New York minutes/Early July 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York minutes/End of April 2011

The pretty good: Columbus Tavern, where we stopped in for something different after the pitch-perfect “Win Win” at Lincoln Plaza and where we would have been mostly happy even if we’d not been comped a rather wan cheesecaky dessert by the owner. The din level was blissfully low, for starters, and the waiter was almost embarrassingly polite and attentive. Plus the food was way better than you’d expect: My consort’s cooked-right hanger steak came with a Snowdon-size heap of creamed spinach plus slightly limp but flavorful onion rings and three sauces on the side, unnecessary but worth the calories. I just ordered the house salad, since we’d shared a vat of popcorn at the movie and Bob had ordered the duck fat cashews as soon as we sat down, knowing my addiction to all things duck (verdict: the fat adds nothing but richness to oily nuts, especially when they’re overspiced). And that salad was completely satisfying as an alternative to a Caesar, with avocado, cucumber, radishes and tons of herbs. The “biscotti” the sweet waiter delivered were actually biscuits, okay on their warm own but even better with lemon-rosemary butter. Too bad the 30-year-old chef’s creativity and attention to detail are getting hammered by the crappy wine selection. I tried two whites, Bob two reds and all four fought the food. WIGB? Absolutely, although we’d been torn between Fairway and something new, and Fairway has nearly comparable food plus much cheaper, better wine if not as nice a setting. 269 Columbus Avenue near 73d Street, 212 873 9400.

The not bad: Osteria Cotta, where a friend and I headed in despair after contemplating the bleak choices in Chelsea after her son’s second showing of his sushi documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival (she wanted Company and I couldn’t find a bank to rob). Our cramped table in the back was at least quiet enough that we could almost hear each other, but otherwise it felt like the last seat in the plane near the bathroom and galley, with a constant stream of servers/runners/busboys slamming past. The grilled (actually skillet-charred) escarole salad with grape tomatoes and pecorino was as good as she and others had promised, and if the margherita pizza was more soupy than crisp, I ate my two slices happily. The tocai was also decent and fairly priced at $8 a glass. WIGB? Sure. Location, location, and Bob has to try it because it’s just a walk away. 513 Columbus Avenue near 85th Street, 212 873 8500.

The not bad: Spice uptown, where I met another friend for an early dinner that stretched for three hours and where the patient staff never hassled us, maybe because we wound up spending nearly twice as much on (crappy) wine as on food (and the food came to all of $11 apiece). Meatless spring rolls were sloppily assembled but cooked right, and if my duck-lettuce wraps did not live up to my first encounter with them they still amounted to a heap of decent filling. I didn’t try Joanne’s vegetable green curry, just listened to her yelp at every bite (from heat, not meanness). WIGB? Sure. The price is right, and the people are so nice. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

Quick hits: I finally succumbed to Cafe Frida uptown for a snack at happy hour, and the quesadillas with chorizo were surprisingly decent although what I washed them down with was total shiver wine, perfect for watching the Good Friday procession pass by with the squad car and so many religious observers texting away. El Paso Taqueria across the park is getting kinda grimy but consistently has the best Mexican deal in town if you’re into cheese enchiladas with tomatillo sauce: $9 for three good ones topped with onions with black beans and rice. But Rickshaw Dumpling, where I stopped off for something quick on the way home from a drink with an editor at the snack-free bar in the “Shining”-evoking Eleven Madison Park, reminded me how low mediocre can go. My first complaint will be my last: Maybe the cooks could take a little more time and get it right? My order of sad duck dumplings was ready before I had even finished paying.

Also, too, I’m too lazy to go into all the details here, but we had great experiences at Cafe 2 at MOMA and at Cafe Sabarsky at Neue Galerie, which is especially transporting after dark.

New York minutes/Early September 2010

The pretty good: Mermaid Inn in our neighborhood, where I met my consort after his Columbia lecture gig on one of those miserable nights Al Gore warned us were coming, when we had to flee our sweltering kitchen yet again. After hearing the din inside, I chose an outside table, and the breeze made it bearable. As did an excellent waiter. And a glass of rosé right away. My soft-shell crab sandwich with avocado and bacon and a scattering of fries was more than decent, and Bob’s trout was cooked right and came with excellent potatoes. As a friend had reminded us, though, the place makes its profits on the wine — it’s marked up way more than the food. WIGB? Anytime. 568  Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 4300.

The not bad: Land Thai, where we hooked up with friends on another night when our kitchens were furnaces and where we cooked up a plan as we waited on the sidewalk for a table — retreat to their place for more wine once we were ejected, as we inevitably would be. So we clipped through our meal, sharing a bottle of typically syrupy Torrontes plus excellent pea shoots with garlic and an entree of wok-charred squid with a superb spicy sauce (wisely racheted back to medium) plus a great rendition of pad see yew with beef, perfectly cooked duck and, unfortunately, pretty grim fried rice with salmon (it was like what you might whip up from a kitty bag with a bit of leftover fish). WIGB? Undoubtedly. It’s great value and a nice venue with a cheery staff and lively cooking. You just need a living room close by to retreat to for conversation. 450 Amsterdam near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.

The adequate: Papatzul in SoHo, where we stopped in while furniture shopping on a Sunday because we both remembered the price and a torta and were willing to forget Bob’s disappointing chilaquiles last time we were there. And that sandwich was pretty damn good once again, even though the cheese seemed more Oaxacan than Manchego; the balance of chorizo, avocado, beans and chipotle mayonnaise in crisp roll was nearly perfect. Bob, once again, got the corta end of the stick; his tacos with carnitas needed more something — salsa, vegetables? — to bring the huge mound of juicy (dare I say succulent?) meat into proportion with the four tortillas. We only drank water and signed up for the Tasting Mexico Passport on his iPhone to get 10 percent off the tab (plus a chance to win a trip to the land of the decapitated), so we walked out for less than $20 before tip. WIGB? Sure; the music was fabulous and the waiter was energetic and the price was right. 55 Grand Street near West Broadway, 212 274 8225.

The convenient: Canteen 82, where we headed for a quick lunch while rug mats were being cut at a store on Amsterdam. Although the place was nearly empty, cobwebs seemed to be forming on a couple with a baby in a stroller at another table, but our food came relatively fast, starting with a scallion pancake that was less incinerated than the one a friend and I shared last time. It didn’t taste much of scallion and the sauce didn’t taste like much of anything, but the latter did have a few shreds of ginger that we used to enliven the sesame noodles. Bob loves fried dumplings, so we had those instead of the soup kind, and I could only eat one; the filling was too porky for me. The salad, once again, saved the lunch, with mango, avocado, jicama and tiny tomatoes atop the greens. Even the dressing on that, like everything else, was surprisingly bland, and as yet another couple came in with a young kid, we realized why: It’s a cage for baby pork (as some restaurant in Spy once referred to holding pens for stroller rats). WIGB? I’d like to say no, but the room is much more appealing than any Chinese restaurant for miles. 467 Columbus Avenue near 82d Street, 212 595 4300.

The abysmal: Le Monde, where we met friends in from Chicago to drop off his baby at Columbia, where Bob was speaking late. The location and the idea of a sidewalk cafe had seemed ideal, but I guess our memories of the place were a little too misty-colored. We wound up sitting inside because it was so miserable outside, and our table was awkward, our waitress even more so (and neglectful to boot). Even worse, the food made me embarrassed for New York. I didn’t taste our friends’ entrees, but we all shared a salad made with anemic tomatoes (in August!) When was the last time you got butter pats in wrappers, all melted and chilled back together? My duck sausage was not cooked so much as fried into a chew toy (The Cat liked it fine next day), and the potatoes with it were an inch deep in salt (and I can eat salt straight). Bob’s steak was not-great chewy meat with oversalted sides, too. All of which would have been tolerable if we had maybe had a waitress whenever more wine was needed. WIGB? Bob will be up there constantly, but it’s dead to me. Surely there has to be somewhere decent to reconnoiter?

New York minute/Latish August 2010

The seriously good, again: Recipe, where my consort and I stopped in for a real lunch to fortify us before a picnic dinner in Riverside Park and where the best thing besides the food was the manager acting as if he didn’t recognize me after my overstaying at dinner. We ate the usual main courses — outstanding skirt steak with chimichurri and roasted potatoes etc. for me, roasted hen with farro etc. for him — after the bitter-sweet salad with grilled pancetta, walnuts and Parmesan and the beet salad with goat cheese and pecans. It’s the best lunch deal in town: $11.95. And would be worth it at twice that. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.

New York minutes/Early August 2010

The pretty good: Landmarc in Tribeca, where we wound up after the W debacle and after passing by and up Plein Sud because the menu posted outside looked (to Bob) too familiar and (to me) as if you could already see the cheap paper it was cheaply printed on crumbling after the place went under. (I hope I’m wrong; someone big liked it fine.) We got a window table downstairs and soon had an outstanding fontina and mushroom flatbread topped with arugula and crispy prosciutto in front of us, then half-bottles of white and red ($20 and $18 together seem like a deal compared with either a bottle or by the glass most places). My chopped salad was enhanced by hearts of palm, and his skirt steak with chimichurri sauce was flavorful if fibrous and came with decent fries. Service was great, view was good. And the four salty caramels with the check didn’t hurt. WIGB? Absolutely. 179 West Broadway near Franklin, 212 343 3883.

The pretty bad: RedBowl in Williamsburg, which we staggered into after a superb party nearby in a loft apartment with a backstage view of the Nas/Damian Marley concert against the Manhattan skyline and after our rube-like reconnaissance of the blocks around it. The basil pancake was surprisingly satisfying, but we made the mistake of listening to the distracted waiter about which of the duck main courses was best. The Cr should have been followed by ’appy rather than ’ispy; the $16 half-bird was really desiccated, even before it was blanketed in flour-tortilla-like pancakes with tired scallion shreds and sweet sauce. Usually one duck item on the menu is a warning. Now I know six are an Orange Level alert. Wine was $6 a glass, though, and the clean bathroom was very welcome before the ride home.

The bad except for the food: Toloache off Times Square, where we reflexively headed for a snack and glass of wine after the surprisingly good “Kids Are All Right” on 42d Street and where our punishment was dismissive service and delayed food. It wasn’t even full when we said we were two, but the hostess shunted us to the bar, which would have been fine if the bartender had not been in major hose-down mode, busier cleaning than tending to our order. While I sat watching the oven and what went into and came out of it. Only when Bob asked for a second glass did he check, and when the waiter sheepishly brought out the two plates, we both asked: How long was it sitting in the kitchen? He didn’t answer, and it was still warm enough not to send back, but still. The huitlacoche was as good as it always is, and the “costilla” with steak and chipotle BBQ sauce even better. But it was not a $60-plus-tip experience. WIGB? J’doubt it. Lots of new places are opening around there.

The we-put-the-din-in-dinner: Motorino in the East Village, where, luckily again, someone else was paying and where I left wondering how the waiters retain their sanity, let alone their hearing. We split the excellent “fire-roasted” mortadella with cherry tomatoes, basil, olives and pecorino, and it was about six universes away from the fried bologna I was envisioning (although the only way to eat bologna is fried, and fried crisp), then a pizza margherita and a special pizza with prosciutto and, if I remember right, burrata. I will never warm to wine in tumblers. Although now I wonder if those aren’t meant to be emptied and used as ear trumpets.

New York minutes, post-Istanbul

The seriously good: Recipe, again, where my consort and I headed shortly after he landed from his latest time-zone abuse, 10 days in North Carolina after at least that long in Istanbul and before that Phnom Penh and Ukraine. Our apartment is not only too hot to cook in, with half the windows plywooded over, but it always helps to reconnect on neutral ground. The great lunch prices also made it worth the short walk: $11.95 for my grilled calamari with two kinds of beans and cascading flavor, and a slab of sliced steak with potatoes, broccoli and green beans plus exceptional chimichurri (not just parsley and garlic but fresh oregano, cilantro, green peppers, celery and jalapeño Tabasco, the chef said when he stepped out of the kitchen and Bob grilled him). Bob scored just as well, with a little Nicoise-esque salad (olives, hard-cooked eggs, green beans, anchovies) followed by the roasted half-chicken with grain salad mixed with carrots and asparagus. WIGB? Anytime. Can’t believe it’s even in our neighborhood and not over in a certain borough. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.

The not bad: Mermaid Oyster Bar in the West Village, where three of us headed after the well-made but depressing “Restrepo” at Angelika on Saturday night and where we were lucky enough to snare the last bar table rather than wait two hours. The place was mobbed, but the staff was rolling with it — our glasses were kept filled with a Provencal rosé, and the busboy was quick to remove extra plates from the overcrowded table. Our food came too fast; my fries and the oysters in my otherwise fine $16 po’ boy could have been crisper. But everything tasted great (I didn’t try Pam’s fluke seviche with its “three-crab” sauce or Bob’s two kinds of raw oysters; Roy Blount Jr. and his “like swallowing a large baby” keep me away from those guys). The $20 crab cake was a big, meaty one with good tartar sauce, “whale” fries (potato slices), coleslaw and lettuce. WIGB? Probably, but only with a reservation. And an understanding that the huge markups on the wine underwrite the very affordable food. 79 MacDougal Street just above Houston, 212 260 0100.

The geographically correct: Canteen 82, where a friend in the neighborhood lured me on the one-week anniversary of my return to this tiny town from the mega-city on the Bosphorus. She loves it; other friends who live relatively close by love it. And it’s certainly better than any of the other dreary “Chinese” restaurants that don’t require braving the subway on a 95-degree Saturday. But the soup dumplings were underwhelming, and the Peking duck buns full of too-sweet meat (yes, she was right: ordering them was a mistake, but I was glad we didn’t get a dozen of the dumplings). The scallion pancake was crisp enough, and the green salad was a deal, for $6, with lots of vegetables and a paving of avocado slices over the top. But the service was ridiculously inattentive in a nearly empty room. And that breakfast/brunch menu of Western standards made me wonder if any kitchen could juggle hollandaise and special orders of slivered ginger without losing its way. WIGB? Probably. It is convenient, and Bob needs to taste for himself. But while it seemed like a deal, our lunch at Recipe was 35 times more satisfying for about the same amount of money. 467 Columbus near 82d Street, 212 595 4300.

The oops, I forgot: Stone Rose at JFK, where I ducked in to top off my tank after skipping lunch before getting trapped in the absurdly long security line at Delta (a whole fucking hour). I figured if I ate before boarding, I could sleep straight through to Istanbul, and that was exactly how it almost worked out, except the cheesy “steak flatbread” with pico de gallo seemed to expand in my stomach like a Houlihan’s special. Also, too, the portion was T.G.I.Friday’s outsized, and I ingested only a little and still suffered. I figured I would at least get a decent glass of wine from Rande’s cellars, but they were out of the NZ SV and I had to settle for chardonnay. WIGB? If I stupidly ever fly Delta ever again? All I can say is I was disappointed on heading to the gate to see I had missed a Chili’s. . . .

New York minutes/Late February 2010

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

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

New York minutes/Mid-December 2009

The womb-like: Beco in Greenpoint, where nine of us headed just for drinks after a friend’s gallery talk nearby and where the staff could not have been more accommodating, pulling together tables and handing us all menus drink-side up rather than taking umbrage at the prospect of no food tab. I ordered a $6 sauvignon blanc before realizing caipirinhas were the way to go. Four of us walked out to hearty thanks and shivered to the L close by wondering why we can’t have a place like that in our neighborhood. Of course, the answer is obvious: Ridiculous rents and stroller gridlock. WIGB? Absolutely. It was so pleasant, and the well-priced Brazilian menu looked promising. 45 Richardson Street near Lorimer, Brooklyn, 718 599 1645.

The when-did-it-turn-so-touristy?: Keens Steakhouse too close to Macy’s, where we rushed back from Brooklyn on a Sunday night to meet steak-craving friends literally just off the plane from India, Madagascar and Mauritius and where I’m surprised their heads didn’t explode from culture shock.  We were shunted to a table upstairs, a room that felt like an over-lit theme park, with unsmoked pipes on the ceiling and waiters, hostesses and other diners all snapping photos of grinning Middle Americans, but that was not the worst of it. I can’t recall service that unservicey in a restaurant where entrees are in the $40s — our guy spent most of the evening lounging against the bar after taking our wine and food orders. The Bugses split a $90 porterhouse, but my consort and I were overwhelmed by the $43.50 sirloin; we all shared decent creamed spinach and a big order of fries. (And there was a tray of gargantuan carrot sticks and celery stalks with olives and blue cheese dip in the middle of the table, another heartland touch, as were the mints at the door and $1 coat check fee posted on a brass plate at the checkroom.) We took most of our steak home, and it tasted just as odd sliced and seared next day. Maybe we’re just used to better beef everywhere these days, but this was downright peculiar. Do they store it too close to the mutton? WIGB? Not if you paid me. I don’t remember it being that bad, but then the last time I ate in the dining room I think was after 9/11 when I did a piece for the NYTimes on vintage restaurants thriving in a shattered city. Too bad you can’t eat the 1885 scenery.

New York minutes/Early October 2009

The good & good deal: Fairway Cafe, once again, where my consort and I headed unhesitatingly after he expressed an interest in satisfying food with cheap wine after the absorbing and haunting “Serious Man.” Hard to complain about a window table, a perfect hanger steak with fries for $21 and a fine Caesar, especially after the warm flatbread with herbed olive oil. The only downside is that $5 and $6 glasses of drinkable wines make it awfully hard to swallow gouging anywhere else . . . 2127 Broadway at 74th Street.

The Epago: Co. in Chelsea, where we ducked in early after our first High Line perambulation and where the message could not have been clearer — eat, pay and get (the hell) out. We were seated instantly, at one of the long, cramped communal tables, and we all but instantly had $10 tumblers of wine in front of us along with the $5 special “toast,” topped with greens and rendered prosciutto. We shared a radicchio salad with raw shiitakes and a few chunks of Taleggio, then a dainty pizza topped with, if the menu was to be believed, roasted cauliflower, bechamel, buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan, green olives, chile, garlic and parsley. One bite in Bob wondered, “How much do you think it costs them to make this?” And as satisfying as the charred crust was, it was hard to think the thing was worth $17. WIGB? Probably not. Keste is calling.

New York minutes/Late April/Early May 2009

The always good: The New French, where I guiltily went to re-calibrate my appestat after the Wednesday Greenmarket. A-plus for Cheddarburger, fries, rosé and service. Would have given my compliments to the chef on the way out, but he was doing what chefs so rarely do: Cooking his ass off at peak lunchtime. 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.

The not bad: Bar Artisanal, where I hooked up with my consort after the book party down below and where the pluses outweighed the minuses, maybe because the Boss Man was on the premises, in his whites. Manchego “beignets” were a rip, four little deep-fried dabs on long skewers for $9, but the $16 seared cod with cockles, chorizo and potatoes was actually big enough to share and the $15 tartiflette “pissaladiere” was a generous slab richly topped with lardons, potatoes and Reblochon. I had a half-glass of Brachetto at the bar while waiting ($7) and felt happier with a full glass of $9 Verdicchio at the table. The place looks pretty grand, but the hostess told Bob it was one restaurant one night and this one the next, so credit where credit is due. 268 West Broadway at Sixth Avenue, 212 925 1616.

The promising: Centrico, where I was a bad guest at a decent book party and where the passed apps and the margarita made me think, yet again, I have been remiss in never investing in a full meal there. Crab tostaditos were irresistible and the little meatballs . . . spicy. Bartenders were great; it was all almost enough to make me forget my one ignominious night cooking in the teeny kitchen there when it was 211, back in the last century. 211 West Broadway, 212 431 0700.