I came home from my consort’s birthday dinner at Fung Tu on the Lower East Side determined not to Tweet but to think things through rather than squandering good ideas in 140 characters. More than two weeks have gone by, so here I am to say it was actually a thrill to realize we could walk out of a restaurant and get lost, after going on 34 years in Manhattan. We had walked south to the end of Orchard Street and turned right and found ourselves completely disoriented — why were we walking toward the Williamsburg Bridge if we were heading west? (Answer: We had never been that far east on Canal before; we both thought it ended around the Bowery.)

I also have to report that it took two and a half hours online to find a restaurant that could even let our credit cards in on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. What the hell ever happened to the city emptying out on long holidays? I realize it’s the tourists flooding in who are clogging the system, but some part of me also wonders if a lot of restaurants were “fully committed” just for appearance’s sake. We walked past one that had had only 5 and 5:30 openings online that was nearly empty around 9.

And I got our table through Fung Tu’s website, which uses not OpenTable but Yelp for reservations and offered a genius option: If anything opened up the next day, it would text me with 15 minutes to text back whether I was in. So we got our 7 o’clock seating (we’re olds), and both the automated system and an actual human checked back twice to confirm as the hour of the olds approached.

As for the meal, the whole experience seemed influenced by what I suspect is the Keller Effect. The chef, and I assume others, had worked at Per Se, so the staff was solicitous, the noise level serene, the seating comfortable despite the tight quarters, the bathroom tile artfully designed. When the waiter delivered fried clams we hadn’t ordered, another server insisted we keep them (and they were worth spending money on, tender-crisp with a lively dipping sauce).

We started with something even more sensational: dates stuffed with shredded duck, smoked and then fried. Our next shared small plate was good but odd, a fava bean curd terrine, sprinkled with pickled mustard greens and bits of bacon, and the one after that was too similar in texture. I liked the scallion masa pancake more than Bob did, even though it came with my favorite bird (chicken). But the last dish was spectacular: spaetzl with Sichuan ground pork, the spicy meat the perfect contrast to the soft noodlettes. We were also glad the waitress persuaded us to add a side of water spinach cooked in whey broth; the whole dish was elevated to something so much more. Plus the $22 portion was big enough to kittybag; we split it for lunch a couple of days later. WIGB? Absolutely, not least because the tab before tip was $138 for all that food plus a bottle and two glasses of anything-but Chardonnay wine.

And given that I’m in birthday mode, I’m going to confess it’s only been a year and a half since we had a fabulous evening at Lafayette for mine in 2014 that I never got around to writing about here (quiet table in the corner in the front; fine pumpkin risotto with duck confit and chestnuts). And it’s only a year since we celebrated Bob’s at the Gander (his request is always for interesting food, what he won’t get at home because this trained cook is basically unambitious). Underlines on the dusty menu on my desk indicate we had brisket “tots” (tater, not kiddle) with mustard  (strands caught in my cranial sieve indicate they were almost too meaty), and brown butter panzotti with taleggio, chanterelles, ramps and Parmesan (not a shopping list but actual flavor-texture coherence) and arctic char with coco beans, chorizo, leeks and beurre rouge (good but unfortunately too close to the kitchen where I do the chopping and dishwashing). I do recall we ate in a luxurious booth and the sommelier became our friend once we ordered a cheap but interesting white; I think he said you could judge his list by the fact that it took two months for any customer to ask for pinot grigio. WIGB to either, though? Haven’t yet.

New York minutes

The good: Crazy Crab in Flushing, where I was, once again, lucky enough to hook up with my eating-Asian/Asian-eating group and where the arrival in Arrival City was exotic enough — the little “all eat with hands” restaurant is one stoplight away from the mall where the elusive Target resides. As always, I shut up as our unpaid tour leader sussed out the Burmese/Malaysian/Thai/sports bar menu, and we were soon spinning the Lazy Susan to share one carefully cooked sensation after another: silken tofu with spicy-crunchy sauce; fried tofu with both a red hot sauce and a more nuanced spicy brown sauce; tea leaf salad and ginger salad (both crunchy-spicy-fascinating); steamed whole fish in chili brodo (I guessed tilapia, but whether I was right or wrong, I lose); water spinach; Yunnan “spaghetti” (which proved to be rice noodles topped with a ground beef sauce and teamed with a spicy soup to be ladled over), and airy fried Burmese cucumbers, also with spicy and spiced sauces. The last “course” was a bucket of steamed crabs, served with a box of plastic gloves for breaking down the shells.All that still came out to less than the usual $20 a head. WIGB? Absolutely, if there weren’t so many other temptations out there. The owners were so happy to see not just Caucasians but nontourist Caucasians that they first comped us an excellent green papaya salad, then asked if they could take our photo to post to their FB page. Luckily, my back was turned. 40-42 College Point Boulevard, 718 353 8188

The semi-good: King Bee* in the East Village, where my consort and I trotted through the melting-glacier drizzle for something new on a Monday night and where we realized, again, that the new Brooklyn is a neighborhood that once was cursed with drugged-out rich kids who had no interest in food. I reserved Open Tabley, as in my name, and it turned out two of the owners knew me from mass emails with a mutual friend who has, we all agreed, not only gone full wingnut but done so “almost gleefully.” The place is very charming, Brooklyn without crossing over or under the water, and the servers could not have been more attentive. Acadian is what the cuisine promised, but I’m still not sure what that means; it’s definitely not Cajun. TomCat bread with butter ramped up with salt and herbs made a start as good as $9 Roussillon white and red. Cracklings we shared from a brown paper bag probably would have been better hotter, despite the peanuts, cane caramel and malt vinegar powder flavoring them. But the comped shrimp barbecue with creamy potato salad gave us hope — the spicing and its contrast with creaminess made it work. Unfortunately, both our entrees were just strange, mine labeled duck fricot, with perfectly cooked breast and leg paired with dumplings and potatoes in a weirdly flat broth and Bob’s a lamb neck “poutine rapee” that was more dumpling, not what you’d expect. WIGB? Maybe the hosts are awesome, the place is cozy, the price was right (duck was $26, lamb $22). But there are so many other new places to try. 424 East Ninth Street, 646 755 8088 *Damn, I’m getting not just slow but stupid — had the name wrong originally.

The surprisingly not bad: Ninth Ward, also in the East Village, where we met a tableful of friends old and fresh for an anniversary party and where the setting and the cooking were a trip. I had more traditional poutine, with the good fries awash in andouille gravy, and almost didn’t get my plate back when I swapped for Bob’s respectable spicy, tender  ribs. Everyone else seemed happy with the likes of burgers and fried pickles and gumbo, and certainly the room was South-transporting (we could all talk, tucked away at a long table in the back room). The waitress seemed stretched thin, and my wineglass did make me feel glad Ebola cannot be spread by lipstick prints, but WIGB? Maybe. It’s right across from the movie theaters where we sometimes wind up wondering where to go for a snack besides Momofuku Ssam or Mighty Quinn’s.

The good and quiet again: Arco Cafe on the Upper West Side, where we steered friends back from weeks of travel and trauma because we knew the food was decent and not bank-breaking and the sound level was civilized. And all three proved true again; we sat for 2 1/2 hours and could actually hear each other in that unique-for-the-neighborhood polished room. We split the light-on-the-fried-artichokes salad with arugula, cherry tomatoes and ricotta salata, then passed around plates of gnocchi with bacon, alisanzas (like pappardelle) with sausage in tomato sauce, cavatelli with broccoli rabe and more sausage and a cacio pepe that could have used some of the pepper in the name. Each was about $15. We paid for our cheapness in ordering wine with a rather thin bottle of Montepulciano, but it was only $33, and the superb server (the same as our first/last visit) poured it right. WIGB? Hope it makes it so that we can, often. Restaurants with respectable food and actual low sound levels are as rare as rednecks at the Greenmarket.

Also, too, the can’t-go-wrong: Xi’an Famous on the Upper West Side, where we ducked in for a quick lunch on the way to the Thursday Greenmarket up by Columbia and where we were, as always, rewarded with snappy eat-it-now-noodles. Bob scored with the lamb and cumin option, which is like Mexico by way of Asia, but my cold noodles were kinda dull, although the spicy cucumbers seemed as jazzy as ever. The price is always right: less than $20. No wonder the chain got a shoutout on Brian Lehrer the other day, as a small business that was able to expand successfully.

The “you don’t go to a bar for food:” BEA in Hell’s Kitchen, where we wound up after popcorn at “Gone Girl” and in search of just a snack and some liquid. We got a booth in the window on that quiet Monday night and soon had $10 and $11 malbec and albariño. Then we made the mistake of ordering pizza, “amatriciana” to be specific. The good news is that it was small for $10, about the size of a paper plate. The bad news is that we couldn’t finish it. It was sauce-heavy and pretty much flavor-free, and if there was pancetta anywhere near it it was undercover. At least the server was amazed that we didn’t want to kittybag the last slices. WIGB? For a drink, sure. The big screens showing old movies add to the experience.

And the shockingly not awful: Flatiron Hall in whatever the hell that neighborhood west of Broadway on 26th Street is, where we landed after hooking up for a Li-Lac factory tour over in Crown Heights, then an SVA photo opening. We had wine at both but no real food, so Bob was getting rather frantic as we checked out menus farther east where entrees started at $30, then Maysville had a 20-minute wait and HanJan was even longer, and he showed no interest in Hill Country, so we settled for what really is a bar. But a bar in the right neighborhood, because the service and food were competitive. Spring rolls filled with Carnegie Deli pastrami and Gruyere and served with a horseradish-heavy dipping sauce made my night for $10, while Bob was more than happy with a clean-tasting “Big Easy gumbo,” heavy on chicken and light on shrimp and andouille but with actually ethereal okra slices, for $18. Wines were not wonderful (Mirassou chardonnay for $10 almost put me off that grape again), but then it was a bar. And it was unsettling when the excellent busboy brought the kittybox in a Heartland Brewery bag. Gulled, we’d been. Still, WIGB? Not likely, but only because that street has so many other options. Bob is hot for HanJan now.

New York minutes/Early July 2011

The seriously good: The Dutch, again, in SoHo, where my consort and I were able to walk right in after an early showing of “The Trip” at IFC on a holiday weekend and where the food was even better than we’d remembered. We got a nice corner table where we could sit side by side (inspiring far younger couples) in the happy front room, which is much quieter than the bar, and if the waiter was a bit ditsy and distracted and emptied the rosé bottle too fast, the busboy/runner was a total pro (little things that mean a lot: before clearing the silverware between courses, he discreetly checked the check to see what was arriving next). We’d had popcorn, so I wasn’t going to tackle a main course, which meant Bob got a rare shot at the duck option I always hog. And it was of course perfect, plus the dirty rice with it seemed even dirtier than the first go-round. We split asparagus with pork belly, poached egg and shaved bonito to start, which gets A for effort. Even the whole loaf of warm cornbread that arrives first seemed to have come into its own. But the total winner was my dressed crab, set over avocadoey Green Goddess in a Bloody Mary pool. That is the most amazing combination since the crab-jalapeño crostini at Locanda Verde. WIGB? Every night if I could. The food was even more enjoyable after the fussy stuff in the well-made movie. 131 Sullivan Street at Prince, 212 677 6200.

The seriously lame: The new Zero Otto Nove in the Flatiron, where we made the mistake of heading after the Greenmarket on Fourth of July weekend and where the fact that only three tables were occupied in the huge room should have been a warning that this would not end well. And of course the pizza we remembered as so great on Arthur Avenue, made by the same guy we’d seen tossin’ there, was half-assed, with a doughy crust and sloppily disbursed porcini and grape tomatoes over the mozzarella and Gorgonzola. The eggplant parmesan we shared to start was nearly cold at the center, which made its heaviness fork up even gloppier. The air conditioning was also emitting an annoying high-pitched whine, although the place looks to have cost a bloody fortune to design. But all that would be forgiven if not for the asshole waiter. He was not happy that he kept getting interrupted in his endless specials recitation by busboys trying to shove wads of cardboard to stop the table from rocking, on both sides. Then, when I asked the price of the special pizza, he just said: “How should I know?” Well, if you were going to be the one paying, Bub, you could keep your little secret. (He did admit what I suspected: It would be a lot more than pizzas on the menu.) And when I didn’t finish my half of the eggplant, he asked why. Excuse me? That’s between me and my hips. But his worst offense was lounging near our table so we couldn’t talk. Or dis the joint. WIGB? Not even for free pizza. Afterward we walked through Eataly to see if it was busy on that dead weekend, and we both agreed we’d have been happier eating in the Birreria. . .

The pretty good: Tenpenny in the Gotham Hotel in the Theater District, where we headed after the showing of students’ work at ICP and where the quiet alone would make it vaut le mini-voyage. The over-lit room is strange, and the emptiness didn’t make it any more inviting to us walk-ins, particularly after I’d gotten some bullshit about no tables when I’d called to reserve. But the servers were efficient, and the wine was generously poured. Pork belly tots, an appetizer, tasted underwhelming, neither porky nor totty enough. A starter of mixed spring vegetables was superb, though: roasted, raw, candied & crisped. And the black garlic spaghettini with lump crab, chorizo and charred scallions qualified as brilliant, one of the best pasta dishes ever. WIGB? Absolutely, even just to sit at the bar for a snack. Cuz it’s a wasteland around ICP. 16 East 46th Street, 212 490 8300.

The pretty reliable: Recipe, again, for my welcome back to this time zone after Italy; it’s always best there early at night before everyone gets anxious about turning tables. The cooking was not quite spot-on (pork was done to chew-toy state, and duck was too rare, and not in a good way). But the service was great. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 81st Street, 212 501 7755. Under the same category, file Luke’s Lobster just down the avenue, where we collected our free roll after having bought 10. And that one was just as good as the first one.

The always good, even better with Twitter discount: Mermaid Inn uptown, where Bob and I loved our two most recent dinners even more for 20 percent off thanks to the secret code of the night. A table on the sidewalk only made things more enjoyable on a hot night. Both times Bob had the mustard-crusted trout with crushed cherry tomatoes and spinach; I had fine roasted cod with truffled mashed potatoes once and just a perfect soft-shell crab appetizer the second outing. (Seared shisito peppers were too bland, though.) A bottle of rosé went fine with each. WIGB? No question. It’s the best place for many blocks. Plus I sent Coloradans there and they were blown away. 568 Amsterdam near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The barely bearable: The newish Spice, where we met two friends for an early dinner rather than risk the new Saravanaa and where my promise of relative quiet was a joke. It wasn’t even full and we couldn’t hear each other talk, and we all had travel tales (they were just back from Paris, Bob from Oslo). And the waitress needed remedial English. Plus lessons in how to pour wine. But if was not cheap, the food was better than it had any right to be, especially the duck wrap (although with two few lettuce leaves provided), the papaya salad and the crispy duck main course. Even the Massaman vegetable curry was above average. WIGB? Unfortunately, yes, because of where it is, and what a bargain it is. But Mermaid never looked more enticing when we walked past afterward. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

The port in a literal storm: Market Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, where a friend in from Veneto and I retreated as the rain was threatening when he had only a quick window of time for catching up before his flight home after going to B&H. I heard no complaints about his steak frites although I should probably not have dissuaded him from ordering the salmon he really wanted after a week of too many sandwiches in the Outer Banks. And I had no complaints about my BLT, which was packed fatter with bacon than any I have ever eaten; there was more than enough to kittybag. Good fries with both were also copious. I don’t recall the service but will add redeeming points for the window table with a fabulous view of those buckets of rain. WIGB? Probably. Because I need to find more places around B&H and the 42d Street movie houses. 496 Ninth Avenue near 38th Street, 212 564 7350.

New York minutes/Mid-January 2011

The sensational: Hunan House in Flushing, where my consort and I trekked on a cold Saturday as a diversion from our usual Greenmarket/cheap Thai routine and where the whole experience was easily the most satisfying ever in a Chinese restaurant in New York. I did my homework online, looking for a sit-down lunch rather than food court craziness (see below), and once I hit “smoked duck” in the Robert Sietsema review my Metro card was out. The place looks pretty bare-bones but was super-clean, with tables well spaced, and the host and waiters were excellent, with none of the usual impatience and/or condescension, even when it was clear we were ordering the Village Voice specials, right out of the review. (I normally hate people who do that, but as China traveler Bob said, “Why take a chance, since we don’t know the food?”) So we started with the cold tofu, silky and jiggling-fresh with just the lightest drizzle of sesame oil and sprinkling of chopped scallions. And then the braised pork belly, Mao-style, super-tender chunks in a surprisingly sophisticated sauce with greens and julienned scallions. Water spinach, it turns out, is not in season, so we subbed the spicy cabbage with fermented soybeans, also in a good light, greaseless sauce and just hot enough with red chilies. And then the reason for coming arrived, as sensational as billed, tasting close to the smoked duck a friend once brought back from Goode’s in Houston. The smokiness almost vibrated through the anything-but-geriatric meat. It was way too much food for $44 before the tip, so we had a superb dinner and then lunch the next day, as did The Cat. One other nice touch: a little bowl of soybeans with a hint of star anise arrives with the pot of tea, to nibble on while you study the huge menu. I thought we were stuffed, but somehow we managed to eat two warm, as-good-as-Hong Kong egg custard tarts at the nearby Taipei Bakery after a stock-up swing through the supermarket in between. WIGB? Absolutely. But first there are so many other places to try in that neighborhood. 137-40 Northern Boulevard, Flushing, Queens. 718 353 1808.

The half-good: Joe Allen in the Theater District, where I met a friend who needed solace by mouth after her father died and where the cheeseburger definitely delivered. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was cooked perfectly (against my medium wishes) and was teamed with the right amount of respectable fries. Plus it was only $14.50, less than Cafe Loup’s, which she’d suggested but I couldn’t face. A bottle of Cline viognier was $27, a much better deal than the $12.50 “quartino” of sauvignon blanc at the bar, and of course the room is quintessential New York. So what was the half-bad? I know it was after the theater rush, but the bartender and two waitresses who tended to us exhibited the worst “I’ve had it” I’ve encountered in a while. When we asked Server A about the viognier, worried it might be too fruity, she sent over a not-happy Server B who described it well if impatiently, then returned, uncorked it, offered a taste and plunked the bottle down, saying, “We’re very casual. You can pour.” We saw her again only to pay the check. With exactly double the tax as tip. WIGB? Sure, for the half-good reasons, plus it’s so easy to get to on an icy night. 326 West 46th Street, 212 581 6464.

The one-step-up-from JFK: Two of the restaurants at Eataly, where I indulged a friend who wanted to go back after a good lunch in the pizza/pasta corral. We got there early and wandered around awhile feeling overwhelmed, and by the time we decided to sit at the seafood bar for uni my head was throbbing from the jangle in the joint. I was happy to see Arneis by the glass for only $9 but not so happy on seeing what arrived after the waiter ran off to get the last order of uni: one good plump taupe specimen and three reddish shriveled ones, literally the bottom of the barrel, for $17 (Donna at least let the waiter know we were underwhelmed, but it did feel weird to be women complaining about shrunken gonads). The bread and olive oil were both worth the calories, though. By the time we went back to the pizza/pasta corral, we had to wait, which gave us time to discuss how cheesy a wall of crap Barilla looks, so by the time we got seats at that bar we felt as if we were eating in a duty-free shop. We ordered the cheapest white by the glass, and the waitress suggested a bottle, but I saw the Arneis was the same price: $28. Unfortunately, it was pretty warm once it arrived. Lasagne came almost immediately, maybe too fast — a few more minutes in the oven and it might have hung together more, although it tasted great (it reminded me of a New York-style enchilada, rolled and served without the extra time to bake it into more than tortilla and cheese). And I would have been more impressed with the pizza with salami and basil if I had not recently had the perfection that Pizza a Casa teaches down on the Lower East Side. But I guess it qualified as “just like in Italia/Italy,” as the menu promised, because the center was soggy. WIGB? I will for my consort’s sake, because he’s curious about the experience. I can do without stress for dinner.

The open, at least: Landmarc in the dread TWC, where I hooked up with a friend in from Florence after we found Bouchon Bakery closed at breakfast time. He was paying, so a $12 eggamuffin didn’t seem like a bad deal, and aside from the fact that it had zero taste it was fine (lardons as the bacon at least added texture, and it came with decent hash browns). The cappuccino, though, was as scorched as any I’ve had in this town. On the plus side, they gave us a booth for four by the window, and the service was decent. WIGB? Sure, if someone else is paying when Bouchon Bakery is closed. 212 823 6123.

New York minutes/Early January 2011

The OMFG: El Paso Taqueria in East Harlem, where my consort and I wound up on New Year’s Day when I was too flu-ish to risk infecting friends in Connecticut but still wanted to get out and about to start off my year of the rabbit with something new. I suggested walking up to Harlem and back and somehow agreed to Target and back, and it was one gorgeous expedition, through the snowy park and up avenues we usually see only from the back seat of a cab on the way to an airport. We stopped in beforehand on 116th and a surly guy was swabbing tables and said it didn’t open till 1, so we took our time a couple of blocks away in the miles of deceptively priced aisles before heading back and were so hellbent on eating there we didn’t notice not a single table had any more food than guacamole. And the place was not empty. So we succumbed to the guacamole hard-sell and were beyond forgiving when it finally crawled from the kitchen, oversalted and with all the jalapeños clumped on one side of the molcajete. But then we sat. And sat. And sat, while the couple at the closest table kept asking where his pancakes might be, and ordering more sangria (they went through two pitchers). And as we watched bag after bag of delivery orders fly through the little dining room. Which would have been forgivable if our food had not finally arrived at Greenland temperatures. The tortilla soup that was going to restore me to life was just a bowl of clotted chicken fat, with cold diced cheese sunk to the bottom and hard tortilla strips throughout. Bob thought I was exaggerating till we swapped orders and I tasted his stone-cold enchiladas on “hot plate” with cold rice and beans on a separate plate. My notion of taking the shitty soup home to reheat didn’t fly, so he flagged down the surly guy to ask to have it reheated. Which, as I anticipated, took just short of a millennium and only made the bland mess too hot to eat. The waitress did apologize for the temperature, but she can fry in hell for never coming back with the leftover enchiladas we wanted to take home to try to resuscitate. The red sauce was actually pretty decent. WIGB? Only with an Uzi to my head.

Also, too: We finally stopped at Eataly on our way to the C train, after a stand-up Sunday brunch at friends’ in the East 30s, because there was no line outside when Bob wanted a coffee. He immediately balked on seeing the human congestion at the Lavazza stand just inside, but we persevered and he soon had a macchiato in hand, rather quickly by NY standards — although if there is a word for molasses in Italian, real baristas would be tossing it around. Jeebus, Americans move slow. The proportion of milk to espresso was off, but it was good enough to encourage us to delve deeper. And to find Caffe Vergnano also has a stand. We bought bread (“rustic with olives”), and an oily/airy slice of focaccia, and some red-leaf lettuce and Cara Cara oranges because the produce section is (I hate to say it) better set up to service customers than Fairway is. We left wanting to come back to eat. . .

New York minutes/End of November 2010

The good: Pulino’s, where my consort and I were brave enough to walk in on a weeknight after a photographer friend’s opening at a spare boutique off the Bowery that had to be catering to Russian mafia molls ($3,800 for a little black dress?) We got a table right away and soon were sharing an exceptional salad that transcended its deli-fare appearance: roasted broccoli with hen of the woods mushrooms, mixed with some escarole and lots of garlicky bread crumbs. The waiter wasn’t too happy that we only shared a pizza, too, one topped with Tuscan kale, mozzarella and salami picante, but it was quite good if not the best I’ve had lately, with the crust a little too bubbly. (And enough to send us home with two slices for breakfast.) We split a carafe of decent red and were out of there for $48 before tax and tip. WIGB? Absolutely. The place is gorgeous, and the price is right. 282 Bowery at Houston, 212 226 1966.

The good if someone else is paying: Accademia di Vino on the Upper East Side, where I wound up with a comfort-Italian-craving friend and her brother-in-law after we’d all gathered at Sloan-Kettering. After the abysmal salad I’d suffered in the hospital cafeteria for lunch, I was actually looking forward to pasta and ordered the spaghetti carbonara — one of the few choices I never make at home — despite the sticker price shock ($22 for something so simple?) It turned out to be an excellent rendition, with the smart addition of a sliced scallion garnish to ramp up the flavor. Warm, airy focaccia served after we ordered also earned points. I didn’t try Mary’s penne alla norma or Randy’s mushroom-speck pizza, but they seemed happy enough. The service was impressive, too, aside from one annoyance. Because Mary and I had taken a Meursault break while waiting for “Richard” to wake up, I wanted a really good glass of wine and, assuming we’d split the tab, ordered the $15 arneis, my all-time favorite Italian white. The first sip was just what I remembered from Piemonte, but then I noticed a weird film on the surface. I swirled the glass and it moved but didn’t disperse, which made me think of soapsuds. At that price, I had to speak up, so the excellent waitress grabbed the glass, and Randy’s, and took them away to have a fresh bottle opened. Then she came back with some cork-and-bull story from the wine director on how arneis “always has fizziness.” It had been a long day, so I just snapped: “I’ve drunk a lot of arneis and have never seen that film.” Then I shut up and drank even though the replacement glass had a white spot on it. WIGB? Maybe, if I were in that neighborhood and someone else would pick up the tab. Although the crowd was unnerving: Are times really so good that so many 20-somethings can be out midweek ordering $38 lamb? 1081 Third Avenue near 64th Street, 212 888 6333.

The WTF-was-I-thinking: Basta Pasta in Chelsea, where I dragged my consort, two friends in from Chicago and their daughter, who had just performed with a Barnard troupe at Dance Theater Workshop. My top two motivations were proximity and noise level (my first choice was Donatella, but it puts the din in dinner, especially on a Friday night), but I had always been curious about the place because a very fussy friend from Bologna eats there whenever he comes to New York. And I could see the allure, given how the Japanese are taking over Italy’s kitchens; it was a trip to be cooked for and served by Asians in a restaurant with a relatively traditional Italian menu. But first we had to wait because we were late and they’d assumed we weren’t going to show even though we’d confirmed. Then we walked into a room full of cameras, and not in the hands of food bloggers. And then I saw the half-wheel of Parmesan being wheeled around to make pasta. And flashed on Mamma Leone’s. So it was no real surprise the “crespelle” with mushrooms came in that flavor-sapping deal-breaker, brodo, or that the stunt pasta, which I had to order, was pretty much a mess, with clumps of cheese on one part of the plate and pools of liquid on the other. Thank the food gods for the prosciutto laid over the top and the basil julienne sprinkled around that. Bob’s linguine with sea urchin was a gutsy rendition, though, and the vegetarian dancer had no audible complaints about her pasta; neither did her dad, about his special pork dish or mushrooms baked in parchment. And the smoked duck in Bob’s baby arugula salad was some of the best I’ve ever chewed. Plus the dessert drinks menu included sgroppino. WIGB? Probably not, even if Carlo insisted. Despite the fact that it was quite reasonable, and not loud. Although I can’t remember the last time an entire restaurant staff, from waiters to cooks to bartender, thanked us profusely as we left. 37 West 17th Street, 212 366 0888.

New York minutes/Late February 2010

The surprisingly good, given the reviews: Tipsy Parson in Chelsea, where we meandered after Doug Menuez’s opening and after finding Red Cat booked solid as usual on open-gallery night. We had to wait a few minutes at the bar but got a relatively quiet table in the back corner for an outstanding if dainty little plate of spreads: deviled tasso, pimento cheese and blackeye peas, with less-than-outstanding crackers. We also split a country ham and frisee salad that would have been great if the dressing had not been too tart because the egg on top was not oozy but poached rubber hard. Macaroni and cheese was above average, though. Gruner at $10 a good-sized glass also left us feeling good about the place. WIGB? Absolutely. 156th Ninth Avenue near 20th Street, 212 620 4545.

The when-the-fuck-will-I-ever-learn?: Les Halles, where once again, too late, we remembered only the affordable steak frites with salad, not the dispirited feel of the place and the absurdly disorganized service. As soon as I saw the leatherette on the banquette was split open, I knew the slide had gone a little farther. Bread, butter and fries were still great, but the steak was oddly un-beefy. And I made the mistake of ordering only the frisee salad with lardons and blue cheese, only to learn after one bite that stone-cold lardons are chilling  — the greens tasted only nasty porky-greasy. As I was goating through it, Bob ordered coffee, but it only came after the check (waiter never noticed he had billed for something not on the table), so we went next door to Fika for a seriously bracing Swedish espresso for $1 less and instant service. WIGB? Someone shoot me before I forget again.

New York minutes/Late May 2009

The really good: Aldea, where I lured my consort for his birthday because he wanted someplace relaxed with good seafood and where he knew instantly that the “arroz de pato” was why we were there. Even though rice is one of my least favorite foods (fodder as a kid), the enhancements listed on the menu — duck confit, chorizo, olive, duck cracklings — had to make it splendiferous, and it truly was, with very tender slices of breast to boot. We got off to an awkward start first when Bob saw his surname was F’ed up on the reservation screen and then when the hostess tried to seat us in the empty upstairs while the open kitchen was glowing like a lamp for us moths. After gently objecting, she did let us take two stools at the counter facing into the glow, and it was perfect. The chef plating apps was close enough for Bob to ask what the little puffy white things were with the sardines (along with Madeira raisins and citrus) and close enough for him to go get a green almond, cut it open and show what he had extracted to soak in milk. Boss came over to watch, too, said hello and then comped us each a huge, beautifully cooked scallop set over farro risotto with cucumber and orange. The scallops had been scored so that they got really crusty on the plancha, and the combination of hot grain and cold accents was revelatory with them. Nothing will convert me to sardines, so I swapped Bob for his ramps with crisped pig’s ear, apple and cumin yogurt and while chewing still thought I came out ahead. His main course of monkfish was better than we could have made at home, with crab and sausage in the brodo. We split a bottle of light Portuguese white for $28 and each had an albariño for $7.50, all fine with the food. The servers were that rare mixture of friendly and competent, too. Best of all: $126 before what I realize was too small a tip. WIGB? Absolutely. That “duck rice” was $20. 31 West 17th Street between Fifth and Sixth, 212 675 7223.

The pretty good: Gradisca, where two friends lured us to meet his Italian cooking teacher and where I was relieved she had the same verdict on the mamma-made pasta so that I can report with no qualms. Bob and I had had lunch there years ago and remembered the ravioli being spectacular but very expensive, so the $26 on the menu was not shocking. And if the gems had been cooked just 30 seconds longer, they would have been perfect; the filling was sublime, only the edges were doughy. Bob and I split little artichoke “meatballs” that were nice enough plus one wedge of Anna Teresa’s piadina, which almost wiped out my memory of the one we’d had at another restaurant that was about as supple as a Communion host. And I snared a bite of our host’s excellent fresh mozzarella (with anemic tomato). Bob’s main course of cavatelli with eggplant and ricotta salata was faultless, as was the farro lasagne my friend shared. (I think — should have stolen the menu for notes because nothing is current online.) I was glad we were there early; by the time we left it was getting very loud in the back dining room, and the food was already slow to arrive. WIGB? Maybe, if someone else was paying again. As good as the food was, it was very removed from the matter-of-factness in Italy. 126 West 13th Street between Sixth and Seventh, 212 691 4886.

The always good: The New French. Yet again. Running out of descriptives, but there is no better burger. Spanish rosé was perfect with it and the salmon salad.

The expedient: Hecho en Dumbo, where 500 of us descended just before the kitchen closed after the amazing “Driftless” screening at Galapagos and where the service was surprisingly proficient. My “picaditas” with chorizo, though, were topped mostly with potato, a complaint the friend to my left had about the chorizo filling in his “burritas.” More demerits for the din, the cash-only policy and the one bathroom, which by the end of the night looked Hecho en Mexico. WIGB, though? Probably. Location, location, location. 111 Front Street, Brooklyn, 718 855 5288.

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/Early February 2008

The pretty good: Lunetta, where my consort and I stopped on a Saturday when we needed sustenance after the Greenmarket and I had limited options two days after surrendering two wisdom teeth. The hostess was great, some woman working the floor kept the water flowing and the waitress was trying hard, but it still took forever to get our food, to the point that I was panicking we would still be there at dinnertime. I also almost took a nasty dive on hitting a grease patch on the floor on my way to the bathroom. But all was forgiven once the respectable bucatini carbonara and superb chicken under a brick arrived. The first was rich and heavy on meat, with no fewer than two bay leaves and three sprigs of thyme to boot; the latter was gorgeously charred but still juicy. And we were home in plenty of time for an interview I’d scheduled. WIGB? Undoubtedly — there are far less attractive places to be stuck waiting for gummable lunch. 920 Broadway, 212 533 3663.

The pretty unsettling: Spain on 13th Street, where a friend arranged to meet me and another birthday girl who was craving old-style Spanish with sangria and paella and where she got half her wish anyway. They were already at the bar and well into the tiny glasses of red wine when I showed up, so at the bartender’s suggestion we all moved to three stools together and he brought the tapas with them (shrimp, limp patatas bravas and Eraserhead-worthy meatballs). I asked what kind of white wine he had and got: “White wine. Spanish.” No arguing with that, even when it was poured from a jug. As we ordered more rounds, he brought out respectable chorizo, then chicken wings awash in garlic sauce and finally three honkin’ slabs of tortilla. Just as the Chimp started blathering on the teevee, the place cleared out, he presented the check ($46 for 10 or 12 glasses, but who was counting?) and we realized paella was not an option. After seeing how gray the bones were on those wings, I wasn’t really disappointed.