Back to the basics

I wish I could tell you Gigi’s 2.0 is better — or not — than its forerunner in this location — I heard both assertions — but I can’t. I never had more than a cup of (darn good) coffee in the neighborhood hangout until last week, when I dropped in to check out the new management’s dinner drill. Gigi’s is now operated by Kim Bartmann, the dining diva behind Bryant Lake Bowl, Red Stag, Barbette and the soon-to-open Pat’s Tap. She’s an avid supporter of good-for-you, good-for-the-planet farm-to-table eats, so that’s Gigi’s new mantra. Can’t beat that.

The blackboard menu is compact: salads from the deli case; soup and sandwiches, and a half a dozen or so comfort-food entrees, $11 or under. Sounds like a deal? Maybe, maybe not.

With counter service, no menus or silver to hand out, no drinks to refill, no linens on the blond wood tables to launder, and few garnishes on the main dishes, the tab ($68 for four mains, a side salad, a shared dessert and basic beverages) seems a little pricier than in many a creative, small kitchen that offers all of the above amenities. Better bang for your buck at BLB and Barbette, where the flavors carry more finesse. But hey: This is a corner cafe, not a destination. Daytimes, it’s filled with genial seniors and young moms-who-lunch. That evening, laptops and lattes occupied the nearby tables.

Rather than a simple green salad ($5), we chose a sweet little number from the deli display: a perky mix of haricots verts, all slim and snappy, crunchy moons of turnips and sweet cherry tomatoes. With it, I ordered the meatloaf special — robust and juicy Thousand Hills beef topped with a lovely lode of sautéed mushrooms. Grandma would have sneaked in more onions, maybe a tomato. It’s served with bland, cheese-free polenta — like eating Cream O Wheat for dinner.

A pal’s chicken pot pie, served in a latte-size cup under a dome of buttery puff pastry, was composed of peas, carrots and bits of chicken (not that many) in a supple,  blessedly un-gloppy white sauce. It boasted a welcome garnish of field greens. Another friend opted for the risotto ($11): a small, ungarnished, protein-free bowl of rice tossed with sweet potatoes, Granny Smiths, pecans and wondrous globes of chevre that melted right into the rice. Tasty; like eating dessert first. The daily pasta — cheese upon cheese, $11, bore no protein, either.

Best choice was a thick and juicy spinach-walnut burger ($9 with chips) lounging on an ample bun. With it we sipped the $5 house red, which went down well.

Dessert? Back to the counter for show and tell: house-made key lime pie, cheesecake, apple strudel, glazed doughnut, chocolate cupcake, and more, and our (OK, my) choice: bread pudding. The sturdy slice proved long on currants (fine) but short on cream and eggs (not-so). Bonus: It’s served under a halo of gently whipped, nicely unsweetened cream. And the coffee smelled as good as ever.

824 W. 36th St.