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.

Short for Catalonia

It’s one thing to sit online at your messy desk in what was in 1929 a maid’s room and pick out a restaurant downtown that you think will fulfill your consort’s craving for cooking he can’t get at home. And it’s another to walk up and down the Bowery trying to find the address you’ve culled off MenuPages and wonder if you really, really want to eat on a street still crawling with sad souls and lined with Rat Centrals. So I was ready to bail northward on arriving first at the Sunshine Hotel and remembering a pretty bleak documentary. Luckily, Bob had had a couple of beers nearby and was not too late in bounding up and insisting we give Cata a try. Once inside, around the corner on Stanton, we were in 2014 Manhattan for sure. Or on a Barcelona stage set.

We got an outstandingly engaging waiter, great window seats with just enough blossom views and $10 glasses of red and white wine. The chickpea fritters were not the usual hardballs but little cubes made from what in Genoa would be considered farinata, dusted with dried mint and chile. And they were perfect pick food until the bombas arrived (perfectly fried croquettes filled with serrano ham and Manchego and set over tomato sauce spiked with smoked paprika). We split a couple of intriguing brochettes of grilled halloumi with caramelized onion and membrillo, and I braved a taste of Bob’s merguez-spiced lamb (not bad, which is high praise from this lamb hater). The silly-sounding Bikini montadito comprised four exquisite triangles of a truffle-scented grilled cheese with more serrano ham. Tempura broccoli with Cheddar and romesco sauce was crunchy-excellent, but the winner had to be the curried cauliflower “couscous,” with little bits of crucifer tossed with Marcona almonds and currants. We’ve eaten a lot of small plates lately, but all those were sublime. What’s even better is that most of the tapas were priced by the piece, so Bob could get his lamb and we could share the rest by ordering two of the bombas and the halloumi. The menu has big plates, too, but nothing we ate was more than $9.50 (the silly-sounding but superb sandwich). WIGB? Absolutely, although I’ll admit I only like communal tables in an empty restaurant. I keep thinking about what we didn’t order, like the duck pastrami, and the quail eggs Benedict with chorizo. Plus the wine list with only $10 glasses and $40 bottles . . .

New York minutes/End of March 2014 & catch-up

So I roused myself from Twittergy and picked a receipt at random out of the dusty pile on my sit-down desk (many, many more are gathering dust on my improvised stand-up desk). And the memories all came flooding back, with a little help from my consort on what exactly we might have gone to see back in late December with good friends before heading to Jeffrey’s Grocery in the West Village. How in holy Siamese hell could I have forgotten this amazing short? If not for the printed tab, I would also not have remembered much beyond the sticker-price shock when the wine list landed. It was around the bend, but then we soon realized the booze had to be subsidizing the very approachable fud. Bob, assuming the list had to have been carefully curated, followed our long-standing rule of choosing the cheapest bottle, a white Antonopoulus for $38, and it got the job done. We shared outstanding salmon rillettes to start, and we sorta passed around plates of roasted dourade, roasted chicken and a chicken leg special although I didn’t want to share my $23 clever “fish and chips,” built on my favorite, blowfish, and paired with dill pickle aioli plus doughnut holes and maple malt vinegar. WIGB? That wine list is pretty daunting, but the location so close to IFC is pretty alluring. And the din was not deafening.

Most recently, we had another amazingly consistent experience at Luke’s Lobster on Amsterdam and another too-overloaded-to-finish $9-molletes experience as an excuse to indulge in a jalapeño margarita at Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side (with dainty but also great sopesitos: thick corn tortillas topped with cactus and chorizo plus black beans, queso fresco and crema, plus the bonus of watching an apartment bound dog in a tenement window across the street). But our big outing was to City Winery in Tribeca, to hear Richard Shindell and let Bob experience a place where I had a respectable lunch alone years ago after an interview for Edible Manhattan. The food was actually as good as you would get in a restaurant without the dessert of favorite songs. We started with a kale Caesar that the otherwise superb waiter first threatened would come with escarole, which we declined, then with Romaine but arrived as . . . cavolo nero (plus boquerones and celery root). Then we split a flatbread topped with pancetta, roasted garlic, smoked garlic, rosemary and Aleppo pepper that was also about six decades beyond the crap the Bottom Line used to crank out. We both drank tap wines (Rousanne-Marsanne from California for me), and both the quality and the non-gougey prices were also a long way from dirty dives with great music. WIGB? We’re checking the calendar for the next excuse. Musically and foodwise, the whole experience was exceptional.

New York minutes/Late July into August 2013

The seriously good: Empellon Cocina in the East Village, where my consort and I headed after getting shut out of the City Streets tunnel attraction on a Saturday and after a Twitter pal had been raving about the pork being better than Daniel’s or Chang’s. The menu was more eggs- and sugar-oriented because it was the worst time of the week — brunchtime — but we were blown away by the tacos, one order with short rib pastrami and the other with English peas and ricotta. We also ordered bacon guacamole with black pepper salsa and masa chips, and it had barely landed when the main attractions were set down. But that turned out to be the right order of eating. We got to concentrate on how fabulous the tastes and textures of the fillings were, then could slowly explore all the nuances of the appetizer: the avocado-bacon harmony, the crunchiness of the crisps, the way the creamy salsa amplified all the tastes. With chips, you dunk and gorge. It would be unpossible with this. The restaurant itself is also gorgeous, and everyone but our waiter was muy hospitable — WTF with bringing the check while we’re still eating? WIGB? Can’t wait, although for dinner and on the early side, because that dazzling array of tequilas and mezcals seemed like a pretty good indicator it might get loud.

The surprisingly good: ABV on the Upper East Side, where Bob suggested we go on one of his just-back nights rather than settling for Elizabeth’s yet again and where the food, service and noise level were almost like eating at home. We split a chilled spicy tomato soup that proved you don’t need to translate that concept into Spanish, especially if you add charred edamame and cotija cheese. Then we had an outstanding brisket torta with avocado, cheese etc. plus delicate but rich gnocchi with asparagus, smoked ricotta, mushrooms and more. WIGB? On the early (quiet) side, anytime. A $32 rosé was fuel for the walk back across the park in the gorgeous light.

The unsurprisingly good: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where we wound up after a stock-up trek to Di Palo even though we had set out with Parm on our minds — something about the lure of a jalapeño margarita whomped the notion of eggplant Parmesan. As always, the food was fine (chorizo quesadilla for Bob, huge and great molletes for me), and that margarita was vaut le voyage. The kitchen was kind of snoozy, but the server was at the top of his form. WIGB? Anytime we’re close by. Although when we walked by empty Mission Chinese on our way to the killer black sesame gelato at Il Laboratorio, we did have a bit of eater’s remorse. One day we’ll make it there.

The pretty good: Market Table in the West Village, where I was treated to lunch by an editor who had offered Korean or Greek or Bar food and where the dissonance between careful cooking and craptastic acoustics was rather unnerving. (Neither of us is a loudmouth in person.) I should have picked up on her vibe and hints about the “roasted vegetable falafel,” because it really was a trudge. The Mexican corn off the cob we shared tasted pretty great, and so did the quinoa hush puppies the chef comped her as a powerful regular. And she sounded happy with her watermelon and peekytoe crab gazpacho. WIGB? Sure, if someone else is paying.

The all good again: The Smith across from Lincoln Center, Mermaid Inn uptown, Elizabeth’s and Txikito. At that last one, we had much of what I’d enjoyed on my first foray, including the crab gratin, but we also loved the cured pork canapé and a salad of baby arugula, egg and crisp silverfish. And then there was Saiguette on the Upper West Side, which really is too great to be anywhere near this close to home. The banh mi is easily the best we’ve ever had, even when lemongrass-grilled pork fills in for the special pork belly. Summer rolls are exceptional and steamed (not fried) dumplings pretty great.

New York minutes/November 2012

The good: Elizabeth’s near us, where my consort and I wound up after the amazing “Argo” when the Mermaid Inn had a 45-minute wait on Social Media Monday and where we were able to walk right in, sit right down and have a couple of glasses of wine and way-above-average food in relative quiet. Both of us had been wondering why we hadn’t been back, and it was so worth the revisit, not least because the place itself is so attractive. I just had the crab cake appetizer with apple-fennel salad as my main, and it was so generous I took home one of the two heavy-on-the-lumps for next day. Bob was thrilled with his roast chicken, juicy and flavorful and surrounded by watermelon radishes and fingerling potatoes in sauce. WIGB? More often, for sure. It’s not cheap for the neighborhood (the crab cakes were $15), but you definitely get what you pay for.

The good and cheap: Land Thai on the Upper West Side, where Bob treated me to lunch after we waited an hour and a half to vote and then my ballot was repeatedly rejected by the scanner. He suggested Seasons, but I figured we should keep walking south for far better food in a nicer room at a lower price. Nine bucks is quite a bargain for jungle curry and spring rolls even if the latter are a bit greasy. Bob was just as happy with his shrimp overkill: first soup, then pad Thai. WIGB? Anytime. Anxiously awaiting the new Mexican two doors north.

The not bad: Kefi on the Upper West Side, where I hooked up with a friend camping out on a couch across town after the hurricane when it made more sense for her to come to me than for me to ride the bus twice across the closed park. She seemed satisfied with her lamb burger although it looked rather cooked-to-grey to me, and we both loved the array of spreads. Best of all, the waitress was fine with us taking our time ordering our wine as she wrangled tables with moms and kiddles, nannies and kiddles, bizguys doing biz. WIGB? Definitely, especially now that I know the Health Department has made it clean up its act.

The port in a storm: Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side, where I suggested a friend in from Connecticut doing errands nearby meet me on a gray, gloomy and nasty-wet day when we could use a little transporting to Salzburg. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so we waited about 45 minutes for a table, but at least we got a good one with a park hint. I was quite impressed by my crepes with smoked trout, which had been rolled up like Austrian burritos, and Mary wasn’t complaining about her sausage; we both liked our gruner. WIGB? Not soon. The waiting was the hardest part, and so many other places have opened nearby for ladies who lunch.

The vaut le voyage: Phayul in Jackson Heights, where we met up with a few friends from our adventurous-eating group for Saturday lunch. Years ago I remember Bob making a date with a GQ writer with whom he’d worked and us meeting at a Tibetan place because at that point I “don’t eat Chinese.” He was baffled, but this proved there is a difference. One connection had eaten there before, so he knew to order two types of momo (dumplings), potato and beef, plus the “bread,” and everyone else chimed in on a chicken dish, a pork dish, a blood sausage dish, a tongue dish, a cucumber-peanut-chile salad, a soup with beef and radishes, and a potato dish with julienned strips stir-fried with ginger and chilies. Six of us did a pretty good job cleaning all those small plates for $17 a head. The servers could not have been nicer, although none of us thought to ask them to close the window that had half the table eating in coats. What mattered was the kitchen, and it was clearly cooking everything to order with serious care. WIGB? Probably not only because there are so many other places to explore — we passed three other Tibetan and/or Nepalese places as we wandered the neighborhood afterward.

The typically well-done: Eater’s awards party, this year at the Bowery Hotel where, again, both food and wine were so easy to access and the crowd was all worth engaging with (aside from the short real estate lech who cornered me). A nice touch was the check-in list on tablets, rather than those silly clipboards with 50 pages of teeny type the girls in their little dresses need to flip through. I had great buttermilk-fried quail and a short rib “meatloaf” but will have to note that some of the other dishes seemed straight out of Monty Python. Not sure what to think about a meat doughnut . . .

New York minutes/Earlyish August 2012

The partly good: Porsena in the East Village, where my consort and I headed after standing outside the kitchen window at Yunnan Kitchen while he read off 100 other destinations on his phone after hearing the wait there was 45 minutes even though the cooks we were staring at were pretty much standing around doing nothing while the patrons boozed it up. (WITA? Not on a bet.) Both of us have good memories of the porchetta at Porchetta, so Bob acceded to my suggestion we support an excellent Tweeter, to the point that he didn’t even stop to read the menu before we bounded in, hungrily. He’d called for a reservation and been told there were no tables, but we got a high one in the bar instantly. And that was about all that happened fast. I’ll do the best news first: The wine list is tantalizing, with lots of unusual offerings, and the pours are generous. Now the frustrating. Jeebus, was it loud, for a tiny restaurant not fully full. Bob was disappointed that the pork options were so few, and we both realized we had chosen the wrong destination for dinner after lunch at home had been pasta perfection. Luckily for our relationship and my cred as a restaurant-chooser, half the food (all appetizers) was outstanding. We assumed the crostini with salami, anchovies and butter would arrive assembled, but we got the nicest little party plate and put the toasted bread together with the pickled red onions and the other elements, only asking the waiter later on if that was correct. (Damned if he knew.) The green bean salad with toasted almonds and fennel was also FTW. But our first taste, crostini with mozzarella and bottarga, was just sad. Maybe if the bread had been toasted? Maybe if the bottarga had been more generous (or fresher/more aged/something)? And while we were happy with the salt cod patties once they’d been kittybagged and recycled into scrambled eggs and, yes, more pasta, they seemed underwhelming at the table. Or maybe we were just cranky. WIGB? Sadly, no. We still regret not bailing and trotting back to Porchetta for a sandwich to eat in the little sidewalk cafe, wine or no wine.

The pretty lame: Liang’s Kitchen in Flushing, where I met up with my amazing food sharers for a Sunday lunch that confirmed my sinking feeling on walking in — that only losers eat in hotel restaurants. This was in the basement of a Best Western, and I was just glad I took a bathroom break and saw there were guest rooms right down the hall from the cacophony — at least I was only paying (almost nothing) for a meal; usually we get the worst lodging. As always, I was blissfully passive as others negotiated the menu; when you eat at a table of 14, you’re bound to find something you like. I was underwhelmed by the bitter melon pancake (omelettesque), the soup dumplings (skins too fragile to deliver the experience that matters more than the taste), the beef rolls (scary meat inside oily fried bread, flavor AWOL), the unsettling fish slices in red chile sauce. But I liked the pickled carrots and cabbage served free, the delicate wontons in incendiary chile oil, the lion’s head meatballs with their haunting spicing (star anise, we guessed), and the lavender-beautiful steamed eggplant was good enough. More dishes landed on that Lazy Susan, I know, and the waitress was amazingly patient, and, most important, all that cost me all of $15. Still, WIGB? Not even with earplugs. But then maybe it was just off-day in the better Chinatown — I headed to Hunan House right afterward to get a smoked duck for dinner for my consort stuck home editing, and that plus an order of “cake dumplings” took just short of forever to arrive and yielded the butt end of the bird, and not much of it at that.

The too-muchness: Chipotle, where we’ve been going more often since Time’s feature on the founder, which included such nuggets as the fact that the food will actually vary from outlet to outlet, intentionally. And it’s true. The only problem is the quantity. You can get too much of a good thing.

The better than we deserve: Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side, where “social media Monday” lured us out again and where, as always, the food, service and whole experience were so unlike most places in the neighborhood. We split the surprisingly lively iceberg salad with bacon, tomato and blue cheese (or, rather, the kitchen helpfully split it for us) and I had the superb fried green tomatoes topped with crab again. Bob’s trout with corn, guanciale and mushrooms was spectacular, the crisp skin almost popcorny and the assemblage so complementary. (MI cooks are about the only ones who can actually make trout taste like something beyond the grain those fish feed on.) We split a bottle of nebbiolo rosé and had two glasses beyond, since the price was right at 20 percent off the whole bill. Both waiters were outstanding, too (although the new and almost too-friendly one spilled the wine while overpouring). And even though we’re now pegged as regulars, we still get the plastic fish fortune with the free chocolate pudding.

New York minutes/Early July 2012

The pretty good despite the MIA waitress: Bubby’s in Dumbo, where we took AC refuge for lunch after broasting at the outstanding Photoville in the Brooklyn Bridge Park. We got in just before a wedding party closed down the joint, so I guess I shouldn’t bitch that my consort had to go fetch water and then ketchup for us because the ditz of a waitress was nowhere to be found even at tip time. My BLT was about 90 percent B and came with good fries, while Bob’s chicken club with avocado plus salad made him extremely happy. The lime “press” turned out to be worth 7 bucks as inspiration alone, both for blogging and emulating. WIGB? Definitely, although the more we walked afterward the more I realized I need to do more homework before we cross the water. Just by wandering, we were able to experience overpriced, underwhelming cookies at One Girl Cookies and buy outstanding croissants and baguette at Almondine before checking out Forager’s and coming home with a wild cut of lamb shoulder from a butcher who trained himself to carve by book-learnin’.

The not bad despite the MIA waitress: Kefi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with photo-star friends in from Chicago plus his daughter and her boyfriend down from Columbia and where I was dreading the experience after a G-reader recently reported on a dinner in hell among the stroller brigade. But we were seated downstairs (next to the service area, unfortunately), and it was quiet enough to talk as we shared the reliably superb spreads and a bottle of Greek white. My macaroni and cheese was soupier than usual but had great flavor, even reheated next day, and everyone else seemed happy with fish, pasta, burger. WIGB? Not soon but inevitably. As we trudged there, we agreed we’ve stayed away because we’ve eaten the whole menu too often, and because Loi is so stellar. But there’s are reasons it’s constantly packed. Plus Momofuku Milk Bar is just up the avenue for the dessert you didn’t have.

The never-disappointing: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where we stopped for lunch on a brutally hot Sunday between Illy stocking-up at Di Palo and photo-gallerying at Anastasia (typically great show, by Paolo Pellizzari and his Noblex). My sincronizada with chorizo, avocado and super-spicy salsa verde was perfection, and Bob was surprisingly happy with his sopesitas, three of them, topped with chorizo, steak and nopales and paired with superb salsas. Our order took just short of forever (well, 40 minutes), but WIGB? Absolutely. Each dish was 10 bucks, the room is so nice and the drinks are so tantalizing unless it’s 100 degrees outside and you have miles to walk before you nap.

The time-warpy: Henry’s End in Brooklyn Heights, where friends from the neighborhood ushered us after the frustrating “Safety Not Guaranteed” down the block even though I was curious about the shiny new joint in a space one of those friends warned is a death sentence for restaurants. My crab-corn cakes (appetizer as entree) were surprisingly satisfying, and the Shinn rosé was a good deal at $32. We all shared tuna tartare and ribs to start; I got a taste of the special duck (seemed as if one old bird is designed to fit all sauces), and Bob took home his happy-making fried chicken. The waitress was a total trip, a Republican dream of happily working till you drop. WIGB? Probably not, pleasant as it was, even as we were seated next to the toilettes. It was like eating in the Hudson Valley in 1988. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, aside from the fact that it is 2012.

New York minutes/Late June 2012

The good again I: Northern Spy in the East Village, where we met friends who live down the block but had never been and where the staff was impressively unfazed by the squirming toddler in our perfect booth. Even she liked all the starters: the airy-crispy gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and sage, the farro with lamb bacon and egg and the unfishy bluefish rillettes with pickled onions on garlic toasts. My consort’s pork with black-eyed peas was good and hearty, so I was okay with my unexpectedly dainty asparagus salad with fascinating egg. Poor Mom had to miss the good chocolate cake. WIGB? Absolutely. Especially now that I know why it’s so Brooklyn: It was priced out of Brooklyn. (And because Dad introduced us to a great Spanish wine bar just down the block for an after-Turley Cinsault glass or two: Pata Negra, where the server could not have been more accommodating and I tasted a new-to-me godello.) 511 East 12th Street, 212 228 5100.

The good again II: Loi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with a gallery-crazed friend in from DC and another from way uptown and where we had the usual superb service and full swanky-joint experience even though we only shared first courses and a salad. This is the rare restaurant that treats every ass in the seat as valuable, and given that it never filled even on a Saturday night, the Athens owner is smart to keep us coming back for less. (Her visits to every table are also very savvy.) I was underwhelmed by the grilled sardines even though my expectations were already low, and I didn’t try the octopus because I just can’t do it anymore. But like everyone else, I thought the baby eggplant with feta mousse was sensational, the amuse of stuffed grape leaves superb and the gigantes redeemed by the unbilled cheese with them. Sea urchin with “crispy pita chips,” though, probably needed the lemon I didn’t squeeze over my two spoonfuls. We also split a dessert, about which the least said the better. (Oh, I’ll elaborate: It was the kataifi, it was soggy and it tasted better when dessert was a giveaway.) Bob’s and my $10 glasses of wine were good, and came with excellent recommendations by the waiter, and the bread basket was beyond generous. Plus the service was almost surreal, yet again: Waiters in suits catering to us as if we were spending megabucks in any other white-linen dining room. WIGB? Anytime. Not least because it’s so nice to be among old pharts and feel young.

The good again despite the din: Toloache in the Theater District, where we wound up after trying Anzas in the newish Hyatt on Fifth Avenue and being spurned both upstairs and downstairs. The place was packed even after curtain time, but we got a table fast and soon had decent wine and the quesadilla with huitlacoche, then overstuffed but fabulous brisket and carnitas tacos, then a salad with jicama and avocado. WIGB? Undoubtedly, but I think next time we’ll try the new outpost on East 83d Street. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The gone-to-hell: Tre Otto on the Upper East Side, where we landed on a super-hot night seeking refuge from our own kitchen and where Bob dropped way too much money for dinner in a garden sauna. We made the mistake of strolling through the gorgeous park up to a tapas place I’d read about on 103d & Lex, only to decide the menu looked pedestrian and the wines seemed overpriced, then swung by ABV, only to be told we’d face a half-hour wait for a table in Bedlam populated by young uns all the same age and skin color, so we figured Tre Otto was a safe bet. And it turned out to be like eating in Rome in August: Immigrants slopping it out in the kitchen, overstretched staff neglecting too many tables, followed by sticker-price shock. I only wanted a Caesar salad, and it was not awful, if underdressed with a few too many rusty leaves. But Bob’s $18 pasta with “Trapanese” pesto turned out to be a few gummy noodles in a bowl of glop. As the waiter warned, it was heavy on the garlic, although light on any other flavors. The bread was rubbery, the rosé $45. And the sweat? Immeasurable. We baked like pizzas. WIGB? The next night we were back on that side of town, for dinner at friends’ whose gorgeous terrace overlooks the reservoir, and they, too, wondered: Why did that place go to hell so fast? I blamed the clientele and will probably never get invited back.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2011

The good: Zoe on the Lower East Side, where my consort and I met up after a news photography opening in Nolita, with a detour to September Wines when I thought to ask about liquor license/credit cards. We’re friends with the chef/owner’s dad, but I reserved in my own name with the idea that I could just not write about it if it underperformed, to use a euphemism. And he arrived just after we were seated, but we stayed where we were, at a great window table. The place is tiny, and the menu is short and savory and, because it was BYO, very affordable ($55 before tip, after we brought in a $10 rosé). I’m a sucker for rillettes and Bob agreed to that appetizer because it was made with turkey instead of duck. The fatty meat was studded with capers and meant to be spread onto warm toasted baguette drizzled with the chef’s mom’s Tuscan olive oil. TCM also got credit for the outstanding eggplant parmesan, the texture almost creamy, with smoked Gouda rather than mozzarella. I can’t stomach lamb but insisted Bob order the enticing appetizer of ribs and breast, and we both were impressed. The meat was not gamy, and the ribs were succulent, the breast tender inside its breaded and fried crust; tzatziki and peppery pickled cherry tomatoes provided the perfect counterpoints. Radicchio salad with capers, anchovy and Parmesan hit the middle note a little too high for me, though. WIGB? Absolutely, especially after a movie at Landmark Sunshine around the corner. 245 Eldridge Street, 646 559 5962.

The not bad: Toloache taqueria in the Financial District, where we headed between mind-blowing experiences with the Guggenheim’s “stillspotting” music. This was around 3 on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was deserted, but as soon as we ordered the cooks leapt into action, and before long it was thronged. Bob ordered three tacos with the only fillings on offer, with no chicken or pork available, and I asked for tortilla soup, then threw in a small order of guacamole. That soup might be the best I’ve ever had, the base more like an enchilada sauce than the usual chicken broth, with tiny squares of corn tortillas and a good amount of grated cheese to be mixed in to enrich and texturize. Salsa, both on the table and delivered fresh, outshone the guacamole. As for the tacos, the brisket ruled, the huitlacoche was acceptable and the tilapia died on the platter. I balked at tipping when paying at the register but went back afterward to drop in some dollars because the staff was so enthusiastic and happy to serve — whatever Julian Medina is doing, every restaurateur should emulate. WIGB? Sin duda, if I were in the neighborhood. Too much food came to $17 before tip. 83 Maiden Lane near William Street, 212 809 9800.

The fascinating: Isa in Williamsburg, where young friends who live nearby lured us for an early catch-up dinner on a Saturday night. None of us expected to be able to get in, but I was encouraged to see people even older than Bob and I ensconced when we walked in with our BYO wines. All I really knew about the place was what I’d read in the hometown paper, about the care in designing it, so I was a little surprised it had been done to hobbit scale. But the staff let us sit for more than three hours at one long communal table while they did the squirming and wriggling needed to serve us, so I won’t complain. Only three entrees were on offer, but most of went us for the great-sounding appetizers: mussels with coco beans on crisp Baltic bread under a forest of pea shoots and parsley; fat and juicy wood-roasted shrimp with squid ink; four good slices of La Quercia prosciutto; pungent pickled daikon with kombu and shaved horseradish; a whole sardine boned and laid alongside its deep-fried skeleton and meaty head with olives with celery (no comment); cubes of melon enfolded with yogurt in sweet potato leaves with a dusting of toasted seeds, plus a salad of Treviso radicchio, cabbage, “nut cheese” and granola. One intrepid soul among us ordered a main, slow-cooked cod with fish roe, carrots and seaweed. What I tasted of it was exceptional. We all stuck spoons into an odd little dessert of apple rings topped with a quenelle of chestnutty honey ice cream and garnished with buckwheat crunch. That was reaching higher and not quite attaining exceptional. WIGB? No, but only because I see so many other temptations in Williamsburg. Anyone else? Go. 348 Wythe Avenue at South Second Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 347 689 3594.

New York minutes/End of August 2011

The good: Frankie’s 17 on the Lower East Side, where we headed after the Eater/Food 52 Bib party and its clever tidbits and cocktails. The waiter was capable if disengaged, but the food more than compensated, especially the house-made cavatelli with Faicco’s hot sausage and sage butter. WIGB? If I were in the neighborhood; otherwise, it’s on to 570 with great anticipation. 17 Clinton Street, 212 253 2303.

The better: Coppelia on the West Village/Chelsea border, where we stopped for Saturday lunch after the Greenmarket and left impressed with everything. Usually an empty restaurant is a sloppy restaurant, but the staff could not have acted happier to serve us, and both the flounder tacos and the pork-stuffed Cubano were little masterpieces of balanced tastes and textures. The two breads that arrived first were also outstanding. Plus the place looks great, and the music was lively but not loud and not the inevitable Buena Vista Social Club. WIGB? Happily. 207 West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth, 212 858 5001.

The great: Fedora in the West Village, where we scored a table after seeing “Tabloid” the night before hurricane lockdown and where we would have been happy to count that as our last meal if necessary. Everything sounded tantalizing and turned out to be more creative than it read. We just had three appetizers: Egg in a hole with tripe ragout and cheese was a little exercise in overkill, and the charred squid was dainty but gutsy. Best of all was what was described as cured char with potato pancake, avocado and tobiko, which turned out to be more like a dosa, with a light pancake enfolding the other ingredients. Brilliant. Add in good wine, great service and a tolerable noise level and there’s no question of WIGB. 239 West Fourth Street between West Tenth and Charles, 646 449 9336.

The spectacular: Torrisi Italian Specialties even at lunchtime, where we headed on a Di Palo’s run for the cheapest Illy in town. Bob is down on sandwiches but was pretty happy with the two-fisted Italian combo, stuffed with meats and cheese for all of $8. Broccoli rabe for $3 was even better, almost half the little bowl made of up garlic and hot peppers. But the knockout was the $10 eggplant Parmesan; exquisite is not a word you associate with that concoction, but this was a marvel of very thin, perfectly breaded-and-fried eggplant slices layered with just enough cheese and sauce. It was an architectural marvel as well as a taste sensation, as good as the best in Parma. The server also deserves points for  being so upbeat and accommodating even when the tiny place was packed. WIGB? In an unhyped second. 250 Mulberry Street, 212 965 0955. (Also have to rave about Di Palo’s, which has expanded its display cases and is now even easier to navigate and which is always a trip. The owner waited on us, giving us tastes of two pecorinos and a Parmigiano and taking his time explaining mozzarella and sausage options. Plus he calculated the tab to the penny before ringing it up on the old-fashioned register: $77.66, including six cans of Illy, half at $9.99, the rest at $8.99.)

The also-rans: A) Hecho en Dumbo turned out to be better than it had any right to be at brunch once we settled in at a quiet table and saw the menu was kinda gouge-y unless you want a honking margarita — I took one for the team and it definitely mellowed me out even before my exceptional torta of rajas con queso landed. Bob’s chilaquiles also redeemed the reputation of that dish, which is so often just dishwatery dull.

B) The New French in the West Village, where we wound up with three friends at one’s suggestion after Pearl was overrun early after “The Future” (and let me warn you — you’ll need more friends to understand how much that movie had going on). I had pretty much given up on the place since the chef went westward and the sidewalk stressed everyone else, but we did well, thanks to Bob braving the elements and getting us one o’ those sidewalk tables, risking the rain but saving our eardrums. And the cooking has held up. Cobb salad reinvented had no poultry but blue cheese dressing, all nicely done.

C) Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side, where we had a nice quiet early dinner and two half-bottles of red/white wine at $20 apiece. Excellent deviled eggs were set over chopped lettuce, which kept them stable and added crunch. And the option of bacon in a chopped salad was genius, especially when that means lardons. Bob was not as thrilled with his chicken with rice and beans, though; the side seemed lackluster.