New York minutes/Late April 2008

The pretty good: Pudding Stones West, where I met my consort for an early dinner to escape my own kitchen and where we had a surprisingly great experience, despite the views (huge piles of garbage bags in Bob’s line of sight, a funeral home where we saw off a friend and neighbor in mine). In a million lifetimes I would never have expected a pretty sophisticated wine bar with outdoor seating to open on that — or any — stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, so I would have been happy with just a couple of glasses and a decent snack. But the hummus with warm pita was outstanding (if a tiny portion) and both my Caesar and Bob’s goat cheese and roasted beet salad were spiffy-looking and great tasting. The waitress was excellent, the wines were decent pours (although of the four we tried, two were just slightly past their prime) and even the kid at a nearby table was behaving — mostly because his parents were slipping him a little red every so often. WIGB? Absolutely. The serious food looks enticing, too. 635 Amsterdam at 91st Street, 212 787 0501.

New York minutes/Mid-April 2008

The good: Square Meal, where we finally lucked in on a Saturday night and only realized why when we saw so much Passover food on the menu. On the plus side, the place never filled up, so the din a friend had warned me of never had a chance to build to bedlam level. On the minus side, chicken liver pate with matzoh is not my idea of bread and butter. But my consort loved his roast “organic/kosher” chicken with potato latkes. I was happy with airy/crispy fried “Thai” calamari on an Asian pear and Meyer lemon slaw, and we both were impressed by the “Boston ’n buttermilk” salad, with its delicate balance of leaves and dressing with tiny croutons and bacon bits. We almost never order dessert, but Bob got kid’s eyes over the ones being served all around us, so we succumbed to a pretty decent coconut cream pie. It’s BYO, and I had a great red left from a magazine story, so we got out for $55 before tip. Bonus points for the look of the place, which is sleek but homey, and for the staff, all total pros and a real team. As the neighbor who tipped me off to the Yura enterprise put it, “It’s special.” And considering where it’s located, it really is. WIGB? Hope so. 30 East 92d Street, 212 860 9872.

The not bad: Pasita, a Venezuelan wine bar where we wound up after the devastating “Body of War” at IFC. The long, narrow room was nearly empty on a Monday night, and the server spent most of the evening reading at the bar, but the food came fast and the wine pours were more than generous for $9. A pizza would have been the way to go, judging by the brick oven, but we just split a “cremosa” salad with iceberg lettuce, avocado, red onion and tomato with a creamy pepper dressing, and, at the child-for-a-night’s insistence, “tequenos,” described as cheese puffs dusted with cumin but actually more like mozzarella sticks with a great green salsa. My Los Andes Torrontes was outstanding, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising in a place whose slogan translates as “happiness in a bottle.” WIGB? Absolutely. 47 Eighth Avenue near West Fourth Street, 212 255 3900.

The not awful: Ostia in the West Village, where I stupidly suggested we repair when the one table open at Centro Vinoteca after an early book party seemed to be in an especially deafening level of aural hell. Of course as soon as we sat down and ordered wine I realized we were trapped next to something worse: a big table of braying Euro-holes. But the poor waitress was so mumbly-shy we stuck it out to share some decent grilled shiitakes and an obviously made-to-order tortilla (never a good thing). That and three glasses of wine cost fifty bucks. WIGB? Not likely.

New York minutes/Mid-April 2008

The weirdly good: The New French, where I met my office-bound consort when he was looking for a sidewalk cafe experience without the chill and bus fumes and where we could have been in a whole other city. BYOB Philadelphia with the convenience of a wine list, say. The place looks rather bare-bones, with an open kitchen and a deliberately crudely written menu, but it had personality to spare. We got a great table by the window and really satisfying food: a pulled pork sandwich with excellent fries (all of $9.75) and a pizza bianca topped with crispy duck, pickled onions, arugula and radishes ($8.50). We didn’t need the huge green salad I also ordered, which was lucky because the top-grade leaves were drenched in dressing. The service is best described as offhand but attentive; the waitresses could keep the good cheap wine flowing. WIGB? Very happily, assuming it’s not overrun. 522 Hudson Street near 10th, 212 807 7357.

The oddly off: Pearl Oyster Bar, where for the first time ever I had fries that seemed to be begging for Viagra. Their limpness made me hypercritical of the skate sandwich; I actually looked inside the ciabatta to be sure it was hiding fish. As always, though, the place was transporting, the bartender/waitress exceptional. After all, as I overheard when a woman wanted only three fried oysters rather than half a dozen, “It depends on the chef who’s on.” I left happy to take my chances again.

The geographically convenient: Mermaid Inn uptown, where we headed after realizing walking home that the popcorn from the really superb “La Zona” at Lincoln Center had worn off too fast on a Sunday afternoon. We had the place almost to ourselves just after 5, and apparently the kitchen got there later, too, because our food took forever. Luckily, my meal was fine: striped bass with a huge mound of lentils and heap of spinach. Bob’s whole roasted dorade seemed just past pristine but was still satisfying. A glass of Spanish white cost what a bottle does over at Gotham, though. WIGB? Undoubtedly. It is close by and cheaper than Docks. At least for now.

The port in a storm: Lucky Strike, where we fled the Umami bullshit at halftime and, luckily, ordered fries with our wine. Because of the scheduling screwup, that was our dinner on a Saturday night. And, luckily, they were good if not great, and the bartender automatically brought mustard along with ketchup, which definitely helped. The place was packed as we left; I don’t know why I never think to go there unless I’m desperate. Maybe it’s the too-thick tumblers for the wine. 59 Grand Street east of West Broadway, 212 941 0479.

New York minutes/Early April 2008

The not very good: The Smith, where I headed for lunch in despair of finding anything interesting to the west of the Greenmarket on a Wednesday and where my reward was a seriously sorry fish sandwich after a very long wait. I ordered it because the fries across the room looked great, and they were. But the fish was soggy, the bun pathetic (cotton balls are sturdier) and the promised romaine looked as anemic as iceberg. Whatever the promised sauce was proved to be equally undistinguished (well, indistinguishable, actually). And I only found that out after the woman at the next table who was ordering when I sat down was completely finished. I think the cook had to go out and catch the disappearing cod. But the tumbler of viognier was actually seriously good (and $8), and the waiter was excellent. WIGB? Maybe. Not everyone can shop and fry like Pearl. 55 Third Avenue near 11th Street, 212 420 9800.

The not awful: Le Monde, where I made the mistake of stopping during brunch service and the bigger mistake of ordering something besides eggs and home fries and where I left wondering why I go out for lunch instead of cooking what I really want at home. The grilled vegetable sandwich had not a trace of the olive mayonnaise mentioned on the menu, and if that was mozzarella it had been put through a prosciutto slicer. The fries with it were limp, greasy and lukewarm. Why didn’t I send it back? Because it took so long to get in the first place. The waiter was hustling, though, and the place always has a good vibe. WIGB? Eventually. There’s not much competition. 2885 Broadway near 112th Street, 212 531 3939.

The understaffed: Gallo Nero, where three of us headed after an ill-fated presentation at ICP (shut up and show, someone should have yelled to the moderator). The busboy was super-efficient, so we had water, crusty rolls and bean spread almost immediately, but the one waitress was overwhelmed, and not just by the tightness of the tables. I tasted the octopus, which was tender but still creepy, but took my share of the mushrooms on crispy baguette, romaine salad with roasted pepper and avocado (overdressed but still good) and arugula salad with apples and goat cheese. We also split a plate of roasted peppers, prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella, which I hope was domestic. I ordered the same white twice and got two completely different tastes, but it was hard enough to get them that I just shut up and drank. WIGB? Probably. The prices are great, the room is really pleasant and the bathrooms are a train trip. 402 West 44th Street off Ninth Avenue, 212 265 6660.

New York minutes/Late March/beginning of April 2008

The good: Gallo Nero, where I met a friend for lunch after finding a promo card in our doggie bag from Film Center Cafe. The place was so new you could smell the wood, but the kitchen was clearly settled in. We split only small plates: fine meatballs in pesto (where has that combination been all my life?), sauteed mushrooms on crisp toast with melted cheese, and beautifully fried calamari, zucchini slices and shrimp. The one letdown was our own damn fault — when the engaging Albanian waiter came back to say the kitchen had no buffalo mozzarella for the platter with prosciutto and roasted peppers, we insisted on substituting grana padano. Close but no mozzarella, and the peppers were pallid. But the warm roll was satisfyingly crusty and came with a nice bean puree, and the wines from an extensive list were poured by the quartino, and the waiter knew them all well. Also, the room is charming, the low-slung chairs so comfortable I wasn’t hobbling when I stood up and the bathroom as cozy as one on a train. WIGB? Soon, I hope. 402 West 44th Street west of Ninth Avenue, 212 265 6660

The not awful: Zamba, where my consort and I wound up for lunch after our usual Saturday morning run to the Greenmarket and Chelsea Market and after I had done a quick run through Menupages to see what might be escaping my notice in a neighborhood where I almost spend more time than I do around home. We snared two seats at the bar and had plenty of time to study the very cool design — you could imagine yourself in Torino if not for the crowd, which Bob immediately sized up as “Upper East Side but younger” — because the bartender’s efficiency seemed to be hobbled by his struggle to keep his low-slung pants from falling off his underpants. If not for my outstanding $10 glass of grillo, we could have been eating in a diner, though. My shiitake, taleggio and arugula sandwich with truffle oil was so rich it was almost queasy-making, even for this Mrs. Sprat, while Bob’s grilled eggplant with mozzarella and arugula was only redeemed by the tapenade spread on the focaccia in which it was grilled. Both came with a surprisingly lively little chickpea salad. WIGB? Maybe. Not much affordable around there, and the chalkboard wine list is long and enticing. 306 West 13th Street west of Eighth Avenue, 212 205 0601.

The well-situated: Chop Suey, where I lured Bob after his class at ICP both for proximity’s sake and because I remained curious after rejecting it for lunch with a fussy friend, and where we both didn’t really care about not-great food at inflated prices simply because the view of Times Square actually makes the middle-American armpit of New York look alluring. It was just after 8, so we got a great four-top looking in three directions, including toward several tables of “Sex and the City” wannabes. The less-than-wonderful scallion cakes were redeemed by an Asian pear mostarda, while the char siew roast pork was leathery and mostly noodles. Easily the best choice was the tofu hot pot, which had great flavor and sublime texture. Wine is served by the quartino, and we each nursed ours at $13-14 apiece. WIGB? When I hit the lottery, maybe. The bill with tip was $92 for three appetizers, two glasses. Renaissance Hotel, 47th and Seventh Avenue, 212 765 7676.

The transporting: Buzina Pop, where Bob and I took refuge after bailing on a free dinner with potentially boring strangers in the same neighborhood and where we found ourselves feeling far, far from Upper East Side stuffiness. He’s been to Brazil, I haven’t, but he said it felt very familiar to him; the stools at the booths across from us were made from tin cans, the curtains had boots imprinted in the design, a little shop in the corner of the second-floor dining room sold crafty things. We got there at the magic hour, just before it filled up (by about half Brazilians) and got loud, but at our little table by the window it was easy to talk if not read the menu (larger print or much bigger candles, please). While we were deciding, two rounds of salt cod fritters were laid on the table, followed by excellent warm bread with superb herbed olive oil. We split an order of exceptional crispy calamari set over arugula in tomato sauce, then a salad of arugula, endive and grana padana and an order of manioc gnocchi that were like eating flavored air. The very charming waiter kept our glasses refilled at $9 a pop, and we were out before the human larva toted in by the Carrie wannabe could start to howl. WIGB? If I found myself in the vicinity with a flashlight, absolutely. As we realized, it reflects a neighborhood changing as foreigners invest. And that is all to the good. 1022a Lexington Avenue near 74th Street, 212 879 6190.

The reliable: Pearl (even when the chowder is a little salty and the clams a little MIA, lunch there is an antidepressant, especially with a friend willing to share a Caesar, a fried oyster roll and those great fries) and Rosa Mexicano on 18th (even when I order the wrong enchiladas and get essentially wet vegetable tacos).

New York minutes/Late March 2008

The surprisingly good: Madaleine Mae, where my consort wanted to go on a rainy night for the novelty factor and where the food seemed to have come from a new kitchen. The spinach salad I warned him against was actually nicely balanced and perfectly dressed, although we agreed that baby spinach is no substitute for the full-grown thing. And the arctic char with dirty rice was shocking: fresh fish cooked juicy over really rich and flavorful rice (one of my least favorite starches). Even the biscuits were almost right. The waitress recognized me from my last visit, the hostesses could not have been more charming (they found an umbrella in the back for diner who lost his) and the noise level was perfect, maybe because the place was two-thirds empty on the night it was reviewed favorably. WIGB? Happily now. 461 Columbus Avenue at 82d Street, 212 496 3000.

The unsurprisingly good: Pearl Oyster Bar, where we were able to get a table fast on a Monday night when I couldn’t face dishes, and a table in the quiet back, and where everything was as perfect as always. The striped bass special came with brussels sprouts and bacon, and my superb crab cake appetizer-as-entree was big enough for leftovers after we split a Caesar. I am surprised I never noticed wine is priced the same by the glass and by the bottle, which makes life easier for everyone, especially a couple usually split between red and white. WIGB? Anytime, even though I had sworn off dinner. 18 Cornelia Street, 212 691 8211.

The adequate: Film Center Cafe, where six of us headed in search of relatively cheap food and relative quiet after a little stint in the bitter wind in Times Square watching my consort’s amazing handiwork briefly showcased on the sides of two buildings. We got a big table in the back that wasn’t too noisy but was too easy for the waitress to forget, but at least she was efficient when she did swing by. I had crab cakes again, and they were redeemed by their sauce although the ratio of crab to potato filler was about one to six. Not realizing they came with a nice little salad, I ordered a big mixed salad that we wound up taking home along with Bob’s leftover Caesar with salmon. With three bottles of wine, we got away for $75 a couple. Pretty sad when that seems reasonable. WIGB? Maybe, although there have to be better choices on Ninth these days. 635 Ninth Avenue near 44th Street, 212 262 2525.

The invitation-only: The Core Club in Midtown, where Bob and I were among a dozen guests for a friend’s evening of birthday debauchery, courtesy of her newish consort. Apparently people pay $75,000 just to join, $20 for a drink. But they do get truffle oil on their popcorn and great seasoning on their bar nuts in a rather dramatic space, with huge chunks of modern art hung all about and a long hallway lined with lavish bathroom stalls the size of studio apartments. Given the rowdiness of our crowd, and all the bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir, the private dining room was crucial. As for the set meal, the chef started out working at Union Square Cafe and was hired on by Tom Colicchio, and it showed. Our amuse was a nice little quenelle of smoked salmon tartare, then we had a choice of beet salad, tuna carpaccio or crabmeat “croquettas.” I chose those, and they tasted great, although the oozy center was a little odd — imagine Jean-Georges’ molten chocolate cake made with seafood. Or don’t. The carpaccio was a roll the size of a pony penis — some incorrigible guest said, with editing — but the winner looked to be the salad: a gorgeous composition with goat cheese, blood orange and candied pecans. I picked the pan-roasted wild striped bass for my entree, a great slab of perfectly cooked fish laid over braised brussels sprout leaves with pancetta and hazelnuts, and my consort made me taste his excellent crispy, juicy square of roasted suckling pig. The birthday cake looked and tasted homemade. I’m not sure if that was intentional — Champagne was involved. WIGB? I couldn’t afford to. Plus we may be banned for life.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2008

The I-Gotta-Start-Planning-Better: Youzan, Alouette, Rosa Mexicano, Whym and Pio Maya: Whoever described going out to dinner as a 90-minute solution to a 30-minute problem was talking my week. Forget why that was, but we/I had one crappy experience after another just because my consort was stressed and I was both stressed and unwilling to pick up the sponge after one recipe-testing bout worse than the last. Youzan I thought would make Bob happy because he loves Asian food more than I do Mexican, but he instantly noticed how the space feels just like evil Gabriela’s with a Japanese menu. He got some grim sushi thing, I ordered a teriyaki salmon thing that reminded me why I have not wanted to eat Japanese in the 24 years since I last encountered that leathery fish. Alouette was pretty much a disaster on every level except the one for which I chose it: Nice, quiet, cheap wine, pleasant atmosphere. This was a Monday night, so the staff were happily talking among themselves, and to call the service offhand would have been overstating it. Bob’s scallops with spinach and mystery potato puree were fine, but my “duck confit salad” appetizer comprised shreds of geriatric meat on a little pile of frisee. I pushed the funky meat aside, tasted his entree and paid $75 for that little bit plus two glasses of wine each. As we left, not a word. Rosa? I have to remember never to agree to a table in the back room on 18th Street at Wednesday lunch when I go for my queso fundido fix. The bright sunlight showcases the grime on the glasses, the waitron is always distracted, I always and inevitably get so angry I would walk out except it ain’t that easy with a heavy bag from the market. QF was fine, though, and the waitress went into kowtowing overdrive once she realized she had bowed to another table of two broads who had arrived after me and wanted to babble on while I stewed.

Whym at least was the right refuge at the right time — we were six leaving the OSI photo opening around the corner, and at least we could all hear each other even if the air was a little on the fried side. Bob’s salad of salmon over greens was decent, but I was walking wounded next day after greens with cheesy dressing. The price was right, though. As for Pio Maya, shoot me, which I think is exactly what Mr. Sacha was ready to do after we wound up there after the Greenmarket on Saturday after finding Elettaria not open for brunch and before realizing he had to get to a Story Corps interview way downtown so fast. The funky little place I remembered has turned itself into more of a cafe, but shoving the steam table into the kitchen has clearly set it back big time. My chorizo torta was not great (stale roll, architect in absentia), but Bob’s chicken salad comprised a few strips of bizarrely orange protein on a tiny mound of romaine and chopped vegetables. I tasted the protein only out of curiosity and thought it could have been fish. Maybe dried. Possibly rehydrated. $12.98 total? Overpriced.

I really have to start keeping a notebook again. Surely things are not as bad everywhere as they tasted. . . .

New York minutes/Middish March 2008

The not awful: Zipper Tavern, where we retreated in the sheeting rain after an excellent Camera Club opening upstairs of really evocative work by one of my consort’s students from Piemonte. The food was mostly just okay — a decent if odd salad of beets, peas, mizuna, hard-cooked eggs and corn offset by flavor-light empanadas filled with alleged duck confit — but the wineglasses were well-filled for $7 each (albarino, tempranillo). The waitress was harried but attentive, the noise level was less than abusive and it was the right place at the right time. The decor, however, reminded me of Grandma’s Place in Tallinn, where the owner admitted every theatrical detail was bogus. WIGB? It’s cheap, it’s convenient. 336 West 37th Street, 212 695 4600.

The fading fast: Madaleine Mae, where it was hard to believe a kitchen could descend to slopping out food in so few weeks. I went alone for an early dinner while Bob was chained to his high-tech work station yet again, and it was light enough to read, quiet enough to think. The hostesses were certainly friendly, the busboys were solicitous, the waitress was not a ’tron and the room was as charming as always. I was even wishing I’d ordered real food after finding the biscuit was improved if not perfect — it had the desired flakiness if not the airiness. But both my appetizers were huge letdowns. The thin johnnycake was overlaid with lots of smoked salmon, but the stingy schmear of creme fraiche or sour cream or whatever under it had melted away to grease. And the spinach salad came drenched in oily dressing, with a few flecks of bacon and only a handful of tiny roasted mushrooms to redeem it. I don’t know why I was surprised when a friend told me P.J. Clarke’s is behind the joint despite the Waxman connection. (I guess I gotta start trying to untangle the knotty prose crammed into DI/DO’s restaurant “column.”) WIGB? Maybe. It’s in the neighborhood, and said friend had a great time at the bar. But it says it all that the hand-dryer in the bathroom didn’t even work, and the staff must have known it because there was a pile of paper towels under it. One month and the place is falling apart?

The transporting: “The Grocer’s Son” at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. I went to the God’s-waiting-room showing at 3:15 and got to hear the filmmaker speak before and after (one question from the audience: “Since it’s a French film, why does it take the couple so long to get into bed?”) He did his research by making three documentaries on mobile epiceries, and he really recreated a small world. Of course what I liked best was buying popcorn beforehand and asking the counter clerk what was in the plastic bag lying on top of the kernels under the heat lamp. “Brioche. They taste like nothing unless you heat them.” Leached plastic notwithstanding, the popcorn was as satisfying as the movie. It opens in America in May.

New York minutes/Early March 2008

The painfully slow: Community Food and Juice, where the hostess ushered me to the bar without offering a table when I showed up alone at lunch and where I could barely stand after teetering on the bone-contorting stool while waiting just short of forever for food in a half-empty room. Forget my glass of wine — I was worried I was going to finish my book before a simple fluke sandwich arrived. It wasn’t bad, although it was about four universes away from the Pearl rendition. The fish was very fresh but all out of balance with the bread and lettuce, and the sauce on it literally dripped. It came with a little bit of good coleslaw and a few tasteless zucchini pickles for $13, no extra charge for bloat; I would have been better off dropping $4 on my Metrocard to spend $3 more on Cornelia Street. On the plus side, the bartender was excellent, even explaining when she saw my look of horror as she handed me menus that she was wearing her gross rubber gloves because she was about to cut lemons. WIGB? Maybe, but not when I’m in a hurry or hungry. The ingredients and organic wines are well sourced. 2893 Broadway at Columbia, 212 665 2800.

The painfully raucous: Les Halles, where two friends and I headed in desperation after being shunted to the bar at Resto and where we realized too late that we should have stayed shunted. Everyone at Resto was eating the burger, which looked good even to me, and I’m off beef for the foreseeable future. But the heat was blasting on us, and we were at the bar, so we headed around the corner after one friend went ahead to be sure a table was available. Of course it was one between two groups of what the place attracts after dark: testosterone-overloaded jackasses, so we could barely hear each other and the waiters couldn’t hear for shit — first they brought one steak frites cooked not to order, then they brought a muscat after saying a muscadet was available. Our new Sicilian almond-growing friend seemed underwhelmed by his food; I couldn’t see my duck confit with one tea light on the four-top, so I kept hacking off hunks of fatty skin rather than meat. It seemed more roasted than confit, so I was very glad I was not up-sold into taking the special choucroute for $5.50 more. WIGB? Maybe for lunch, but not for a good long while.

The relatively comfortable: Regional, where three of us took a birthday girl who lives around the corner and where we at least could talk and not get gouged. My baked pasta with leeks and mushrooms was shy on the vegetables and pretty dry, but it did soak up the vermentino. WIGB? Location, location. 2607 Broadway near 98th Street, 212 666 1915.

New York minutes/Late February 2008

The pretty good: Kouzan, where every hint of the place’s previous occupant has been eradicated. That would be enough right there to recommend it, but I managed a nice lunch even though Japanese is almost my least favorite cuisine. I had a really fresh and lively green salad and exquisitely fried vegetable tempura (carrot, broccoli, onion, eggplant and I think taro) for all of $6.95, plus a good glass of California sauvignon blanc. The waitress was beyond efficient even while dealing with typical neighborhood old cranks. WIGB? Happily. 685 Amsterdam Avenue at 93d Street, 212 280 8099.

The not bad: Land Thai, where I wound up after remembering too late that Saturday lunchtime is egg hell and my options were totally limited. As always, the service was snappy, the $9 sauvignon blanc was a big pour and the cooking was adequate — I just had the lunch special with spring rolls (fried a little too long) and a vegetable medley (with rubbery tofu) and was satisfied, although I realized it’s a bad idea to eat there when staff meal is about to be consumed. What was laid out for them looked a whole lot more interesting than anything on the menu. WIGB? Inevitably. 450 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.

The aging well: Spice Market, where I retreated after wandering the meat district in search of a new French place and getting repelled everywhere by all the packettes of women who seemed to have stepped off the “Sex in the City” bus tour (be warned: I overheard one insisting Fig & Olive is a must stop, and it was jammed at the very unfashionable hour of 6:30). My food was mostly excellent, but I was most impressed by the staff — the host offered to take my coat and showed me to a nice table facing the kitchen, the waitress who was training a newbie was as attentive as the busboys were solicitous and the coat check “girl” actually asked if I’d enjoyed my dinner. The $9 green papaya and apple salad was enough for four people, a really lively, crunchy mountain of fruit flecked with candied ginger and cashews. The crispy skate was slightly overbattered, but the fish was clean-tasting and the airy cilantro sauce with it exceptional. The basket of pappadum with a spicy dip was a great starter, and wines at $9 and $10 are fairly priced. I left thinking it didn’t look so much like Pier One anymore. 403 West 13th Street, 212 675 2322.

The already slipping: Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, where I stopped for an early dinner at the bar while my consort was working yet again and left thinking what I ordered was described backward on the menu. It should have been Old Bay fries with lobster sandwich. The thing reminded me of what I had just read the protagonist in Richard Russo’s LOL “Straight Man” was served by his stingy mother: two slices of white bread barely glazed with pimento cheese spread. This was a hefty brioche bun filled with about six forkfuls of lobster with only rubberiness as proof that it was indeed the billed seafood; there was zero sweet flavor. The decent fries were heaped over it like a duck blind, as if even the chef realized it was a rip for $24. But the bartender was an excellent waitress, the gruner was good and good value for $9 and at that hour the place was nice and quiet. WIGB? Probably. Amsterdam ain’t exactly the West Village.