wound up closing the joint, which gets extra points for easing us out far more gracefully than Le Cirque did. It was so late we all only split the superb spreads, an order of the sheep’s milk ravioli and another of the crispy calamari plus the house-made sausages the kitchen sent out. Chad and Pam each had the special white bean soup, which looked great. We were also comped our bottle of red wine, but even without it I would say the experience was close to perfection. Ditto for the New French, where we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table for latish Saturday brunch. The place is like a humming machine: the service was fast and friendly and efficient; the cooking was outstanding. Bob was as happy as ever with that masterpiece of a Nicoise-esque salad, which has to take mega-prep but is always done with care. And the cheeseburger was even better than I remembered. Bob insisted I take the half I didn’t finish home, and I would be embarrassed to admit I reheated it next day except that it was still great warmed over. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200; 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

The pretty good: Savoy in SoHo, where I met a new friend for lunch after she suggested heading there to split one of the special cassoulets and where the waiter was only half-able to mask his disdain at our perceived chintziness. She had been once before to try the Toulouse version, so I trusted her when she said the Carcassonne would be enough for two; I certainly didn’t want to be still digesting at Christmastime as is usually the case with what my consort calls French pork and beans. And of course we didn’t even finish it, although the $25 portion in a cast-iron pot was not excessive, just lots of gigande beans with smoked pheasant, duck confit and outstanding house-made sausage. It came with a little mound of mixed green salad, but we’d also ordered one with goat cheese, so we got our cud’s worth. Bread and butter were excellent, and my gruner was a generous glass for $9 (she had Basque cider, poured right). Almost the best part was the table, perfect for people-watching in style central. WIGB? Yep. Peter Hoffman walks the walk. 70 Prince Street at Crosby, 212 219 8570.

The not bad: Adrienne’s Pizzabar, where we resorted after poor Bob was pressed into being a messenger boy at the end of a grueling week, with a stopover near Wall Street between a party in Dumbo and home. The place was rocking, loudly, but we got a table right away, had water and bread before we’d even gotten our coats off and had wine poured not long after that (undistinguished red from Campania for $34). My insistence on olives and mushrooms pushed the $16.50 “old-fashioned” rectangular pizza to $22.50, but it was beyond satisfying, with a crisp crust and a thick layer of fresh mozzarella along with the copious extras. We managed 2 1/2 slices apiece, had the rest boxed up and were set for breakfast for the next three mornings. WIGB? It’s a great port in a downtown storm, although one day I’ll get my nerve up to try another of Harry’s son’s enterprises. 54 Stone Street, 212 248 3838.

The snotty: La Pizza Fresca in the Flatiron, where we stopped in late with a friend after Bob’s star turn before a picture editors’ group around the corner and where the officious waitress who may have been the hostess or an owner was almost vibrating with scorn when we tried to order one pizza. (At that time of night I only need to see food, not really eat it.) She talked us into another plus a second salad and was never seen again, nor was the server once he poured the first round from our bottle of red. Salads were excellent, one just classic arugula with shaved Parmigiano, the other beets with Gorgonzola. But the pizza was as authentic as signs promised; like so many we have eaten all over Italy, both were more cheese soup on soggy bread than crisp crust with topping (funghi for one, buffalo mozzarella, olives, Parmigiano and basil for the other). I took some shit over at the Epi Log for getting “buffaloed,” but maybe you had to be there. WIGB? I’d have to be a glutton for condescension.

New York minutes/Late January 2009

The good: Kefi, where my consort and I met great friends for an early birthday dinner and where their shock at the inflated wine prices in the new location was offset by the superb service and unexpected freebies. We got a relatively sheltered table in the cacophony (only in Strollerland would an 8 o’clock reservation be on the late side), and the waiter was outstanding. He sold us on a $48 bottle of “Red Velvet” to start, and poured it as judiciously as a waiter would in Paris. Our orders of the assorted spreads, grilled sardines, Greek salad, sheep’s milk dumplings and Greek sausage with pita were supplemented by the kitchen’s beneficence of grilled octopus and meatballs. We even got a comped dessert topped with a candle, a wedge of semolina cheesecake in filo sauced with quince and candied orange peel. WIGB? Late and often. 505 Columbus between 84th and 85th Streets, 212 873 0200.

The sad: Harry’s Cafe, where we stupidly agreed on Inaugural night to meet a friend who lives nearby, on the assumption that “Jump, You Fuckers” would be watching the teevee. Instead, the joint was sleepy, maybe six tables filling all long night long, and the only screen was in the busy bar. But our food was pretty good, both Bob’s frisee salad with egg and bacon totally reinvented and my copious portion of duck confit on white beans with portobellos and haricots verts. We didn’t try Kevin’s cod special but were happy enough with his choice of wine, a $40 red Bordeaux that was substantially better than the red Bob chose in the low $30s. So much for the cheapest wine on a great list; this one obviously caters to people who order by price. At the high end. The waiter, though, was spectacular. WIGB? Maybe. Not much happening down there these days. You don’t even have to watch for falling bodies. One Hanover Square, 212 785 9200.

The pretty good: Bar Boulud, where we toasted my actual birthday and where we were both thrilled not to be squandering the usual 300 bucks in some swank clip joint. Thank allah we got a table in the front, near the window, because even though I reserved (in a friend’s name) the “hostesses” wanted to shunt us to the jammed bar in a room that looks like a French train station. The paté “Grand-Pere” with foie gras and assorted meats was sublime, although the toasts that came with it were charred and poor Bob had to intercept the stressed waiter at a nearby table to get a second round of them. It was so great, in fact, that neither of us could finish even half of our main courses, not my rather desiccated monkish with blowaway “super green” spinach or Bob’s hyper-rich coq au vin with fat lardons and hand-rolled pasta. Our arbois was excellent with both of those, although I’m not sure I needed the sommelier to slap me down when I ordered our starter glasses as “Champagne” —  I know Cremant is just a sparkler and would have said it with a lower-case C if I had known he was in a superior mood. I also can’t remember the last time I saw busboys and runners who looked more defeated. WIGB? Absolutely, next time we’re leaving a movie and looking for a snack and a great glass of wine rather than a meal. The crowd is a trip; the tab was half the price of a visit to the vet with a geriatric Siamese. 1900 Broadway between 63d and 64th Streets, 212 595 0303.

The always good: The New French, where a friend and I adrift at an odd hour after the Bronx Museum wound up after having farts blown in our general direction at Company and after bailing on realizing we had landed in a “Sex and the City” bus tour at Spice Market. (I refuse to eat anywhere people are wearing sunglasses indoors. In winter.) The place was empty at around 5, so we got a nice corner table and soon had $8 and $7 glasses of Italian white, followed by two of what really are the best cheeseburgers in the city.  Neither of us could come close to finishing the heap o’ fries that comes with. WIGB? Absolutely, even though I inadvertently hurt the owner’s feelings by declining comped wine. The cooking and service are holding up incredibly well. 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

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/Early October 2007

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.