New York minutes/August 2016

Hot is about the least alluring adjective for a restaurant these days, and not because it’s 160 degrees outside. I’m happy to wait till the digitally driven hordes have moved on before trying anything new. Or so I thought until I started seeing excited Tweets pop up in my stream about @paowallanyc, even from other chefs. Floyd Cardoz in a bread-centric return engagement seemed worth jumping through a few hoops to experience. So I reserved nearly a week ahead, and the joint was packed, in SoHo, at 7 o’clock, on a Tuesday. Between the service and the cooking/wine, it was easy to see why. When the crab ranks No. 4 out of six dishes, you know the kitchen is in transformative hands. As my consort, just back from Torino/Santa Fe/Tuscany, confessed: “When you said Indian, I was not looking forward to it. This is not what I was expecting.”

So what was No. 1? Easily the shisito pakoras, the peppers halved lengthwise, coated with chickpea flour and fried, then paired with peanut and red onion “salsa.” The textures and the flavors were equally lively. Grilled stuffed calamari was almost as sensational, tender but with deep char and a fabulous if mysterious filling (mushrooms? I feel like that idiot writer at the Beard House who once tucked into shiitakes and asked: “What is this? Baloney?”) A chat with black chickpeas and edamame was also great, and maybe even better kittybagged the next day. The tingmo turned out to be even more spectacular than the waitress described it, a steamed bread wrapped around a very hot chile paste, while the cheese kulcha Dan Kluger had raved about was like an Indian quesadilla but with seriously good bread as the “tortilla,” and cumin seeds to deliver haunting flavor. As for the crab, the seafood itself was outstanding and the seasonings perfectly calibrated. Modern Indian is an understatement.

And then there was the wine: A fascinating Sula sauvignon blanc, one we had had in Bangalore years ago, was $40, less than you’ll pay for a mediocre California or even more mediocre Italian white these days. Extra points for perfection in pouring. WIGB? Not right away if only because Bob is now so psyched for hot and new if they can deliver on this level. But we would both go back hungry and not jet-lagged because the big plates sound mighty alluring.

You can also file the Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal under hot, but I was glad we made an exception for it, too, on a Saturday when Bob was between workshop gigs and I wanted him to see what I’d only reported on. The best pastrami I have ever had came not from a deli or even a BBQ pro but was tucked inside a slab of Danish bread, along with a thick mayonnaisey sauce and crunchy shallots for contrast. Bob was just as thrilled with his lamb sandwich, even though he’s not usually either a sandwich or a creamy kind of guy. The prices seemed high until I took half my lunch home for dinner. WIGB? I’m planning to soon with a friend who married into a Danish family, just so we can check out all the gorgeous blondes wandering from food stall to food stall.

A good scent from a familiar ocean

The grease may be off-putting, but this was the best naan we have ever eaten in New York — it was even splendid two days later, pliable and flavorful and loaded with sliced garlic. Even better, the goat curry and kadi pakora we ate with it were both spiced for bread, not a fork, and those sensational sauces held up when reheated at home, too. We lucked into all this in Queens, at Sohna Punjab in Richmond Hill, thanks to a recommendation from the owner of a halal live-meat market we had just interviewed in Ozone Park; it’s a testament to the quality of his operation that we could go straight to that curry after seeing goats in their pen and the room where they’re slaughtered. He described the restaurant as a hole in the wall, but it was better than that for sure, with both the waitress and chef very welcoming and a bathroom that definitely passes the Chang test. Bob spotted kulfi in the ice cream case, so we split one straight from the metal cone in which the creamy, cardamomy sweetness was frozen. I spotted paan in the wine and beer case, but we passed on those — once, in Bangalore, was enough. WIGB? If we were in the neighborhood, for sure. Beyond the excellent cooking, two orders of the naan came to $5.98; the curries were both under $10. 117-10 Atlantic Avenue, 718 850 6221.

New York minutes

If you had told me in December 1980 that I would, in August 2014, be eating kelp salad followed by braised pork belly — with chopsticks, to boot — I would have said subsisting on one tiny bag of potato chips plus a few Cokes must have made you delusional. And I have to admit I thought my consort was kidding when he suggested the salad, but it was surprisingly palatable despite the slight fishiness he couldn’t detect. It was definitely better than the woody green beans in peanut sauce we’d tried as a starter at our first lunch at Jin Ramen in Harlem, a few months ago. The rice bowl this time, topped with pickled ginger and brisket cooked with onions to falling-apart tenderness, was also better than my introductory version ($6 for the small, more than I could finish). Bob, as always, had to try something new and took the server’s recommendation of the spicy tonkotsu ramen, with liquid-bacon pork broth seasoned with the house blend of soybean and roasted garlic paste plus hot sesame oil. And it was even better than the milder ramen he’d chosen last time (well, last time with me — he confessed he’d gone there on his own once). The whole $12 dish is a fascination, with the noodles and the pork belly and the soft-cooked egg and the bamboo shoots and the scallions to mix and match on a wooden spoon. WIGB?  Absolutely. Between the food, the efficient service and the show, it’s the perfect pit stop before braving the miles of aisles at the uptown Fairway (the one where the stock and spaciousness make the Broadway store look like a shithole). Still, while the couple at the next table eating their way through half the “raymen” menu made me wish I’d spotted the gyoza on the menu, I realize on checking the fine print that we could not have ordered them. Because I still won’t eat (more than a taste of) chicken.

The weekend before I also got to engage in behavior, and food, that would also have felt beyond alien before I met Mr. Omnivorous Adventurer. And I actually found the place: IndiKitch, west from Eataly in the Flatiron. This was our second lunch together there and my turn to confess I’d been back twice on my own, for a quick snack after the Wednesday Greenmarket, simply for the samosas, which are among the best I’ve had in this city of fried-and-dried. The place is clearly staking out a claim as the South Asian answer to Chipotle: You choose feast (burrito), biryani (bowl), salad (salad) or sandwiches (tacos) and the counter crew assembles and sautés (actually finishes) to order. “Feast” is a serious deal for $9.87, with a main ingredient like saag paneer or mushroom kadai or chicken tikka teamed with a choice of rice (saffron is best), dal (chickpea or yellow lentil is best), side salad (carrot is definitely best) plus naan (garlic, of course). The naan is surprisingly good, better than in far too many Indian restaurants, because it’s both well-flavored and pliable enough to wield as your utensil, just the way you would eat in India. And if you order your food spicy, it’s near-perfect pitch, seasoned  to be balanced by the bread. The bathrooms, entered by entering a code, are spotless enough to encourage just that authentic way of eating.

Of course I had to go and ruin my new infatuation by suggesting Indian for Sunday lunch after the Greenmarket on Columbus when neither our usual lobster rolls nor tortas/cemitas appealed. I’d been wanting to try the uptown Saravanaa Bhavan for the last year, since a pal at the Greenmarket on 97th recommended it, and the thali was about three universes beyond IndiKitch. Of course, it was also $19.99 (but so generous we could split it). Every one of the 14 little dishes tasted vibrant (although I’ll take points off for the soggy papad), and the spicing varied from dish to dish. The menu was all Hindu to me aside from a couple of words, so there’s no point in listing specifics. Just know that it was (almost) like being transported to Mumbai at a sidewalk table on Amsterdam. WIGB? Definitely, even though the hometown magazine ran a long and peculiar story on how the owner of the chain is a killer. The staff was a bonus — when was the last time a waiter came out to tell you the one-holer occupied by a young woman for a suspicious amount of time was free?

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/Early to mid-April 2012

The totally good: Perla in the West Village, in the space that was our great friend Rolando’s magical Bellavitae, where we headed after I met my consort post-”Jiro” at IFC and where the wait was worth it, not least because it’s such a great corner on which to cool heels, with Amy’s Bread and Murray’s Cheese just across Sixth Avenue. We came back with heels cooled and bags full to be seated at a lovely booth with the most attentive service. And awesome food. Even Mr. Sprat agreed our shared foie gras tramezzini with pistachios and cherry were exquisite. And we both scored with garganelli with tripe and guanciale and with cavatelli with pancetta, egg and pecorino; both the portion size and the balance of flavors were faithfully Italian. But what made this a resounding yes to WIGB? was the service. Superb. 24 Minetta Lane, 212 933 1824.

The pretty good: ABV Wine Bar on the Upper East Side, where I lured Bob on a night when we both needed a diversion and when the prospect of a walk in the park followed by interesting food paid off big time. The place, in a long-abandoned brownstone, is a bigger spinoff of a tiny bar that opened not so long ago on Park Avenue, and the whole experience was like eating in Brooklyn. We snared seats at the bar and soon had interesting wines and an explanation of the name: (A(cohol) B(y) V(olume). We split a basket of decent fried smelt with how-can-you-go-wrong sriracha-tobiko sauce to start, then quite good gnocchi with root vegetables and mushrooms and then two scallops buried in cauliflower cream with cremini. A salad of bitter greens with banana-walnut butter, oats and shallot vinaigrette coulda been dessert. WIGB? Absolutely, but only on the early side. I suspect it might get loud later. 1504 Lexington Avenue at 97th Street, 212 722 8959.

The good again: The second-floor cafe at MOMA, where we settled in after the kick-in-the-head Cindy Sherman show with a friend in from DC and where the food/service/setting again matched the museum quality. Kainaz and I were hungry earlier than the breakfaster who’d had oatmeat with egg, tofu and sriracha, but Bob indulged us, so we were able to beat the line and get a nice spot at the window counter. We split the excellent bruschetti (cauliflower, mozzarella with olives, hummus with prosciutto and arugula), then rigatoni with pork and fennel in a tomato cream sauce (needed salt), salad with bresaola, candied pecans, dried cranberries and blue cheese, and the always-good mushroom tart. It did add up ($77 with 10 percent tip), but the guy who paid agreed: It was worth it.

The great with an asterisk: Excellent Thai in Flushing, where a friend in an eating group lured us for a Sunday lunch meet-up and where I got a refresher course in the payoff in letting go. With 12 at our big table, I just sat back and let the leader lead; he was the one who lived in Taiwan and who had sussed out the owner’s Burmese roots and homed in on the unusual offerings on a menu encompassing Thai, Malaysian, Burmese and Yunnan. So it was one dazzlement after another: Yellow tofu salad (made from peas, not soybeans, and much richer-tasting) with a spicy sauce. Tea leaves salad, like nothing I have ever tasted, with both crunch and heat. Shredded pork with bamboo shoots, which the outstanding waitress said we could not like (the shoots were kinda funky, but in a great way). Sautéed sweet potato leaf, which could have been anything but was perfectly done anything. Green beans, crunchy okra and baby eggplant Belaran, in a rich curry sauce. Beef with ginger and scallion, though, was perfectly cooked and greaseless but tasted like something you could get anywhere. The fins-down winner, though, was the whole fish steamed in chile-lemon sauce. It had flavor down to its essence — Le Bernardin would have a hard time improving on it. All that came to about $28 a head with tax and tip. WIGB? No, for only two reasons — without a guide through the menu, lunch might be pretty ordinary, and then there is the little issue of Hunan House being just a couple of blocks away. (Compromise: Eat elsewhere and pick up a smoked duck to take home.) 3650 Main Street, 718 886 8972.

The half-goods: The Tangled Vine and Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side on a Friday early evening, where and when we shared wine with a friend who knows her way around a happy hour but had never been to the kiddle kraziness uptown. She was worried we would be turned off by the B rating at the first stop, but I have to say that was the least of my worries heading in and heading out — when I would have awarded an F to the “servers.” Gruner for $6 a generous pour, a table overlooking the sidewalk and pretty great chickpea fritters otherwise added up to a WIGB: Yep, but only at happy hour. As for the second stop, a place I’d sworn off since an abysmal experience at Landmarc in the dread TWC, I’ll say I don’t regret the revisit. The place was overrun with human larvae, but we were sort of shielded in a booth, and the food was distracting (bland deviled eggs jazzed up with sauces from Buffalo chicken wings). WIGB? Oh, why not?

The dispiriting: The newish Jackson Diner on University Place, where Bob and I headed for lunch after the accountant near the Wednesday Greenmarket and where I knew on walking in the door how I would feel on exiting. But I also knew he needed to eat, and fast, so I shut up and loaded my plate with poorly fried pakora and bland “curries” and then sat and waited for (pretty good) naan to eat it all with. Tandoori vegetables tasted better than I expected, if sweet and gloppy, but the whole experience was just unsatisfying. I have never once gone back for seconds at the buffet at Chola, where the room is not papered with “don’t waste food” and other warnings. But here I debased myself, desperately seeking satisfaction. Then both of us hit the intestinal inflation wall at the exact same minute. Even though the people were so nice, and the room so pleasant (we two got a booth for four), WIGB? How do you say “emphatically no” in Hindi?

DC represents

The train to Washington was rolling hell, with me trapped between a family with three noisy young kids and a texting-ignorant businessguy braying out all the dirt on his Newark deal, but the ride back was bliss, with almost no one in the quiet car, WiFi all the way and a luminous lopsided moon out the window. And the difference reflected how my attitude improved in just 36 hours. I saw a whole other side of the city and realized I have never hung out with people who choose to live there; I mostly know exiles from New York, there only for the job. Money has changed everything (except the restaurant situation across the Anacostia River), and it’s a much livelier place — it’s had to believe this was once a city where you would eat heavy French food in a stuffy dining room surrounded by fat cats drinking bourbon.

I was a guest for dinner at Lima, so I’ll be gratefully gracious. Spicy tuna sushi was spicy, and my steak was perfectly cooked. Afterward I was treated to palak chaat and a glass of gruner at the crowded bar at Rasika, the Indian restaurant everyone raves about, and the fried spinach assemblage was lighter than I’d ever had. (I was less impressed by the assholes next to me, a rowdy young couple on about their 16th cocktail who were surely only going to rent the food they finally ordered. At least thanks to them I know what “heads” make — about $60,000 — and that they get profit-sharing.)

I had breakfast (respectable student-baked croissant and scone) and lunch (restaurant samples of clam chowder from Ris, hummus from Lebanese Taverna, spring roll and dumpling from Hollywood East Cafe) at the Dames event out in what friends said was the boonies, then I hitched a ride back into town and walked through the Eastern Market. Which seemed smaller since the fire a few years back but had some great stalls with things I don’t see every day, particularly turkey transformed into pork (ribs, chops etc.) The produce outside, though, made me respect the Greenmarkets here even more for having principles. The day was so weirdly warm that the cherry blossoms and dogwoods are already in full bloom (nice habitat we had here; a shame we chose to ruin it), but it was still weird to see corn on the cob, watermelons, berries and more 10 days before spring even begins.

I knocked back an acceptable iced coffee (with only half-and-half to lighten it, no milk) at Port City Java, where you have to use a gas station-type key to avail yourself of the facilities (at least the ladies room was reasonably clean if not papered). And then I met up with my young genius friend to walk and walk to dinner at Bibiana, which was recommended by no fewer than four people in person and on Twitter. One slipped me her card in case I needed it to get a reservation, but Pam just went on Open Table and we were sitting down at a window table in that dramatic room shortly after 6 (after rejecting a cramped one on a banquette; as always, couples get first dibs on prime seating).

As I suspect I’ve mentioned many times, Italian is the least exciting style of cooking for me (I can’t even call it a cuisine), so I would have been happy settling for one or two twists on classics. But this menu was blowaway, and that was before the charming waiter came over to describe the specials: baby fried eels and a pasta with eel (if we heard right) and bottarga. We shared the dates stuffed with foie gras mousse and topped with crisp spiced almond slices, which Pam was seduced by online, and then one of the most amazing assemblages I’ve encountered in donkey’s years: a “45-minute egg,” poached sous vide, I’m guessing, topped with sautéed wild mushrooms and a crunchy mushroom “crumble” and teamed with a puree made from three kinds of dried mushrooms, reconstituted and blended to silkiness. Conceptually, texturally and flavor-wise I’d give it an A+. The egg was just runny enough to bring all the elements together, and the potato focaccia was perfect for mopping them up.

All the pastas read well and sounded better when the CW described how they were put together. Pam’s “burnt-wheat” cavatelli arrived looking like a salad, with a shower of Tuscan kale and shredded pecorino over the pasta and the coffee-fennel sausage with it. My cannelloni stuffed with braised beef seemed a bit dried out, but I blame us for taking too long with the appetizers while catching up on Pam’s new life in exile. (She likened them to sliders, her favorite.)

Prices were amazing, too: $8 for the four dates, $12 for that egg, $17 and $19 for our pastas. And the wine list was also a deal, to the point that I didn’t mind my Ceretto arneis was not the usual marvelousness — a quartino was only $17. By the time we were ready to haul ass to retrieve my bag at the hotel nearby and speed to Union Station, the place was packed and the CW had gone AWOL. But WIGB? Absolutely. I’ve even persuaded my consort maybe we should make a pleasure trip back just to eat at a few more places from the same owners.

New York minute/End of May 2011

The pretty good, and quite authentic-feeling, in a bad way: Chola on the East Side, yet again, where I met a friend on a sweltering day at a table under a halogen light in an un-air-conditioned room and where our sweat was definitely transporting. We hadn’t seen each other in a year and a half, so this was one of those bottle-and-a-glass lunches, which the waiters took in stride, giving a little hint at what kind of ladies lunch there. The routine has changed, so I kept expecting the apps to arrive when you now can make some chaat yourself off the huge buffet, which remains my favorite in the city (especially for a paltry $13.95). Everything else was outstanding aside from the saag paneer and the dosa, which both seemed a little wan. We did get a tindal curry, though, which I don’t think I’ve ever had in this country. And the vada counted as a particular treat. Points off, though, for a bathroom floor I almost slipped on even before our sauvignon blanc’s cap was unscrewed, and for the staff cleaning with ammonia, which does tend to drown out flavor. WIGB? Always. It does Indian right. 232 East 58th Street, 212 688 4619.

New York minutes/Latish March 2011

The good: Market Table in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up after a lively 50th at Automatic Slim’s a few blocks east on St. Drunken Day when Pearl was backed up and Fedora was Bedlam and where we scored some pretty great food at a fair price at a relatively quiet table. The $12 crispy calamari, with a thick crust around juicy “meat,” ranked among the best I’ve ever eaten, especially with the guacamole and chile crema blanketing the plate underneath. We shared a salad of Cara Cara and blood oranges with hearts of palm, basil and pomegranate, too, and Bob (and later The Cat) seemed content with his $22 “pan crisped” chicken with sweet potato salad and bok choy. Service was also above average. WIGB? Happily. Hospitable and creative are not to be underestimated. 54 Carmine Street at Bedford, 212 255 2100.

The floundering: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where we headed with two friends after a Moving Walls opening at OSI after getting shut out of Yakitori Totto and where we must have been jinxed on this third try. We first got a crappy table near the door and the din and had to wait forever to order wine, then I asked about moving to the booth where we sat on our first foray and we were accommodated but then waited forever to get the gruner, which the servers kept coming back to say was hard to unearth (even though it was poured by the glass last time). The kitchen was on the slow side too. Len didn’t seem too wowed by the portobello sliders we clearly oversold, but Bob cleaned his plate of the sliced hanger steak over (chewy) spaetzl and brussels sprouts, and my Caesar was better than average. WIGB? Yeah. Just because there still isn’t much competition thereabouts. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The trip: Hindu Temple Society’s canteen in Flushing, where we hooked up with new friends via Bob’s gig at CUNY and where the tradeoff for folding tables and styrofoam dinnerware under fluorescent lights was very lively and seriously filling South Indian food that would have been a deal even if we had not been treated. After letting our new friends-in-the-know order for us all in a medium-long line at the counter, we sat down to a table soon covered with mango lassis and mango juices, plastic cups of water and plate after plate: chile-flecked vadas with coconut chutney and sambar; dosas stuffed with potatoes and with potatoes on the side; a special vada with red onions, and a vegetable uttapam, a big pancake studded with peas and tomato. It was all transporting to Bangalore, although the coconut chutney was milder than I remembered from seeing it pounded on the floor at MTR. The bill came to a little more than $9 a person, with way too much food. WIGB? Yep. To take someone new. It’s a great experience, not just as an alternative to Chinese in that neighborhood. 45-57 Bowne Street off Kissena Boulevard, 718 460 8493.

New York minutes/Early April 2010

The half-good: The Mermaid Inn uptown, yet again, where a friend and I settled after a special screening of “How to Live Forever” when we knew a pizza as enticing as the one we had just seen would be hard to find anywhere close by. We got a table in the back in the five minutes the hostess promised, and I stupidly didn’t insist we sit on the empty side of the room rather than between two big, loud groups (although it was still less deafening than in the front). I thought we’d had that waitress in the past, and she had been superb, but this night she was a trudging example of dazed and confused (although she did pour generously once she finally took our muscadet order). Joanne seemed happy with her huge grilled shrimp sandwich and fries, and I was amazed that my lobster bisque actually had chunks of meat in it — I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that; usually it’s flavor over substance. WIGB? Always. It’s a deal. 568 Amsterdam near 88th Street, 212 WHY DONT restaurants print phone numbers on receipts?

The good at the time: Aangan on the Upper West Side, where we met friends in from Chicago checking out Columbia before the vegetarian daughter decided on which of the six colleges she’s been accepted by. The place looks disturbingly swanky, especially for the neighborhood, which made the $9.95 veg thali that much more appealing. It might be the most elegant one in town, with salad presented first and then the tray holding little bowls of dal, curds, samosas, chutney, two curries and dessert ringing a mound of rice, then a basket of naan. That bread was easily the best I’ve had in New York, not at all greasy and perfectly pliable to use as a scoop. And the samosas were fascinating; if I had not ordered meatless I could have sworn they were chicken. Aside from the dal, though, everything else was tame, even tasted off a fork or spoon rather than bread alone. Our friend Paul seemed happy with his huge tandoori salmon, and my consort ate all his lamb/chicken thali. But afterward he said the flavors were too muted. And as we walked for the next hour and then settled back at our desks, both of us started feeling ready for the Macy’s parade, and not as spectators. I have no idea what was in the food, but it was painfully bloating. WIGB? I’m torn. That’s a great deal even for bland food, just not for the after-effects. And I didn’t even clean my tray. 2701 Broadway near 103d Street, 212 280 4100.

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.