Latish June 2007

The pretty good: Rain, where friends who know from health horrors treated me and my broken self to dinner and where I thus was feeling more accommodating than usual despite being seated at an awkward table right under a speaker. My tea-smoked duck was fatty and not the freshest bird in the flock, but the portion was enough for three (and Banshee next day). The peanut sauce and chips on the table to start were fine, and my hosts seemed satisfied with everything foodwise (green curry chicken, lemongrass grouper) but the greenery in the summer rolls. The by-the-glass wine list is strange — I refused to spring for a $14 sauvignon blanc and wound up with an $8 Alsatian syrup before switching to a pinot grigio that was like water against the food. And the waiter seemed programmed to push wine refills, to the point that Kevin said: “He’s a bit of a dick, isn’t he?” Hard to argue with that. WIGB? Maybe, if I remember it’s there. 100 West 82d Street, 212 501 0776.

The seriously off: Spice in Chelsea, where I took refuge at lunchtime after the market on a Wednesday when Rosa Mexicano was full for the first time ever, Tarallucci & Vino was ditzed out and the relocated Markt was backed up like a sewer. Bad sign in an old favorite when the bar had been eliminated to pack in more tables. The waiter screwed up my order, delivering fried chicken dumplings rather than steamed vegetable, and the check arrived with no pen to sign it, while the many waiters wandered around distractedly. Worse, the duck salad off the regular menu was a diabetic coma waiting to happen. WIGB? Maybe. Got to support anything to keep it from becoming converted to a bank in this borough. 199 Eighth Avenue near 20th Street, 212 989 1116. [Latish June 2007]

Mid-June 2007

The good: Kefi, where we were able to reconnect after a school year apart and would have been thrilled with the noise level and good service even without the comped wine and appetizers. We both had excellent fish (the one thing Bob missed most in Middle Earth) and split the spreads, which were great although I have to admit they were outshone by the sausage/dumpling and grilled octopus starters on the house. And who knew a Greek rose would be so drinkable? We left the price of the bottle along with a better-than-20 percent tip and still got out for $80 cash. WIGB? Early and often. 222 West 79th Street, 212 873 0200.

The not bad: Five Front in Brooklyn, where four of us fogies wound up on a tip from an e-pal after a brain-cell-destroying hip-hop photo opening. I would have settled for a funky diner with crappy wine as long as it was quiet, but this turned out to be a surprisingly charming real restaurant with a garden, and even seated next to a birthday group ominously decked out in party hats we could still talk. I just had the $14 crab cake appetizer, which was huge, full of the essential ingredient and teamed with both a chipotle mayonnaise and decent guacamole. Bob passed me his special, too-rare-for-me tuna, and I also got a reassuring taste of the salmon. The bread arrived warm, the wines by the glass were adequate, and everything would have been wonderful if the kitchen had not been sooooo slow. WIGB? Maybe. Not much else around there. 5 Front Street, under the Brooklyn Bridge, 718 625 5559.

The just right: Fairway’s cafe, where we happened to land late after a movie and everything was working. They set a window table for us, got us our $5 wine immediately and good Caesar for me and excellent hanger steak with fine fries for Bob not long after. WIGB? When it’s on, that place is on.

The port before a storm: Neptune Room, where I took refuge in desperation at that odd hour of 4 on a weekend when it’s so hard to find real food. I got a table on the sidewalk, smart and personable service and a quartino of $7 verdejo and escaped just as the rain came pissing down. Who cared that the skate in my $13 sandwich was overbreaded and the basil mayonnaise had nil flavor? Even direct knockoffs of Pearl can’t get that right, and Neptune is clearly trying to be its own place. WIGB? Probably. Four o’clock will come again. 511 Amsterdam Avenue near 84th Street, 212 496 4100. [Mid-June 2007]

Early June 2007

The good: My friends, who have kept me fat and happily fed through the most painful experience of my life. I wasn’t out of the ER more than 12 hours before the first party; even Gary settled for pizza-and-salad delivery from Pizzabolla after I canceled our date at Maremma (and that was one serious tradeoff). Donna did a Zabar’s run for me one night and turned up on another with the most amazing crab, avocado, arugula and artichoke pesto sandwiches on grilled bread; the leftovers kept me going for days (Valerie brought the “I have a dream” hat with the Chimp behind bars). Monica imported jerk chicken from Beacon for one lunch and a little feast from Homespun Foods there another afternoon: trout salad, marinated mushrooms, olives and eggplant plus cheese and crackers. Next afternoon I was lurching home from an emergency consultation with my unnervingly youthful orthopedist when I ran into Susan just after she had dropped off an exceptional assemblage of chicken, orzo, olives and lemon, all in perfect harmony. Joanne brought bakery indulgences; Wally schlepped in from Brooklyn with a Greenmarket/co-op spread of grilled tuna, asparagus, potato salad and strawberries. Mme X arrived with two pounds of hand-selected See’s and later lured me out for a massive cheeseburger at Landmarc in the dread TWC, then somehow got me to walk all the way home, my most exercise in 10 days. But Don gets the purple heart for putting his life on hold and moving in the first two nights, inadvertently placing himself in the path of the breakdown that was certain to erupt. And he managed the impossible — he brought me just what I needed, guacamole and enchiladas from Gabriela’s with my Food Section gift card after first letting me cry myself senseless thinking food would make everything all better before conceding that for once its powers were limited. At least in the hands of friends it’s a whole other antidepressant.

The bad: The miserable puffy bitch at the Greenmarket on 97th Street who, when I hoisted my market bag onto the table to support it while picking out what I wanted to buy on our first encounter this season, jumped up and shrieked, “Don’t touch the strawberries!” I obviously had only one hand/arm free with the scary-bruised other in a sling and just said, “I’m sorry — I’m not very stable.” And she yelped again, through her pig lips, “I don’t care. Don’t touch the strawberries!” When a silly basket of berries warrants more concern than the walking wounded, you gotta wonder. I came home fruit-free and crying and realizing we don’t need the big Holy Foods opening on Columbus around the corner from the market. Assholism has already taken root.

The ugly: Percocet. No wonder Rush Limbaugh is a big, fat idiot. [Early June 2007]

Mid-May 2007

The adequate: Les Halles, where I took my littlest sister’s daughter and her husband when they wanted French and escargots at a reasonable price, all three increasingly difficult to find here in Beef City. This was my first dinner experience there since the expansion, and I have to say doubling the space has halved the magic; we could have been in an airport bar with a meat case. But it wasn’t crowded or deafening, and the waiter was attentive, and my duck confit was unobjectionable and my guests seemed very happy with their miniature snails and mushrooms on puff pastry, their paleron with bearnaise and pork tenderloin with garlic confit and potatoes. Then again, Zarah said she was recovering from food poisoning acquired at either Virgil’s or Tavern on the Green. This was a big improvement. WIGB? Inevitably. 411 Park Avenue South at 28th Street, 212 679 4111.

The good as usual: Tintol, where I ducked in after an opening of the amazing new shows at ICP and where my reward was an uncrowded bar and the perfect little supper — watercress salad with Cabrales and bacalao fritters (not quite perfectly fried). WIGB? Of course. That place is an oasis in the tourist circle of hell. 155 West 46th Street east of Times Square, 212 354 3838.

The adequate: French Roast, where I found myself starving on the way to Barnes & Noble and where I made the wrong decision on being told the vegetable croque would take 20 minutes. The special sandwich, carelessly grilled vegetables with alleged Fontina, was diner quality, as were the fries. But the waitress was efficient, the price was also diner level ($10.50) and the floor that looked pretty grody in daylight did get mopped while I was eating (I think that’s a good thing). WIGB? It’s too convenient for my own good. 2340 Broadway at 85th Street, 212 799 1533. [Mid-May 2007]

Early May 2007

The pretty good: Fatty Crab, where the friendliest, most efficient service ever compensated for fatty duck that was more chewy duck. Even the music was welcoming rather than head-banging. I went for an early lunch, and the one waiter was wrangling half a dozen tables while lavishing attention on all of us. The bok choy was also the best ever, and both the duck and the rice under it were seasoned and garnished perfectly. Only the meat was a problem. Ever since the first chef moved on, the best thing on the menu has become a challenge rather than an indulgence, and I can’t tell what has gone awry. I just know the fat and flesh resist rather than melt when you take a bite. WIGB? Yep. When it’s on, it’s on. 643 Hudson Street near 12th Street, 212 352 3590.

The not bad: Republic, where I finally succumbed in a weak moment after resisting for as long as it has been there and I have been going to the Greenmarket. I wanted something quick, there was a table outside, the waiter had water and a menu to me before I could reconsider, and I wound up wondering why I had resisted for so long. The curried duck noodles were better than dispiriting (as that kind of combination so often is), the wine was not shiver-inducing, and the waiter was almost scarily efficient (no notebook, three tables’ orders taken at once, all delivered with no problem). When I schlepped inside to the bathroom, one floor and 14 miles away, I remembered what had kept me at bay. I hate communal tables. WIGB? Eventually. 37 Union Square West near 17th Street, 212 627 7172.

The trying: Charm Thai, where I felt compelled to try a lunch because it is new and close but where I walked out $14 lighter feeling cheated, and that was with the tip. The duck salad came with a plethora of unannounced raw mushrooms, which I never eat since a morel dealer in Oregon told me 15 years ago that they can hatch spores in your gut, while the steamed dumplings were more like little diapers full of spinach and oddly funky taro. I couldn’t figure out how to eat them with fork or fingers, and no chopsticks were on offer, so I tried and failed. The place looks nice, and the waitress was pleasant (although an old guy across the room was losing it). WIGB? Probably. It’s too close for comfort. 722 Amsterdam Avenue near 95th Street, 212 866 9800. [Early May 2007]

Mid- to late April 2007

The good: Zoma, where a new friend steered me to my first Ethiopian in a quarter-century at least and where I discovered a whole new world a 15-minute walk away. She had sent me a link to the $25 and Under, which led me to expect a pretty bare-bones-to-funky joint. Instead I had the same reaction Gordon Ramsay did on reading truffles were nothing special: How jaded are they? The place was seriously sleek and smart-looking, especially the bathrooms. My friend ordered for us, a vegetarian combination for $17 with two spectacular spicy bean purees, a cabbage saute and one with green beans on ungreasy injera, and we split a rather lively California pinot grigio for $19. The waitress was attentive, and the noise level was not painful even when the place filled up with what looked to be monochromatic Columbia kids. WIGB? Can’t wait, but I’m leaving more time beforehand to go exploring. 2084 Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 113th Street, 212 662 0620.

The not bad: Bettola, where another friend persuaded me to meet her after she heard it was another friend’s favorite and where the wine and the sniffy waitress were the only drawbacks. Our shared pizza bianca, with mushrooms and truffle oil, was as thin and rich as a cheese crisp, while my green salad (di campo) was fine despite the paucity of cherry tomatoes (1 1/2 of the grape variety) and apparently AWOL basil. The vermentino, however, was both undistinguished and a stingy pour (once in a dirty glass) — but cost $9. Really, you could buy a bottle for that. And the service was of the woman-and-tip variety: which comes first? WIGB? Probably, but not when I’m thirsty. 412 Amsterdam near 79th Street, 212 787 1660.

The scary: Bistro Citron, where I made the mistake of stopping for a late lunch and do not want to consider why there was a yelling outbreak in the kitchen just before my burger arrived with a rip in it. It had taken so long I figured they were butchering the cow, but I guess they were just cooking the fries to death instead. I had remembered a big, juicy burger from a boozy night out with friends weeks ago, but this was big and bloody but weirdly hard and came with a slice of plum tomato so minuscule it was almost as if the cook was mocking me for wanting Cheddar when they only had Swiss. Worse, it cost $13, almost double what the great ones do at Fairway. The waiter was exceptional, though. And I did get to overhear two brink-of-60 women commiserating: “Yes, I open up my underwear drawer and there are my keys.” Chastity belts on their absent minds? WIGB? Unfortunately. It’s cursed with proximity. 473 Columbus Avenue at 83d Street, 212 400 9401.

The transporting: Subletea, where I stopped in for a scone to get rid of the taste of the curry doughnut I had succumbed to in Koreatown after skipping breakfast at home on my way to soak up rum. It’s a great corner cafe with communal tables, windows all around, magazines to read and a nice vibe and decor — it felt like Sydney. I didn’t have time for tea, but 36 were on offer. And while the scone might not have had much green tea flavor, the crustiness and the combination of coconut and currants made up for that. The sandwiches looked great, too. WIGB? If I find myself in that strange neighborhood again. 121 Madison Avenue at 30th Street, 212 481 4713. [Mid- to late April 2007]