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.

New York minutes/Mid-February 2008

The pretty good: Pegu Club, where seven of us met for early drinks on a Friday and could actually hear ourselves talk until about 9 in a second-floor space that really looks straight out of Hong Kong. Our social secretary, Julie, snared us a huge but snug booth near the bar and was waiting with a generous glass of wine, the sight of which made the $12 price tag much easier to swallow. (After extensive research, the Goldwater sauvignon blanc was more to my taste than the Joseph Drouhin Chablis.) We ordered not enough food, unfortunately, and I tasted only the good deviled eggs stuffed with trout and something strange; pulled-duck sliders with excellent filling, okay vegetable spring rolls and a bit of the exceptional tuna tartare. We had to sit next to Republicans, though, which was so unnerving that when I made some lame joke about the oceans and the fucker in the White House I thought the waitress was coming by to shush me. But that, sadly, was one of the few times she or anyone else in a dress voluntarily approached the table. A little more service would generate many more orders. 77 Houston Street near West Broadway, 212 473 PEGU.

The better than usual: Pearl Oyster Bar, where I went for my lunchtime fix of skate sandwich and where what seemed to be a new kitchen team was more surgical than on my last outing — the ciabatta was layered perfectly with just enough tomato and greens without huge globs of tartar sauce. The bartender was also new to me but was, as they always are, worthy of a starring role in a training video on service. Surprisingly if refreshingly, it was almost all solo diners on a rainy day and no one wanted to chat. But they still shared, if unwittingly: One woman was clearly on a POB orgy, starting with shrimp, then a lobster roll, then a butterscotch praline sundae, nearly licking the plates clean every time; a hungover guy almost had his head in his Caesar salad until his clams arrived and he snapped back to life. WIGB? Where else can you get two meals for one price? My consort had the other half of my huge sandwich for a late dinner. 18 Cornelia Street, 212 691 8211.

The promising: Madaleine Mae, where a friend and I had a magical lunch with snow showering down out the windows and where I swore I would never go for dinner but still found myself just four nights later, wedged into the next table. Kinks are still being worked out, but our food at lunch was well above Columbus Avenue standards — the seafood gumbo needed only a little Tabasco, the crab cake sandwich was very meaty and the mirliton fritters with roasted pepper aioli were so dangerously good we only tasted rather than risking a Mr. Creosote. Service was a little erratic, but it had just opened, and our waitress was ebullient if not totally attentive (Jonathan himself waved goodbye as we left, though). And the room is so seductive, with barely a trace of its time as Kitchen 82. I assumed it would be brutally loud at dinner, but Bob and I were due out of a movie at 7 and so I reserved. Noise was not an issue, and although the tables around us were antsy about the service, the waitress was surprisingly efficient, although she did need to be prodded to bring the bread trowel everyone else had gotten. So we tried those four breads and were underwhelmed by all but one sort of warm biscuit; the scone, second biscuit and cornbread were all cold and chewy, not light or flaky or airy. Wines were good again, starting at $8 a glass for red or white from Argentina. My nut-crusted redfish tasted as if it was at least as old as the restaurant, but the new-wave succotash with squash that came under it was vinegary and great. And Bob’s jambalaya was outstanding, rich but light and with the perfect balance of seafood and sausage to popcorny rice. It all just made us wonder why Jacques-Imo’s went out of business serving similar food five blocks south. I guess it needed the not-from-around-here crowd. . . . WIGB? Often, I suspect. 461 Columbus Avenue at 82d Street, 212496 3000.

New York minutes/Early February 2008

The good: Toloache, yet again, where eight of us and a 6 1/2-pound frog wedged into a tight table to run up a big bill with grasshopper tacos, ceviches, quesadillas and more after our friend Dr. Bugs’ taping on Stephen Colbert. Proximity to the studio was the main appeal, but the food and service came through, too. When we got there, after the car had delivered the two stars and the wrangler of one, the staff had already dealt with the weirdness and soon the wine, margaritas and food were flowing. I just had my usual huitlacoache quesadilla and some good (allegedly) spicy guacamole, but my consort ordered an amazing duck special in a green chile sauce, beautifully cooked and perfectly balanced. It’s a far cry from El Paso on 97th Street, where I had excellent chilaquiles with tomatillo sauce the day before, but it’s satisfying in much the same way. WIGB? Constantly, it seems. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The not bad: Regional, where my consort treated me to dinner on yet another night when I wasn’t up to eating let alone cooking and where he got what he deserved given that he was paying. My special of grilled eggplant, tomato and mozzarella was just what I should have expected in February, with undercooked eggplant and pathetic tomato, and my cod-fritter appetizer was fried to less than perfection although the fish itself was great. But Bob’s salad of arugula and plum tomatoes was the same satisfaction it always is, and his pasta with lamb ragu had so much of the latter that he had enough to make a work lunch with rice next day. The service was good, the bread and bean spread excellent as always and the noise level — fortunately for us, not so good for a restaurant trying to stay afloat — painless. WIGB? Why not? 2607 Broadway near 99th Street, 212 666 1915.

The dinery: French Roast, where I stopped after getting my stitches yanked and my jaw set free and where I was so ready for a great breakfast I would have been happy with three bites of anything painless. I wanted toast, bacon, eggs and home fries after a week of nibbling and gumming, but I settled for a huge omelet overstuffed with crisp bacon strips and soggy tomatoes and a little Gruyere plus a basket of baguette slices and butter and a few honkin’ huge potato chunks with ketchup. Walking from 86th and CPW to 85th and B’way just brought home how the Upper West Side is being eaten away by greed, though. Diners are disappearing as fast as bodegas as the banks and drugstores and nail parlors proliferate, but maybe this is the new template: Open 24 hours, cheaper than Artie’s, not as industrial and synthetic-feeling as the Greek places that manage to hang on, and with nicotine-free waiters to boot. WIGB? There may soon be no choice. . . . 2340 Broadway at 85th Street, 212 799 1533.

New York minutes/Early February 2008

The pretty good: Lunetta, where my consort and I stopped on a Saturday when we needed sustenance after the Greenmarket and I had limited options two days after surrendering two wisdom teeth. The hostess was great, some woman working the floor kept the water flowing and the waitress was trying hard, but it still took forever to get our food, to the point that I was panicking we would still be there at dinnertime. I also almost took a nasty dive on hitting a grease patch on the floor on my way to the bathroom. But all was forgiven once the respectable bucatini carbonara and superb chicken under a brick arrived. The first was rich and heavy on meat, with no fewer than two bay leaves and three sprigs of thyme to boot; the latter was gorgeously charred but still juicy. And we were home in plenty of time for an interview I’d scheduled. WIGB? Undoubtedly — there are far less attractive places to be stuck waiting for gummable lunch. 920 Broadway, 212 533 3663.

The pretty unsettling: Spain on 13th Street, where a friend arranged to meet me and another birthday girl who was craving old-style Spanish with sangria and paella and where she got half her wish anyway. They were already at the bar and well into the tiny glasses of red wine when I showed up, so at the bartender’s suggestion we all moved to three stools together and he brought the tapas with them (shrimp, limp patatas bravas and Eraserhead-worthy meatballs). I asked what kind of white wine he had and got: “White wine. Spanish.” No arguing with that, even when it was poured from a jug. As we ordered more rounds, he brought out respectable chorizo, then chicken wings awash in garlic sauce and finally three honkin’ slabs of tortilla. Just as the Chimp started blathering on the teevee, the place cleared out, he presented the check ($46 for 10 or 12 glasses, but who was counting?) and we realized paella was not an option. After seeing how gray the bones were on those wings, I wasn’t really disappointed.

New York minute/Late January 2008

The seriously good: Maze by Gordon Ramsay at The London, where my consort treated me on my birthday and where, by the end, we were both glad to have turned down a reservation in the “real” restaurant. I got there latish to find Bob ensconced at a quiet back table next to the door leading to the inner sanctum, and every time it opened we got a whiff of the dark side — stuffy and rich and coffin-ready. We had silverware excess enough, thank you very much. The whole experience was like being in a baby bistro in France. The sommelier happily steered us through the shoals of the wine list to a gruner for around $50 (“steely,” and he was right), and the waiter could not have been more engaging and encouraging. Even the crowd, heavy (literally) on Brits, acted mellow. We split six small plates at $12 to $16, and only one was a dud, the confit hamachi. The best was the apple-cured duck breast, sliced buttery thin and topped with frisee and crispy duck tongues on one side and a cube of over-the-top smoked foie gras with crunchy amaranth to prolong the flavor on the other. White onion veloute with duck ragout and shaved truffle was also obscenely good, as was the cod crusted with Iberian ham and set over a fricassee of artichokes, chorizo and mussels. Scallops with cauliflower puree and beignets were just as I pictured them, although beets with ricotta and pine nuts looked gorgeous but seemed a little too cheesy even for me. The bread tasted more like focaccia and did not need the excellent butter sprinkled with coarse salt. We passed on dessert but tried the truffles and peanut brittle that arrived with the beyond-reasonable check. I’m glad I ate the former last; the latter had been made with rancid legumes. WIGB? Without even waiting for an occasion. All the way home in the cab we talked about how we had talked all the way home in the cab about birthday dinners at twice or three times the price that were less than half as good. 151 West 54th Street, 212 468 8889.

New York minutes/Mid-January 2008

The good: Toloache yet again, where we stopped in after the excellent “Juno” for a snack and a little wine. We got our usual seats at the bar facing the oven where the woman chef who works like a machine turns out quesadillas etc. and split one with huitlacoche (superb as always) plus the tacos de pastor and de cabeza (with braised veal cheeks). WIGB? Anytime; the servers are good even when they screw up a wine order. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The bad: Nice Matin, where I stupidly retreated for a late lunch and found myself surrounded by fixed Upper East Siders, so I should not have been surprised that the prices are up and the quality is down. The crab salad, which was always borderline exquisite, arrived this time as a big mound of mayonnaise-drenched lump crab topped with half a sliced avocado on a few greens with asparagus sliced the long way and a few little nubbins of raw vegetables. The waitress was overwhelmed, no bread was ever served and the whole experience felt like a diner with scarier patrons (we need an immigration wall through Central Park). WIGB? Fool me one last time. . . .

The overpriced: Buceo 95, where we met a friend just to try something new and where it might have been a little too new — the smell of varnish was still so fresh it overwhelmed the wine. Which was no small consideration given that the quartino of Quincy from the Loire was $13 (and why does wine portioned that way inevitably feel like a rip?) The kitchen also seemed to be finding its way: The bacalao in cucumber cups ($12!) was undersoaked and so very chewy, while both the chopped Mediterranean salad and the albondigas were mediocre at best. Only the slow-roasted pork with potatoes on what looked like little soft nacho chips (billed as a mini-wrap) was anything special, and that only by comparison. The olives and oil served with the bread were lively enough, though. As for the sound system blaring techno music, it seemed to be tuned into a hair salon. WIGB? For the hospitality and to try the cheese plate, maybe. It’s slim pickings up this way. 201 West 95th Street, 212 662 7010.

The slightly off: Chola, where I met a friend for a long winy birthday lunch and where the usual mob seemed to be taking an unusual toll. We never got vegetable fritters to start; I had to ask for bread (and it was not as good as it normally is). But we had a great table and easy access to all that wine, and the buffet was outstanding as always if a little too familiar from my last visit. WIGB? Not on a Thursday for a while. 232 East 58th Street, 212 212 688 4619.

The surprising: The cafe at the Cooper-Hewitt, where we only had restorative caffeine between the great Gus Powell show at the Museum of the City of New York and the spectacular Ingo Maurer lighting show upstairs from our table overlooking the garden. I didn’t try my consort’s tea, but my huge cappuccino was, amazingly, perfect (for $3.85). The salads, sandwiches and wines by the glass also looked worth a return visit for whatever exhibition comes next.

The painful: BXL Cafe, where we ducked in for a drink after a totally pretentious ICP opening down the block and where the din was at CIA torture level. We only split an order of seriously slopped-out calamari before fleeing. WIGB? Never after dark.