Ask a Waiter

One if by Land’s Michael Lombardozi Won’t Let You Make Babies in the Bathroom

“They’ll order the ‘Pinot’ for the lady. You have to ask, ‘Pinot Noir? Grigio? Blanc?’” Photo: Melissa Hom

By now even the unrepentant Paul Jankas of the world know that One if by Land, Two if by Sea is widely regarded as the most romantic restaurant in the city. Normally we’d hesitate to match a cheesy holiday with a played-out restaurant, but now that new chef Craig Hopson, formerly of Picholine, has replaced the humdrum chicken Kiev with entrées such as turbot poached in coconut milk with peeky toe crab, mango and sea beans (you can peruse the new menu here), we don’t feel the least bit corny about asking Michael Lombardozi, a waiter at the West Village institution for seven years, to walk us down lovers’ lane.

What’s it like to work there on Valentine’s Day?
It’s weird — that’s the one day out of the year when nobody ever complains. Everybody’s in a great mood. Everybody is in love. There’s always quite a few engagements — you have to keep up on it…

What’s the most romantic one you’ve seen?
Two young ladies were here on vacation from England. One got a note brought to her at the table saying, “Go to the piano.” She goes over and sees her boyfriend who flew in that day to come to propose to her at the restaurant. And his friend came with him to videotape it.

Do guys exaggerate their wine knowledge in order to impress their dates?
The girl will order a glass of Pinot Grigio, and the gentleman will say [in pompous tone], “Give her the Santa Margarita.” It’s decent wine, fine, but try something new. Or they’ll order the “Pinot” for the lady. You have to ask, “Pinot Noir? Grigio? Blanc?”

What are some other dating faux pas?
Using the improper utensil for the dish — our setting is a salad fork, entrée fork, and on the right side will be a teaspoon and a knife. They use the entrée fork before they should. Or they’ll pour their own wine. That’s something we don’t like to see — some people like to pour their own wine, but when it’s a mess….

Do you ever deal with lovers’ spats?
The wine’ll do that to you. I overheard a guy talking about his wife to his girlfriend. They were discussing leaving her. Eventually he’s going to divorce her to be with her. That’s always uncomfortable.

What do you do when people start making out at the table?
Recently there was an incident in the bathroom. It was a busy night, and this couple was gone for a good 25 minutes. We sent someone downstairs, and hey, look at that, there’s a party going on in there. I guess they were trying to have a baby.

What’s the most romantic seat in the house?
Table 63 is always a favorite, but I personally like 72. Sixty-three is a garden view (there’s a window). It’s against the wall so you have no one behind you, just two guests on either side. On the opposite side is 72, which is a banquette. It’s for three or four, but for a deuce, you’re closed in on all sides except for the front and it’s romantic.

Did presenting Craig Hopson’s new menu take some getting used to?
The beef Wellington used to be a filet and on top was a mushroom duxelle; they used to put foie gras in there as well and cover it with the pastry shell. Now they removed the foie gras from the creamy mushroom, and that foie gras is on the dish as a sauce with an array of winter vegetables. People have a hard time adjusting to a change like that.

How many people still order the beef Wellington?
Fifty percent. When a deuce sits down, at least one will order it. I think we make it the best in the city.

One if by Land’s Michael Lombardozi Won’t Let You Make Babies in the Bathroom