Thursday, January 24, 2008

OIBLTIBS, or “Oye’-bl Tibbz”, by Erin

one-landYeah! Winter Restaurant Week is finally upon us! One of my favorite weeks in the New York City calendar has arrived—it’s time to dine like a mogul on a mouse-sized budget. In the past, I’ve tried tons of new restaurants and classicManhattan institutions during this magical, frugal time of year. It is the time to sample places on your radar, but out of reach (especially if there’s still no acting work because of a certain, interminable writers’ strike…) I plan to rack up a few more experiences this time around. And you should too. Though of course, if you’re just now contemplating it, you’re gonna have a hell of a time getting in anywhere. So, hop to it!

During our recent Dinner Belle retreat to my family’s home in Connecticut, Kimberly and I sat one morning in flannel pajamas, with our cocoa and mini marshmallows, pens itching, Restaurant Week booklets in hand, poised and eager to star and highlight all our top picks. After a disappointing fieldtrip last year to Brooklyn’s over-hyped and totally underwhelming River Café, we decided to make it really count this go ‘round. This meant making our reservations EARLY. A couple of weeks ago, we decided to book a lunch at Nobu together and to each try a new, romantic place with a hot date.

For me, that meant a certain charming West Village carriage house. You know, the one that could easily win the dual titles of “NYC’s Most Romantic Restaurant” and “Longest Name for a Hostess to Have to Proclaim When Answering the Phone.” History buffs, like me (hello, President of History Club, XHS 1997!) know the name of the place is from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem about Paul Revere’s ride. Restaurant and romance fanatics in New York City know it simply as “One if by Land, Two if by Sea.”

Once I’d decided on this spot last week, I called immediately. Didn’t matter, I was still told I was too late to get in. They informed me they were fully booked for the entire run of Restaurant Week. (Guess the great press on their new chef Craig Hopson, from Picholine, made this place even more popular than normal this year.)

“How can this be,” I whined on the phone when I was turned down. “It’s two weeks out, are you surethere’s absolutely nothing?”

I heard a snooty sigh on the other end of the line. “We always book up right away for Restaurant Week. It’s a little late.”

I paused. I considered hanging up on the rude reservationist, but ultimately I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this creature who must get so sick and tired of answering the phone, “Good evening, One if by Land, Two if by Sea,” for hours on end every day; I decided to ‘smile’ at her over the phone and see where that got me.

“Well, is there any suggestion you might have for me, for next time? How should I make sure I get a table? I was really looking forward to eating at your establishment…”

She softened and pretended to “remember” another option. “Well, we have added an extra week. We are offering the $35 prix fix Restaurant Week option this week in addition to next week, and we have a few slots open.”

(“Why the hell didn’t she just say so in the first place?” I thought!)

“That’s fantastic! I’ll take whatever you’ve got!!”

So Me and my Man attended a show at my favorite East Village music venue, Rockwood Music Hall, at 8pm, then enjoyed a brisk and chilly walk to the West Village for our hard-fought 9:30pm reservation.

As we rounded the corner onto tiny, quaint Barrow Street, I saw two dimly lit lanterns straight out of 1775, marking the entrance to what I knew must be our place. Inside, a tuxedoed man was playing Gershwin on a beautiful piano and the many lit fireplaces and flickering chandeliers made the space sparkle and glow. It was everything I could want out of a winter’s night refuge. The hostess (wonder if was Snotty herself, or a compatriot?) greeted us and showed us to a table upstairs.

At first, I thought the second-story dining would be extra-fancy! But, in fact, that wasn’t so much the case…while the tables were beautifully set and the candles blazed, there was no fireplace like downstairs and the ceiling was so low, I felt like I was hiding in Anne Frank’s attic! Slightly disappointed, I took my seat against the wall, from which I could at least look out over the rest of the attic diners. My Man, on the other hand, was left only cheesy New England landscape paintings at which to gaze.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I only want to look at you anyway.” Ah! So sweet!

As we perused the offerings, I realized what a good deal we were getting. The standard dinner menu offers three courses for $75 or a Chef’s Tasting Menu at $95 a pop ($150 if you include the wine pairings). Pretty sweet then, to have a three-course option for $35, if you ask me!

And the food was exquisite! Portions were on the small side, but the flavors weren’t. They offered anamuse bouche of apple and cheddar puree garnished with an aged cheddar crisp; it was like drinking salty, fruity cream straight from a Vermont farm. My starter course was a simple, tart salad of winter greens, sprinkled with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. The salad was followed by a perfectly-cooked, hanger steak, served with braised sweet and sour turnips; the dish had strong Asian influences—loads of fresh, spicy ginger! Last, but not least, came dessert, in the form a semi-liquid flourless chocolate cake that oozed oodles of chocolaty goodness and was topped with salted caramel ice cream. (Salt in the dolce—Kimberly’s fave!) All was tres, tres, tres bien!

As we licked the last bites of melted chocolate from our spoons, I scanned the room and couldn’t help but notice how many of the diners were couples; many were holding hands and gazing at one another through the delicate candlelight, like we were. With the faint but unmistakable sound of piano keys swimming in the background, there was no doubt this place was romantic in a very classic, wintery and very New England-y sort of way. Snobbery be damned!

My favorite part of my pre-Restaurant Week, Restaurant Week meal was the company and conversation.We played our typical “What’s Our Overly Polite Waiter Really Like Outside of Here” game. We decided on Reggae music enthusiast who parties a little too hard but volunteers with children in his spare time.And then we got to giggling when we thought about how Yiddish-sounding the restaurant’s name would be if they went by the acronym created by its initials: OIBLTIBS = Oye’-bl Tibbz.

I mean how snotty can you be if you’re answering the phone, “Good evening, Oye’-bl Tibbz.”

Sounds like something out of a can that you’d feed an orange cat. Or an ointment you’d put on an infection.Wonder if Longfellow ever thought about acronyms when he wrote his poem? Wonder what he’d think about salted caramel ice cream?

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