New York minutes

New rule: When the menu mentions chorizo, said ingredient had damn well better be perceptible, either visually or as you chew and chew. But the missing element was one of only two flaws when we stopped at the newish Tasca Chino in search of something different after a rare Saturday outing to the Greenmarket on Union Square. Bob chose those pallid losers (for once the taste-free chicken deserved the cliché description of rubbery), but I scored with another steamed dumpling option, the Woodland, which had a filling with seriously meaty mushroom flavor inside the light wrappers and a broth with intense and complex taste. We also split patatas bravas, perfectly cooked with crisp outsides, fluffy inners, with yin-yang dipping sauces in a too-small ramekin/portion: “Szechuan aioli” and tamarind barbecue. The restaurant itself has style to burn, with oversized paintings of, say, Mao overlaid with bullfighting images; it’s clearly designed for nighttime action. But at that most dread eating occasion, brunch, it’s quite pleasant, huge table of drinkers of $20 bottomless margaritas to our left notwithstanding. And I can’t remember the last time we left a resto with so many big smiles and “thank yous.” WIGB? Yeah, actually. For that dread eating occasion, the menu had quite a few clever huevos, plus duck & waffles. I would be tempted by the “nested eggs Benedict,” in a blue corn tortilla with miso hollandaise. But the menu said chorizo. And you never know.

Old rule: Always head to Baker & Co. after a movie at IFC; we have not found a more affordable hospitable option anywhere for blocks. On the occasion of our meeting two friends for the slow but powerful “Mustang” (lots o’ food in that film, BTW), we ran ahead and made reservations for dinner after the show. And so we wound up with the table in the window right after an obnoxiously entitled mom with stroller the size of a Cuban Buick strutted in with her husband and another guy and told the hostess that that six-top should be their spot. The din level was even more bearable there, and the food and service were, as always, a notch above. We all shared a jazzy special of anchovies laid over blood orange slices with red onion, capers and microgreens. And when we all passed plates, I scored again, with the lasagne packed with pork slices and ragu, enough for dinner and then lunch for two next day for all of $17. Garganelli must have been house-made because they were not little rolled handkerchiefs but unfurled, under a lavish layering of burrata. Bob’s pappardelle with veal ragu was almost more meat than pasta, not that there’s anything American-wrong with that, while our other friend’s orecchiette with shrimp and roasted cauliflower landed with a whiff of rancidity, and there is something wrong with that. (The bread crumbs? WTF?) With two bottles of food-friendly Grillo from Sicily, the bill was about $50 apiece. WIGB? Undoubtedly. Despite the one-holer bathroom where you can only feel the dread rising as the person taking too long is a guy. Still, as someone said over to FB: Sometimes they like to sit and think, too.

In between N & O Rules: We ducked into Amy’s Bread on Bleecker to pick up bread (olive fougasse, just like I’d pictured it) and were seduced into trying a new item, a croissant pistachio twist. Which was sensational, with just enough balance of nutty paste and buttery dough that made you long for a swig of coffee. Somehow it was fitting that we shared it on the sidewalk just steps from a homeless guy going through a trash can and pulling out unfinished hot dogs still in buns. It was a survival model: Station yourself near a tourist attraction where the food actually sucks. And scoop up what they leave behind. Side note: Said homeless guy was annoyed when a family pulled up in a car and a kid inside jumped out to carefully deposit what was apparently an unfinished large coffee drink atop the debris. The intended recipient was not happy it could have leaked onto “the food.” Sadder side note: We saw all this after passing yet another homeless guy on Sixth who had a big bleak sign (where do they get the Sharpies?) laying out how desperate he was. While he sat and ate a presumably donated sandwich offa which he had pulled all the crusts. Beggars/choosers? This is someone’s America.

New York minutes/Early January 2010

The seriously good: Cafe 2 at MOMA, where (I forgot to mention) my consort and I fueled up between the great Bauhaus and whimsical Gabriel Orozco shows and the scrum that was the Tim Burton. The place is civilized, the staff is actually hospitable (even when a manager reclaimed a stool we’d unthinkingly pilfered from a reserved table, he did it graciously) and the food looked and tasted amazing. We split an $11 panino stuffed with prosciutto, cheese and arugula and a $12 wild mushroom-wilted greens tart dolloped with robiola; the former came with excellent pickled cauliflower and olives, the latter with a huge mound of mesclun and grape tomatoes. Both of us could only marvel at how far museum food has come over the last few years. Coffee, of course, was excellent. Maybe I should quit ragging on Saint Danny. He does do things right; it’s not his fault he’s the restaurateur who stares at goats — it’s the media’s for swooning at his every move. WIGB? Absolutely, next time I can get my nerve up to brave the hordes. It took me years to get this far (I’ve been to the Modern three times, I think, but this was my first venture inside the museum.)

The pretty good: Marseille and West Bank Cafe, also in Hell’s Kitchen. Five of us snared stools at the packed bar at the fully booked cafe on 42d Street after a Saturday matinee of Part 2 of Horton Foote’s “Orphan’s Home Cycle” (friends’ daughter is in all three parts), and the bartenders were great waiters when we ordered the (overpriced at $12) cheese plate, mushroom risotto balls and calamari with two good dipping sauces, plus a lemon mousse for the starlet. Sauvignon blanc was $10 a glass but came in a glass big enough to float a goldfish. Mom and Emily went back to the theater for the evening’s performance while Dad and my friend from Philadelphia headed to Marseille a few blocks away for more substantial fare; amazingly, we were able to walk right in and get seated, and the place stayed busy all evening, which of course resulted in very distracted service. I had forgotten my reading glasses but could sort of make out a frisee salad with blue cheese on the menu, and it was a huge thing, with almost dairy overkill along with too-vinegary slices of pears and lots of walnut halves. Both guys seemed to like their salmon main course, although they agreed the accouterments were almost better than the fish. They finished up with a huge bowl of berries and good whipped cream and a creme brulee. Best part of the meal, though, was the bread, which didn’t have a lot of sturdiness but was flecked with what I think were cumin seeds — outstanding. 630 Ninth Avenue at 44th Street, 212 333 2323.

The good by hearsay: Remi in Midtown, where I have twice sent old people who have sent back rave reviews of both food and, especially, hospitality. I may have to go back there myself someday. . .

The not bad: Market Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, where four of us headed for proximity’s sake on a frigid night after “Avatar” at the spooky AMC on 34th Street and where the accommodating staff and decent food made up for my qualms about the bathrooms. The host uncomplainingly moved us to a warmer table after we stupidly tried one in the window, and the waiters were all efficient. My Caesar was pricey at $12, but it was perfectly made, with good dressing and just the right amount of croutons — and of radicchio, which I despite (two or three shreds, just to keep the menu description honest). One friend ordered the same thing, and she got all the stems of the Romaine, while I got the leafy tops. Kitchen oops. I didn’t try Bob’s chicken or Dr. Bugs’s skirt steak with pesto and fries (both deals at $19), but they seemed happy. Viognier was unobjectionable at $8 a glass. WIGB? Probably. It is a wasteland around there. 496 Ninth Avenue near 37th Street, 212 564 7350.

The forgettable, apparently: A Voce Madison, where an editor and I retreated when we agreed we shared zero tolerance for the attitude at The Breslin, which was swamped at 12:30. The cavatelli with tons of garlic, broccoli, toasted bread crumbs and ricotta was outstanding, although a ridiculously huge portion for a primi, but I would not have remembered eating there if I had not just gone back through my Tweets. Maybe I was blanking out the annoying hotel-lobby music. Or the annoying service — after turning down wine, we were asked at least twice whether we wanted soda or iced tea, and when we asked to have the food split to eat Italian-style, in courses, they just presented both entrees with small share plates. I had hoped trout, which always tastes like the grain it’s fed, would be redeemed by the anchovy vinaigrette, but the roasted potatoes with it were the best part of the dish. Chocolate budino was intense, though, with candied kumquats and ice cream. The room seemed unnervingly deserted — wonder how it does at dinnertime since all the buzz has shifted uptown. WIGB? Nope. I’d brave the din to the north first.