The good: El Paso Taqueria and Toloache, each in its own way. The former was our refuge after we realized Square Meal would be filled with fixed and scary rich bitches at lunchtime when we were looking for sustenance after the underwhelming Cai Guo-Qiang at the Guggenheim; the latter was our happy destination after the not-great opening at ICP (pretty bad when the best image is the actuality of Diane Keaton being photographed by cellphone). As always, El Paso came through with excellent enchiladas (red sauce, green sauce) if not solicitous service, while Toloache delivered superb pork tacos and huitlacoche quesadilla and a special crab salad well worth the $15, with splendiferous service. 64 East 97th Street, 212 996 17390; 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.
The not bad: A Cafe, where I met my consort after work on his co-worker’s recommendation and where it was hard to complain about anything when the service — one waiter totally on top of everything — was so amazing and the tab for three courses was $38 before tax and tip. BYO is a huge savings, but said waiter took the time to engage as he uncorked our bottle and stopped back repeatedly to be sure we were happy; when we asked for the leftovers (in foil swans) he even came back to be sure we didn’t want a sauce that would not survive the trip home. Bob and I split a grilled avocado, of which the less said the better (nirvana to me is half a Hass slathered with Hellmann’s), and then I just had the vegetable terrine, which was refrigerator-fatigued. The merguez with couscous, though, was outstanding, and lamb is far from my favorite meat. (The only good thing about it? It’s not deer.) WIGB? Maybe. I hear the neighborhood is better than it looks. 973 Columbus Avenue near 108th Street, 212 222 2033.
The adequate: Heights Cafe in Brooklyn, where I stopped for sustenance after interviewing a neighborhood resident who said the food most places was the shitz. He recommended Teresa’s two doors down, but on my most optimistic days I never have high hopes for Polish (don’t tell my in-law equivalents). This place looked great, and it was staffed like the first-class cabin of British Air. But I should have known a $10.95 crab cake sandwich would be mostly bread, between the filler and the bun. Still, the fries were pretty good, and the pickle was exceptional. And the room looked great. WIGB? Not in that big booming borough. 84 Montague Street, 718 625 5555.
The high: Suenos in Chelsea, where I led three friends after “Iron Man” at that nasty theater on 23d Street and where we all were almost blown back to the street by the pungency of geriatric fish as we stepped inside. Only the facts that it was late and nothing close by seemed reasonable kept us from fleeing, but Pam did actually get up and leave our booth to walk outside and see how funky it seemed on her re-entry. The place passed, so we split a bottle of too-fruity Torrontes and a bunch of appetizers and the staff was nice enough not to roust us even as it got later and later. Unfortunately, I think the best flavor experience was the black bean spread with cornbread that arrived gratis. Well, maybe the cute little beef taquitos and a “shrimp stack” of which I tasted only the garnishes. Plantain empanadas with goat cheese were molasses sweet, while the quesadilla with chayote etc. was misguided at best. Nobody finished the chilaquiles. And why do I suspect the webmaster is also the fish steward? WIGB? Not likely.
The medium-low: Anthos, where I steered the boss lady from the other coast for dinner and where the room, service and overall experience could not have been more ideal but where the cooking just refused to do what I promised. The menu read great; it was nearly impossible to decide which combination of mind-bending combinations to go for. The assorted pre-tastes were also enticing — of the four I only tried the cod tatziki and fried halloumi but was totally jazzed. The rolls were spectacular, to the point that I even felt compelled to taste the goat butter offered alongside a quenelle of regular butter (still can’t get into the dairy I was weaned on). I was even able to ingest the mini of lamb carpaccio. But my grilled quail appetizer was just okay, dry and not especially flavorful, redeemed only by the braised endive and fried halloumi underneath; turbot over fried oysters with cardoon etc. was just a Mormon marriage with none of the partners talking. Mme X’s sheep’s milk dumplings were the best thing we tasted: pungent but airy and paired with favas, peas and other complementary greenery. Unfortunately, the “milk fed” chicken with figs, walnuts and Metaxa sauce continued her Benoit losing streak. I came away thinking something I never have at Kefi: The best floor staff on the planet cannot compensate for an absent genius chef. WIGB? Unfortunately, my Lotto ship will not be coming in to make it possible. Entrees go for what a bottle of wine used to cost. Then again, that assyrtiko at $14 a glass was pretty easy on the “pallet.” 32 West 52d Street, 212 582 6900.