As packed with unexpected delights as the city it celebrates. In it, dozens of knowledgeable New York Times' writers, critics, et al., contribute lively and idiosyncratic essays on subjects ranging from delis to Degas, Roseland to Roosevelt Island, night court to nightclubs, Patchin Place to pastrami. Paul Goldberger, for instance, rates the exterior lighting that has in recent years turned many of Manhattan's skyscrapers into shimmering Camelots. (The RCA Building earns Goldberger's most enthusiastic nod.) Joyce Maynard reminisces charmingly about childhood visits with her mother. Nora Ephron even confesses which delicatessen she'd choose to be married in, should such a decision ever prove necessary. Bryan Miller reviews a diner whose menu warns ""Minimum Check 50 Cents Per Person,"" ""Outrageous"" is Miller's wry comment. Favorite (and assuredly more costly) restaurants for Christmas dining are described by the likes of Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and Paula Wolfert. Grace Glueck leads the reader through the Metropolitan Museum, pointing out masterpieces that might otherwise be overlooked along the way. Paul L. Montgomery discloses the workings of the Audubon Society's annual December tally of birds in Central Park. Wendy Wasserstein creates a mini-drama of New York courtship; in a similar vein, William E. Geist tags along to observe the field trip of a group taking a seminar on ""Finding a Mate in Bloomingdale's. ""If Manhattan is the centerpiece of the book, the outer boroughs are not slighted. Food maven Miller ventures into Brooklyn's ""Little Odessa"" section and returns with a fistful of recipes for classic Russian dishes and a collection of hilarious anecdotes. Fred Ferretti makes a similar sortie into Flushing's Asian community, where woks, tandooris and hibachis are apparently constantly asimmer, turning out Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean delicacies, all described in mouthwatering detail. Even the most ""know-it-all"" New Yorker will find something to surprise and fascinate here. For the rest of us, whether residents or visitors, the book is an invaluable guide to the Big Apple's sights and sounds, tastes and temptations, characters and curiosities.