Thursday, February 9, 2012

Good Grub: One If By Land, Two If By Sea

This restaurant has been my Mecca of all restaurant; The ONE.

When I was still in culinary school and not familiar of the "it" places to eat, my boss had told me of his favorite place to go. Little did I know it's where he took his mistress on nights he was in the city "working late". He described the old carriage house-turned restaurant with a Beef Wellington worth killing for.

When I heard of this extraordinary restaurant, I immediately looked it up and saw that it was way beyond my means. A 3-course tasting menu was something like $65 - $70 per person, excluding the wine pairing. A dinner there, at the time, would run about $250 for two people with tax, tip, and everything else. I didn't have $250 to spend on dinner. I still don't!!! These says, the tasting menu is $80, $125 for the 7-course and the wine pairing is something like $60 (all per person). The Beef Wellington is an extra $8 for the 3-course, and I didn't even see it listed on the 7-course menu. On the Restaurant Week menu, it's an extra $35 on top of the $35 you're already paying for the restaurant week menu. I decided against it this time around because it was just too much and I wasn't exactly starving when I got there. Maybe 9:30 is just too late to eat for me.

I shelved the idea, but eagerly watched, read, and listened to anything and everything about this restaurant. I watched the Haunted New York Halloween specials about the ghosts of One If By Land. I read so-called real life accounts by the staff and patrons about the eerie experiences they've had while in there. I read reviews. I watched specials, including how they made their world famous Beef Wellington- a beautifully constructed piece of Filet Mignon enrobed with foie gras, wrapped in a delicate puff pastry and surrounded by a delicate jus. It looked like heaven on television, and it only hardened my resolve to get to this place. (Even if foie isn't my thing.)

My ex's mother had spoken about the time her and her late husband went to dinner at this restaurant- limousine and all- with some old friends for a fancy night out. I think she told me she had that gilded Beef Wellington, and her husband had the Duo of Duck. (A man after my own heart!) She said it was DIVINE! And crazy expensive. Even back then, this place was a mint to eat at.

Last year, I did find a friend who agreed to go with me during the Summer Restaurant Week. However, after looking at the available reservations, her schedule and mine just didn't match up. Alas, maybe it was not meant to be.

Well, after another round of friends flaked out on Restaurant Week, and my gentlemen friends had other places in mind for dinner and *ahem* other activities, I gave up on my dream.

Then, I met someone at my friend's meetup and he expressed an interest in eating at the finer places in the city. Cake orders, death in the family, and flaky friends nearly dashed it all again, but we hastily connected on line and met up in front of One If By Land at 9:30 on a Tuesday night.

Well, romance is definitely what you get doused with when you walk in there. Since I was dining with someone I barely knew and had no romantic inclinations towards, it was a little uncomfortable. Everyone in there was with someone special. There were copious amounts of PDAs and hand holding and beautiful dresses, sexy shoes, delicious colognes and I felt like I stepped through a veil into the Valley of the Beautiful People.

I was dressed in a low-cut black lace top and my frilly black skirt with three inch high heeled boots. My hair- perfect. My make-up; spot on. My dining companion- while very polite and engaging; needed a little more experience in fine dining with a lady. His collared shirt looked like something out of a Smells Like Teen Spirit video. When the hostess pulled out the table for me to slip into the booth seat, he placed himself there, instead. He kept the waiter waiting a good five minutes as he mulled over his drink choices.

The mood of the evening was fine as we talked about movies and comics and cartoons. Turns out he knew my ex. He asked me if I knew whether he would be open to some animation work and what did I think about his skills- I was honest.

"I don't know anyone more talented in that department. I'm not sure what he's doing now, but it doesn't hurt to ask." And I gave him his contact info.

He asked me if I could put in a good word for him with my ex. I said, "I think you'll start off on a cleaner slate if I keep out of it. We're not exactly besties anymore, you know?"

"But you're giving him a good reference as far as his skills go?"

Remembering how easy it was to be petty when you let personal gripes get in the way of business transactions, I replied. "He's a talented artist. With or without my thumbs up, he's great at what he does. I don't know what he's doing now. I don't know if he's working on side projects. You'd have to talk to him about that yourself. But, I've seen his 2-D animation work in the past, and he's far as my non-professional opinion goes."

And I quickly tried to steer the conversation back to the food. It seems to me this dude only wanted to hang out because he had a man-crush on my ex. (Not the first one I've encountered.) But, as the evening progressed, I realized he also had a food-crush on my palate, as well. He wanted to know my dinner plans for the next month and eagerly asked if he could come along, too.

Back to the food.

The Bread. Oh, lord. Served piping hot by a bread server that went from table to table, giving you a choice between a dinner roll and a stick of foccaccia. I went for the foccaccia. On the table was placed a trio of accompaniments. Two butters- red pepper and jalapeno and a very good quality extra virgin olive oil for dipping. I tried all three and the jalapeno was my favorite.

The Amuse Bouche. This was a welcome surprise. Served in a small round glass, a little larger than a shot glass with an equally miniature spoon was a celery soup puree. There was a dollop if apple ice shavings in the middle of the luke warm soup along with a small piece of dehydrated solid foam of apple essence. It was the same texture and feel of astronaut ice cream and it was fantastic. I could have eaten an entire bowl of that soup. Layer of different flavors, textures and temperatures mingled well in a fine dance as I spooned it into my mouth and swirled it around with my tongue. It was a nice start to tickle my palate.

The Appetizer. I, as well as my dinner companion, chose the CHESTNUT TAGLIATELLE with venison ragout and pecorino ginepro. It was a small mound of luke warm pasta on a huge, round plate. It needed pepper. It needed salt. It needed more chestnut or venison or ANYTHING. It was tasty, but not mind-blowingly awesome. My $9 wine paired with this was a scant amount of Pinot Grigio, which was also lack luster. 

The Entree. Between Hake in broth, Braised Short Rib, and Beech Mushroom Risotto, I went with the Short Rib and my friend went with the Hake. After a few bites of my short rib, which was tender and good, I wish I went with the Hake or even the Risotto. My meat was good. That's it. Good. Not GREAT. It was ok. Halfway through, I was struggling to finish it and I offered up more than half to my companion to help me finish it up. My $9 wine pairing was a Pinot Noir. Again, under-whelming and under-poured. 

At this point of my meal, my heart broke. I had wanted to come here for years. I had been with three different partners since I learned of this place and always thought my first meal here would be filled with romance, sexiness, and sentiment. I had none of that, and my meal was just OKAY. I was surrounded by tables of couples eye-fucking one another and whispering dirty words across the table to each other with tongue-licked lips. I sat in my seat, arguing the merits of Iron Man passionately, and not even the least bit buzzed by my stingily-poured wine portions that I was paying $27 for!!!!! Disappointed? There is no synonym that quite captures the degree of disappointment I was feeling. 

The Dessert. My friends went with Maple Ice Cream Sundae with caramel popcorn, and bacon-infused chocolate sauce. I ordered Dulce de Leche Fondant Cake with espresso, coffee ice cream, and hazelnut brittle. The other option was Meyer Lemon Tart, which is what I would normally order, so I went with the out-of-the-box choice of the other. It was good. The cake was just a thin shell of cake holding in a molten pool of hot dulce de leche goodness which I spooned out and sipped from the top of the small cake. The ice cream was nothing more than a channel and it was tasty. I was given a small sherry-glassed portion of a Tawny Port to finish my meal

The Bill. It was served up with four miniature macaroons and jelly tarts. My dinner: $35, Wine Pairing: $27 plus tax and 20% tip: $80.  Not bad for such a swanky place, but I was very let-down by the entire evening. My food expectations were HIGH. So far, nothing has surpassed my meal at Victoria and Alberts all those years ago with Joel at the Grand Floridian in Florida. Of  course, our swanky night out cost us nearly $350 when it was all said and done, but Joel was happy to pay it because of the ridiculous amount of fine food we were given in 8 courses, the fantastic wine/beer pairings with each course, and the stellar service that went with the entire evening. From the personalized menus, the boxed rose, and chocolate anniversary "card" we were given at the end of the night- I would have paid $500. One If By Land; I was glad I only paid restaurant week prices. 

How do I feel about the evening? I feel like I finally met the celebrity of my dreams and he brushed me off without a sidewards glance. The ambiance was lovely, and the staff was nice enough. However, I expected more out of the kitchen for food that is supposed to be world-renowned. Under-seasoned pasta? One-note flavor profiles? Mediocre wine pairings? Really, guys? Is this the mark of a legend?

And to top it all off, I didn't even encounter any spookiness or ghosts the entire time I was there. Bummer. =(

Perhaps the financially crippling Beef Wellington is the only reason I would ever go back. Maybe all places deserve a second chance. I've eaten at enough craptastic places, giving them many chances to redeem themselves, but I didn't need a credit report to give out that second chance. I'm going to save some cash and try them out again during Summer Restaurant Week (if I'm still in the city). 

Everyone deserves a 2nd chance- even over-rated restaurants. We shall meet again, One If By Land, Two If By Sea!  I'll try to come back under more romantic circumstances on my next go-around. Maybe it will make the food taste better if my other appetite is stimulated. 

One If By Land, Two If By Sea


  1. Which dude is this that got to experience the legend with you? I assume no after dinner "cock"tails? And if the narcs isn't bugging you anymore, why bother giving him a thumbs up or down? What's the harm in telling the guy that he was an asshole to you and you've got nothing good to say about him? It's not like he's done anything good for you lately. And it's not like it isn't the truth.

    1. Let me ask you this; why do you want me to go back to being angry and hurtful? He asked me about his art, not his personality and I don't think there's anything wrong giving my honest opinion about his work from my point of view.

      If you only do good things for people who do good things for you, then no one will ever do anything good for anyone. What people do in this life is their Karma; how I react is mine. I'm not in a place where I need to let someone's nastiness get under my skin anymore. It's counter-productive to what I'm trying to do for myself. If a compliment from me results in him networking with someone on a project that leads to greater success for them both, then I think everyone wins.

      I don't believe being a bitter, negative, vengeful person will really get me anywhere I want to be. I try and throw those things to the wind and let them fall where they may.

      This wasn't a date. It was just dinner with someone I met who liked nice restaurants, too. Very casual with no expectations for anything else. And, frankly, he's not my type. Not that there's anything wrong with him.

      Why are you so angry? Let that stuff go. There are plenty other things to think about. =)

    2. Aren;t you gonna end that spiel with 'namaste'? I'm just saying it's been long enough where you don't need to be pc with these people anymore. Why do you always need to be the better person towards people who have no intention of ever being that respectful of you?

      You're being like Obama with the conservatives. He wants to tax the rich 40% or something like that. The rich said 20% and he ends up giving them 5%. (I made up those numbers.) WTF???? It's like he serves up his bare ass, bent over, up-high, and lubed up ready to get fucked. And then he wonders why his approval rating is so low.

      You're presenting your bare ass, in the air, with a tube of KY right there, ready to get fucked up again and then you're going to cry about why people are so mean to you.

      Stop setting yourself up as a target.

    3. I gave a compliment on art work, not a blowjob. I think you're still trying to find something to argue with me about. I'm fine with having a heated debate with you, but at least try and bring something tangible to the table. It doesn't cost anything to be nice.

    4. Oh, and before I forget- Namaste. ;-)

  2. Oh bite me. :-P

    By the by--it does cost something to be nice: YOUR DIGNITY.

    Whatever happened to nice guys finish last? Remember that one?

    1. Dignity? After everything these men have put me through all these years, there is no dignity left in that department. I've paid off in-law debt, thrown birthday parties for ungrateful step kids, been Godmother to an ex's sister's kid, and wrapped Xmas presents for cats!!! Really, I don't think there's much pride left to lose.

      Like I said, it's costing me nothing to be nice. You can't spend dignity you don't have anymore.

      Enjoy your weekend, Mike. Be nice to someone you want to be an ass to and see how that feels. It may be life-changing. ;-)

    2. I think it's f'd up that you think that way or feel that way about yourself. Being that nice didn't get you anything but a bag full of regrets and f'd up self esteem.

    3. Regrets? Maybe a couple. But I did those things because I loved those men and it made me feel good to do those things. The fact that they didn't love me back doesn't take away from my reasons, and how it made me feel at the time.

      Like I said, if reciprocation is the only thing that drives you to do anything for anyone other than yourself, you're going to be living a very lonely, unhappy life.

      I feed people who will probably never return the kindness. I provide cakes and pastries for children who will never be told to thank me. I price my services at a loss to me when the customer can't afford to pay more than a certain amount. These are things I can choose not to do because I will not be compensated with money or gratitude. I do it because it feels right for me to do so of my own free will.

      There is nothing more to it than that. I feel like the universe has a way of self-correcting itself to restore balance. I'll get what's coming to me one way or another to balance it all out. Hopefully I've banked enough good deeds. Those are my beliefs, and I don't care what anyone else thinks about it. It's between me and the powers that be.

      I'm headed out. Enjoy your weekend!

  3. Good for you, Kat! I knew you'd reach this level of peace eventually. Isn't it freeing to be rid of any ridisual resentment towards the past?

    Maybe you should give this place a shot and order off the regular menu. If that duck dish is good it may restore your awe of the place.

    1. The past is always going to be the past regardless whether you embrace it or resent it. Might as well do whatever hurts less.

      Never underestimate the healing powers of crispy duck skin. Maybe you can come with me next time I give them a try. It won't be for a while so you have time to save up some cash.