Recently, I ran into a colleague who was planning her birthday dinner. She had tried to get a table at Asia de Cuba (237 Madison Ave.; 212-726-7755), but nothing was available for two months. In a show of largesse, the reservationist had conceded that in six weeks the "sharing table," which seats 34, might have space at 5 P.M. That was a little too much sharing for her, my friend said. So I suggested Quilty's (177 Prince St.; 212-254-1260).
The SoHo restaurant is named for a character in Lolita, but that's about it for Nabokovian allusions. What you find is an attractively spare (sometimes clamorous) room that counterbalances Katy Sparks's ebullient food. Her duck confit and walnut empanada has enough zip to remind you that she spent time at Mesa Grill and Bolo. I happily return for her update on oyster stew: oysters spiked with Gewürztraminer, perked up with green grapes and nestled in root vegetables. The wine list, with such unusual bottles as a Horton Vineyards Viognier from Virginia, also sets a festive mood. My colleague called to thank me for recommending Quilty's, but I told her to thank the reservationist at Asia de Cuba first and Sparks second.
Not long ago, old ac-quaintances from Paris called to say that they would be in town soon and wanted to go with me to Le Cirque 2000 (455 Madison Ave.; 212-303-7788). When I phoned the restaurant, however, I was surprised to find that although it was midwinter I couldn't get a table until early summer--130 days away by my count. I checked my datebook and saw I had no dinner engagement that evening, but by then my guests would have been gone for 104 days. Instead, I booked a table at Union Pacific (111 E. 22nd St.; 212-995-8500).