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?

New York minutes/Early February 2012

The seriously good again: Momofuku Ssam in the East Village, where my consort and I met another food-obsessed couple via the Twitter for a Sunday lunch that was even more invigorating than my two previous weekday indulgences. We were there before the door opened at 11:30 so of course got a nice table (and, I learned later, a waiter who Tweets, too). The four of us shared everything, which meant I tasted excellent sweetbreads I normally would spurn (prep them once or twice and you will, too) and the spicy sausage and rice-cake dish, as well as lively pickled vegetables and a pear sorbet brilliantly accessorized with pumpkin, cornflakes and blue cheese. All the duck — rotisserie, dumplings, pulled sandwich — was of course perfect. The only letdown was apple kimchi with bacon and maple labne, which amounted to ingredients talking past each other. WIGB? Can’t wait. 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street, 212 212 254 3500. (BTW: We all went down the avenue afterward to Vandaag for the exceptional coffee in that rigorously designed room; the cappuccino was one of the best I’ve ever had on this continent.)

The transporting: Il Buco Alimentari in Nebulousnabe, where we fortified ourselves with  Saturday lunch before a time trip through the amazing Merchant’s House Museum nearby and where the history was nearly as palpable (wood from the way-back machine). Seeing a whole porchetta on the rotisserie in the theatrical open kitchen made the panino irresistible, and it was a juicy/crunchy/tender marvel on just the right bun; pickled vegetables on the side only made it seem more of a deal at $16 (Porchetta’s is of course sublime and much cheaper but without the creature comforts). We shared the $14 insalata di cicoria despite my resistance to Scalia anchovies for their name alone, and it turned out to be one of the rare enjoyable bitter salads, with almost sweet Treviso radicchio tossed in and crunchy fine bread crumbs over the top. And $14 grilled sausage over Umbrian lentils had real nuance; fried sage leaves and sweet onions were grace notes. As the server warned, the coffee needs work; even with way more than a cloud on the macchiato it was bitter. (We stopped by Colombe later just to compare and now suspect, though, that taste is not what’s cutting into business; it’s probably more the scene.) The market in the front is quite nice, too, although we managed to get out without buying anything. WIGB? Absolutely, at least for serene lunch. I’d guess it might get loud at dinner, with all those hard surfaces. 53 Great Jones Street, 212 212 837 2622.

The satisfying, again: La Mangeoire in Midtown East, where we landed after being warned of a 45-minute wait at the Smith after an opening of New York in Color with a friend’s work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on 57th Street. The $38 white from the Languedoc matched well with both Bob’s intense coq au vin with mushroom-bacon sauce and my pork roast (first time I’ve ever ordered that, and my reward was super-tender thanks to the server actually asking what temperature I wanted). And the anchoiade, olives and oil with the bread basket were just gravy. I’ll admit it was a little sad to see Christian Delouvrier and think back on Ruth’s bedazzled  review in his $30 soup days, but his cooking has lost only the flash and price tag, not the style and substance. WIGB? We may never make it to the Smith. Add in no din and the option of downsized main courses and it’s definitely worth the journey. 1008 Second Avenue near 53d Street, 212 759 7086.

The over-the-top: RedFarm in the West Village, where we left my name and of course got a perfect little table and no end of comped food from gregarious Eddie Schoenfeld; we only had to wait as long as it took to pick out three new salts at the Meadow down the street. Thank allah we kept a receipt, because it really was more dishes than any cranial sieve could retain (he at least did the smart thing and said: “Take a taste and take it home”). We chose good shu mai shooters (two for $7.50), huge and slightly overwrought crab and duck dumplings (four for $12), exquisite vegetable and chive steamed dumplings (four for $8), noodles with both Dungeness and rock crab ($27) and sublime okra and eggplant yellow curry ($17 and enough to keep me from succumbing to mediocre Thai again for a long, long time — this had at least six kinds of vegetables in addition to the excellent stars, and the sauce was all nuanced flavor). Forced upon us were killer soup dumplings with truffles; strange but irresistible eggplant “bruschetta” topped with smoked salmon and caviar; mushroom spring rolls; amazing barbecued Berkshire pork belly; the $39 like-buttah Creekstone prime rib steak with the best baby bok choy I’ve ever stuck an implement into, and two desserts: chocolate pudding and a “fruit plate.” The kittybag was damned heavy on the way back to the C train, and we ate from it for three days. We also shared a $32 bottle and two $16 glasses of an ideal wine for Joe Ng’s style of cooking, S.A. Prum “Blue” Mosel riesling (Joshua Wesson did the list). WIGB? Can’t wait, although I may sneak in with a bag over my head. But that might mean missing out on Eddie’s entertaining tales. 529 Hudson Street, 212 792 9700.

The “good luck to them”: Left Bank in the far West Village, where we met one of our favorite people, in from Veneto, for a great long, long Sunday dinner. We reserved at 6:30 to try out the “happy hour,” which sounded so much more respectable than “early bird,” but were only able to take advantage of the half-price, half-assed Aperol spritz ($6) because Diego didn’t get there by 7 for the three courses for $20. Dinner was still a steal: I had outstanding potato gnocchi with pumpkin, black pepper and pecorino, almost like spaetzle, for $17; the guys both had the superb juicy-crisp roast half-chicken with capers, cornichons and dill for $21. (Usual sneakiness: Sides are sold separately.) We also shared a pretty great rendition of brandade with warm toast and olives for $10 and a lively bottle of grillo from Diego’s second home of Sicily for $36. Service and the room were both fine, too. (Even though we got the worst table in the house, right under the speaker with nothing but #RIPWhitney — by the end of the night I was starting to realize why she needed drugs.) WIGB? No question, if it lasts. I know we’ve eaten there before . . . 117 Perry Street at Greenwich, 212 727 1170.

The dispiriting despite the design: Cafe Centro in Hell’s Kitchen, where we ducked in just for cheap sustenance at a sunlit table on our way to the must-see Loving and Weegee shows at ICP. Warm, salty chips and decent salsa were too easy to fill up on, which was lucky because the rice and beans with my lukewarm cheese enchiladas merited no more than one bite each. Bob ordered tacos with carnitas cooked in Coke and we were both glad he had resisted the mahi ones; these were overfilled and hyper-sweet, but things coulda been worse. WIGB? Why do restaurants get better on Ninth as you head south?

New York minutes/Mid-March 2011

The good again: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where my consort and I reserved for after the Tow reception for the entrepreneurial journalism center at CUNY and where we arrived full from Evans catering but not so stuffed we couldn’t appreciate how great those portobello sliders are. We shared a respectable escarole/bacon/walnut salad to start, then each had one of the three sliders, chunked with spicy remoulade, and took the last home for an outstanding cold lunch next day for me. The place was pretty empty on this latest go, so the waiter had plenty of energy to oversell the gruner. WIGB? Anytime. Everything about it is way better than the neighborhood usually inflicts. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The half-bad: The Breslin in that weird zone of cheesy wholesale fashion, where we met three friends for a 9 o’clock Sunday breakfast and where the seating and setting made up for the lame food. The place is overdesigned to the max, right down to nonfunctioning water fountains in the basement, so we were happy with our booth with adjustable lighting, plug-ins for phones etc. and retractable curtain and buzz light to summon servers. They seemed disturbingly on, hyper and super-chatty at that empty/early hour. But the food. (And the coffee! My cappuccino tasted bitter and scorched, no matter how gorgeous the foam pattern was.) Our orders took forever, after we took forever ordering, and my grilled cheese with house-cured ham was totally flavor-free, even when slathered with coarse-grain mustard. Bob’s special bubble & squeak was more like bland & grease. One friend shared a good chunk of his skirt steak, which tasted livery to us. And I did not taste another’s Greek yogurt although Bob declared it a rival to sour cream. But Friend No. 3 was not a bit happy with her grapefruit, sliced on the bottom to sit flat but “whacked back and forth” without separating the segments, and encrusted with a clumped “ginger sugar mint” topping. WIGB? Only with friends from out of town on expense account. A for ambiance. D for cooking. 16 West 29th Street in the Ace Hotel, 212 679 1939.

The worth-the-line: Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side, where I lured my consort before our awesome class at Pizza a Casa a coupla doors away. We hit it just right, with only two people waiting on the sidewalk as we walked up, so 15 minutes didn’t matter. Bob was happy with his tres leches cake doughnut, and we were both awed by the raspberry jam-filled square yeast doughnut I chose. So much so that we wrapped half up and schlepped it home to let The Cat taste before fighting over it. WIGB, though? Only if the line was nonexistent, or if an out-of-continenter was really hellbent on trying it. 379 Grand Street near Norfolk, doughnutplant.com

New York minutes/End of February 2011

The half-great: Ma Peche, where my consort and I met up with friends who wanted to try it after their first choice of Osteria Morini was fully committed and where we were all worried about the tab given the bizarre absence of prices on both Menupages and the website (why should the paying customer be the last to know?) So I’ll get the bad part out of the way first: We waited 45 minutes for the reserved table, after getting shunted to the hotel lobby and then to the bar, where we all awkwardly held our unchecked coats and drinks while surrounded by a . . . shall we say . . . low-rent crowd and inhaling the grease fumes from the kitchen downstairs. (Always fun to consider how close “hospitality” and “hostility” are.) Also, once we were finally seated the wine took its “savory” time arriving, and the service would best be described as desultory. But the table turned out to be one surrounded by bigger tables of guys going all Tom Jones on beef and bones, so it was like being on an island of quiet. And the food was exceptional, starting with the perfectly made spring rolls. We just stuck everything in the center and shared, and not one dish disappointed. The duck, a tender breast plus sausage plus hoisin spaetzl, was the best I’ve tasted in years. Cod came in second, in a lively shellfish broth with ginger and coconut. The broccoli appetizer has me attempting to replicate it at home, with miso and sesame seeds. And while I’m not much on pork (flesh, not fat), the Bev Eggleston chop was blowaway, even at $68 for two. That, unfortunately, is the one price I can quote, because Bob and George split the bill and we came home with no printout. WIGB? Absolutely. Cooking like this reinforces why this trained cook goes to restaurants. 15 West 56th Street.

The promising: The new Ditch Plains on the UWS, where Bob and I wandered in after the Sunday Greenmarket and spotted strollers, the surest sign someone was serving. Turned out it was a soft opening, with 15 percent off the check. We found out the second half of that sentence only when the check arrived, but we were mellow knowing it wasn’t “live” yet. So it didn’t really matter that the fried pickles as an appetizer were inexpertly fried, although it did make me worry after having ordered fish and chips despite the waitress having told us she had not seen that yet, let alone tried it. Cod instead of the usual muddy tilapia sold me, though, and the excellent fries and perfect frying compensated for the lack of crust on the nearly naked fillets. And the dipping sauce, the same as for the pickle fries, elevated everything. Bob ordered the quite good spicy shrimp salad without specifying the appetizer size, so the $7 off the tab helped. We were among the few not ordering alcohol, but both the bloody Marys and the wine list looked enticing (no glasses, only bottles and half-bottles, at very good prices). The space seems much more inviting in its latest reincarnation, and the manager was extremely gregarious. WIGB? Absolutely, despite all those strollers — G.M. said the kitchen will stay open till 2 a.m., which is a huge boon on the early-to-bed UWS. 100 West 82d Street, 212 362 4815.

The “WTF was I thinking?”: New Chiu Chow in Chinatown, where we wound up after I plucked the name out of the Village Voice listings in desperation as we were rushing to schlep down to Bob’s storage room in the old NYPost building — the name had me at Chiu Chow, which really is “Cantonese with flavor,” as they said in Hong Kong, and the tout mentioned that most irresistible of foods: duck. But as soon as we walked into the dingy room and had to wait a few minutes for a table away from the door I knew we were in the wrong place. But the menu did promise duck, and it was not bad, if nowhere close to what we first had in Hong Kong or now make at home. Good thing we ordered a half, not a quarter, because the “spicy spare ribs” on rice with black bean sauce proved to be chewy nuggets of creepy industrial pork. And the Chinese vegetables in oyster sauce seemed very rudimentary for the price, again something we could have thrown together at home. Only as I was sitting dejectedly did we notice every other table was eating the same thing, the soup. Which is, of course, exactly why most onliners recommend it. Oh, well. The leftover duck was rescusitable in dumplings using wrappers from Hong Kong Supermarket, after a respectable egg custard from the bakery across the street. WIGB? From now on, we are never eating Chinese in Chinatown. We’re either trekking happily to Flushing or opting for anything else. Even “Italian.”

New York minutes/Latish January 2011

The really good: Casellula in Hell’s Kitchen, where my consort and I landed after the wine-free, bottom-of-the-suitcase opening at ICP and after getting shunted aside at cramped and reeking Ardesia. The anticipated wait was 20 to 30 minutes at A, so we inched over the ice down the street and were instantly greeted by a hostess promising no more than a 15-minute wait and proffering a wine list; as we scanned it, the bartender welcomed us, too. Within five minutes we were on barstools and ordering Etna rosso and New Zealand sauvignon blanc and on our way to the “pig’s ass” sandwich with chipotle aioli for dipping followed by three exquisite cheeses (Vermont Ayr, Montagne de Bethmale and Brunet by way of Piemonte, paired, respectively, with honeycomb, roasted grape tomatoes and cardamon-flavored candied popcorn). The Cubanoesque panino was outstanding and the second glasses of wine perfect, but what was most amazing was the mood — everyone was mellow and took her time to explain things and get them right. WIGB? At an off-hour, for sure, since no reservations are taken. 401 West 52d Street, 212 247 8137.

The pretty good: Elsewhere in the Theater District, where we reserved for four after our great experience at Casellula, taking the advice on the menu to “eat Elsewhere.” Turns out the place is what has taken over the old Cafe Madeleine space right near the NYTimes and Conde Nast, so we and one friend had flashbacks on walking in (I remembered food poisoning, he felt nostalgic about lunches with editors). I wasn’t crazy about my past-its-prime quail, although the rye stuffing and multiple accouterments almost compensated. As did a side of salt-roasted fingerlings paired with “bacon butter”  and anchovy mayonnaise for dipping. Bob’s fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy could pass for Southern, and both he and Gary seemed happy with the braised rabbit. I think Elizabeth scored, though, with two small plates: a squash broth poured around goat cheese panna cotta, and a silky, very flavorful carrot timbale. Three of us split a bottle of Austrian red and probably would have ordered more if given the opportunity. Which is why this place was not completely good: After fully engaged service to start, we were on our own, and because we rejected a table near the cold front door, we were stuck at a banquette between two service areas just outside the constantly swinging kitchen door. But at least it was easy to talk. WIGB? Absolutely. Despite the huge old Madeleine jars of spices visible through that kitchen door, some seriously creative cooking is going on. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The good but deafening: FishTag on the Upper West Side, where we thought we were lucky to score a table but soon realized the newly enlarged bar in the old Onera/Kefi/Gus & Gabriel would have been the better bet. This place puts the din in dinner (and hell is being seated next to six shrieking women who need frequent bathroom breaks). But the food more than made up for it. Ryan Skeen is clearly of the Mae West school of “too much of a good thing. . .” The chicory/arugula/bulgur salad read like a grocery list (Medjool dates, pomegranate, green olives, breakfast radish, pistachio, peppers, grilled onions, smoked almonds) but came together into party-in-your-mouth forkfuls. Sheep milk dumplings were gussied up with Jonah crabmeat, aji amarillo peppers and sea urchin fonduta but did not taste at all of overkill. The bacala-skodalia brandade “melt” came closest to going too far, with Greek cheese, smoked eggplant and tomato confit, but was still good next day. All three dishes were big bang for small bucks ($9 and $10 for the “melt” and salad, $19 for the dumplings), but wines, served as 3- to 27-ounce pours, are pricey. Extra points for the attentive waiter, who was working hard in cramped quarters with shrieking women all around. WIGB? Absolutely, but only to the bar. My ears still hurt. 222 West 79th Street, 212 362 7470.

The not all bad: Fatty Crab on the Upper West Side, where we stopped in for a late Sunday lunch despite the roomful of babies and where the neglect was showing but the flavors still came through. My wineglass had that wet dog smell and a few flecks on it, but it seemed pointless to bother the waiter even though the gruner was $14. Bob didn’t realize until we’d ordered that the clipboard menu had a whole other page of enticements; his was missing that crucial first sheet (and the rest were encrusted with flecks of food). The turmeric-roasted cauliflower was good and spicy but carelessly cooked to greasiness. And the fatty duck, now a crazy $23, was nothing like what I remember from the first half-dozen encounters with it downtown; both fat and meat were impossibly chewy, although the peppery-sweet crust made us want to keep chewing and chewing and the pickley Chinese mustard greens on top countered the richness. Bob said the $3 rice was also half-assed. But the Malay fish fry made up for much of that: perfectly fried, with a sublime curry sauce, plus we suspected it was not the tilapia the waiter had threatened but cod. WIGB? Probably. It is a nice break from Fairway and Land Thai etc. 2170 Broadway near 77th Street, 212 496 2722.

The happy-making: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where Bob suggested we reprise last January’s excellent lunch the day before my birthday and where we were lucky enough on a hurting-cold day to snare “the best seats in the house,” in the far corner at the bar where we were not jostled and could ask all the questions we wanted of the bartender as he mixed up new vats of jalapeño-infused tequila. Of course we had to have those great jalapeño margaritas, with their slow burn, to go with respectable guacamole and good salsa to start. His grease-free sinchronizada with chorizo came with green salsa for dipping, but I really scored with a chile relleno stuffed with scrambled eggs, chorizo and cheese, teamed with black beans and a handful of greens, for only $1 more ($10). Coffee was also good. WIGB? Maybe even before next January. The newish Casa Mezcal around the corner on Orchard Street gets $16 for a chile relleno. 253 Broome Street, 212 228 6710.

The promising: The new Tarallucci e Vino on Columbus, where we stopped for a macchiato after Fatty Crab to warm up. It feels nothing like either the neighborhood or the Subway that preceded it; I almost felt the aura of Bill’s in Sydney, although this place is tiny by comparison. The coffee was excellent, but the room just seemed sunny and enticing. Plus the panino a guy was savoring at the bar looked awesome, and the quiches seemed a deal at $5, and the pastries appeared carefully made. Is this neighborhood starved for quality, or what? Bob’s only complaint is that it’s too far from home. . . We also had a great encounter at Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side, where we were drawn after the amazing cheeses at Casellula — the counterman did steer us to the outstanding Chester from Consider Bardwell, but only after Bob stunned him by asking if he had something less like Brie after he’d offered his first choice for creamy and pungent. Apparently there is one four-letter word you can’t use at an artisanal cheese stand . . . .

New York minutes/Late November 2010

The pretty good: Bettolona in “the hinterlands,” as one stressed friend coming from Midtown described it, where my consort and I met her and a new friend for too little food and just enough wine (BYO) after he had tried it for lunch on advice from my Columbia e-correspondent. Last time we were in that space it was nouveau Latino, but it’s been transformed and now turns out slightly soggy mushroom pizza, decent whole wheat pasta with vegetables, above-average spinach lasagne with meat sauce and good grilled squid. Baked asparagus with Fontina, though, arrived as three soggy spears and not even the promised “hint” of truffle oil. Neither tiramisu nor the crespelle with bananas and Nutella could be faulted, and either could the tab, a little over $20 a person thanks to the reportedly nervous-making wine shop two doors south. WIGB? Sure. It wasn’t loud, either. 3143 Broadway near LaSalle Street, 212 749 1125.

The surprisingly respectable: RedFarm Stand at FoodParc, where we stopped after the Saturday Greenmarket for a quick, egg-free lunch and where all of $20.95 bought four carefully prepared items. We shared the duck bun, which turned out to be slabs of tender, fatty roast duck on a soft roll with pickled vegetables, and the wild Katz’s pastrami egg roll, a fat, crispy cylinder with maybe one layer too many of dough and a creamy mustard dunking sauce, as well as a mesclun salad loaded with good vegetables cut small and topped with rice noodles. The best things were the black pepper pork potstickers with chile-soy dipping sauce, which were filled right and fried perfectly — they put Canteen 82’s to shame, I’ll have my uptown friends know. Because it was the holiday weekend, the place was pretty deserted, so we had two tables to ourselves to sit side-by-side with a nice view of the patio and the huge screen outside showing a creepy art video with baby. And maybe the cooking was more careful because it was so slow, but the potstickers on another table looked just as good. WIGB? Absolutely. Sixth Avenue at 29th Street.

New York minute/Latish September 2010

The quite good: Marea, where a working friend treated me and a mutual other-coast friend to Friday lunch and where the cooking almost vanquished ghosts of the previous restaurant in that space. We did get a pretty crappy table — a sixtop with three chairs, so it was damn difficult to talk, especially butted up against a wine wall and service station — but at least we were not shoved back into the old bitch alcove where I suffered my last meal at San Domenico. The bread also earned points, especially the focaccia with big chunks of green olive. Aside from a couple of clunkers, the food was amazing, especially the crab with duck prosciutto and figs on puff pastry, the lettuce gazpacho topped with fried oysters and underlaid with trout roe and tiny pickled mushrooms and the spaghetti with crab and sea urchin. All three crudi also gave faith, each with layers of flavor and contrasting texture. And we all liked the smoked mackerel entree because the small fillet was so un-fishy and silky and paired so well with plum and fried capers, although I was the only one who thought the relatively huge mound of mache was a good matchup. Our second pasta — gnocchetti with shrimp — was the weakest link, sort of what two of us remembered as Fiamma fare. Desserts were good, not dazzling, at least to me: a semolina tart with poached local cherries and a little gianduja number of which the best element was the cocoa nibs. Our wine, a white from Puglia, was another great surprise. WIGB? Absolutely, and not necessarily when someone else is paying. 240 Central Park South, 212 582 5100.

New York minutes/Late May 2010

The half-good: The New French, again, where the service, again, seriously lagged the food. Two friends and I held down a table for more than an hour and a half (not by choice) and got water and wine exactly once. And the place was not slammed, although the sidewalk tables are clearly stressing the front of the house if not the kitchen. Luckily, the special of polenta-crusted softshell crabs with favas was outstanding, with a sauce that had the best kind of flavors: cascading. The two salads (salmon, house) across from me were happily eaten down to the last bite, too. WIGB? Undoubtedly, once I get a craving for a perfect cheeseburger or some inventive fish dish. But it will be at an off-hour for sure.

The lamer than I had even imagined: The Monkey Bar, where a travel writer friend in from Santa Barbara and staying at the hotel gulled me into wasting good money on lunch. If I had checked the menu in advance, I would have refused, because it was chicken, chicken, and more chicken (even in the club sandwich, and even in the special), and I don’t eat that dirty bird.  The food costs must be 8 percent, max. I didn’t want beef but suspect the burger was the way to go. Instead I succumbed to the $26 “bacon lobster roll,” which should be cited for menu mislabeling — it had maybe four bits of the former ingredient scattered over the top. Compared with Pearl’s, the filling/bun were cafeteria quality, too. Coleslaw with it tasted decent, although potato chips seemed a definite letdown after Rebecca Charles’s fries. Leslie was quite happy with her Cobb, but I think of that assemblage as being all about the protein — an Everest of julienned lettuce with sprinklings of avocado, egg, blue cheese and, yes, fucking chicken doesn’t do it for me. A $12 glass of riesling was as unchallenging as the cooking. WIGB? Not even with Sy Newhouse.

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.

New York minutes/End of January 2010

The good: La Mangeoire in Midtown, where my consort and I headed after a bizarre opening at ICP (if I’d known it was a costume party, I would have ordered an Aretha hat) on a brutally cold night and where the place and food were just evocative enough of Provence. I’d come across another mention that Christian Delouvrier was cooking there, so we thought we’d see what the king of $38 cauliflower soup was up to, the chef who once sent Ruth home feeling as if she was Cinderella in a gilded carriage. We’d been there a couple of years ago at least and knew at least we could get downsized portions of entrees, a menu trick that is not to be underestimated. But the whole experience was satisfying if not carriage-worthy. They seated us at a corner table in a small room where even a bunch of old people celebrating a birthday were bearable (another relatively young couple busted into the singing to say, “You can do better than that,” but if it was loud it was mercifully short). The good bread was presented with little ramekins of excellent anchoiade, olive oil and little olives. The Provencal white was unobjectionable at I think $34 a bottle. The waiter was both engaging and attentive. On his advice on what the chef had changed, we split the petatou, a little cast-iron pot filled with potatoes, airy goat cheese and meaty lardons in perfect balance. Bob had the petite coq a vin, really rich and almost sticky sweet; my similarly sized duck confit on lentils with raw escarole was faultless for $19. As we left, there was the onetime king, sharing viand frites near the front door. WIGB? Probably. Besides the food, the noise level is commendable. 1008 Second Avenue near 53d Street, 212 759 7086.