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.