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 amazing....as 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