I was making conversation with a waiter over lunch that day and he asked, "Have you been to ONE in Chapel Hill?" "Actually, I'm going tonight."
So yeah, I've heard good things about ONE, and a chef himself (who apparently used to work as ONE as well) recommended it. Definitely not a case of the boy who cried wolf. The restaurant is nice, open and fairly spacious. It has a dining area and a lounge area; it's contemporary, sleek, polished and upscale (perhaps verging on a bit stuffy depending on your personal preferences) (I can also comment on the high quality of their paper towels in the restroom. Does that say something? I'm not sure). They do the customary thing where they leave huge plates as settings and decor on the table, but take it away the moment your food starts arriving.
The menu is pretty expansive (you can check it out online), and it changes regularly and often. There's an option for the chef's impromptu tasting menu, but they also offer a much more affordable and versatile option of creating your own 4 course meal (with only one land/sea main option, but the rest can be chosen from any section: roots, bounty or sweets). Since I was with a friend, it made sense for us to get a 4 course meal each and try out 8 dishes in total.
We're generally off to a good start if the restaurant you're at takes the effort to offer appetisers and little snacks to whet your palate. They gave us three of them - the first, ham hock and cheese wrapped in a light pastry, and it was sweet and creamy. Then we followed with the warm bite - a slice of breaded pastrami. Loved the change in temperature, but adored the little grains of brain that coated the pastrami even better because they just spilt everywhere in your mouth when you ate them. And lastly, their version of "chicken and waffles" - hit the spot. Subtle and smooth chicken liver pate topped with parmesan in a small tortilla-shaped waffle. When I first ate it, I thought - the waffle isn't crunchy, it's probably going to be gross and soggy - but it actually turned out to be just right - a soft and melty texture (no idea how they achieved it) that match perfectly with the equally smooth pate and parmesan.
bread and butter
I feel the need to make a special mention because they served us the loveliest pretzel balls which weren't dry and hard on the outside like some pretzels get, but just really soft and fluffy and buttery; and they paired it with this whipped and light ember and goats milk butter that's made in house. Would have bought back home an entire bag of those pretzels if I could.
[roots] charred broccoli and cheese, lentils, brioche, pickled currents, feta
Feta cheese and (well-cooked) broccoli by themselves could make me approve of the dish, but to be honest this also had a lot going for it. The bed of lentils were great and gave the taste some depth, which was cut through by the feta cheese. I tried the pickled currents individually and they were sublime - little warm pockets of sweetness that burst into your mouth. However, in the sum of the total dish, it was a bit hard to taste them over the lentils and the cheese. The toasted brioche croutons though, were plain amazing. Everything you would imagine the perfect crunchy crouton to be. Sometimes the details really matter.
[roots] chestnut gnocchi, ham hock consumme, kale, melted leeks, chestnut praline
I had a brief taste of this and it was pretty good, although I'm never sure how great a whole bowl of gnocchi can be (I'm still very ambivalent about gnocchi on the whole). It had good consistency, not too chewy or starchy. Chesnuts were good as well, and I think the best part was the broth which was really clear and light and warm, which made it a nice starter.
[bounty] hearts of palm, shrimp confit, fennel, charcoal aioli, avocado, celery branch
I'm generally a fan of fresh and light starters (I had the best one from Restaurant Andre in Singapore that I really ought to post about), and this was one of those kind of starters, although I was really personally turned off it because of the celery branch, which I've never liked, and which really overpowered the taste in my opinion.
[bounty] octopus, marcona almond, ajo blanco, shishito, bread paste
I won't pretend to know what most of those ingredients are and how they managed to combine into this dish, because I just saw "octopus" and jumped on it. The last few times I've had good octopus were (1) in Jung Sik in Seoul - still the best octopus I've tried; (2) in El Mero Mero in Chijmes in Singapore, but for that the tail and the thick end were a bit under/over cooked, and only the centre portion of the leg gave me that nice creamy, non-chewy texture I look out for in octopus. Here though, I get a whole bowl of it. A really, really generous bowl in my opinion. I was quite surprised by the quantity. With some of the elements the dish could be a bit sour, but as long as I got some of that ajo blanco and pepper that they decorated the bowl with, it was spot on. 10/10.
[land] black rice, peppered beef ribeye, bitters, beet root, smoked beef fat, red cabbage
I'm not sure about the rest of the ingredients, but I mainly tasted (since my friend was having this course instead) a really tasty and not too fatty ribeye, and some well-cooked beetroots that still had some resistance when you cut into them - perfect consistency with a slight crunch (although I admit to not being able to eat a lot of beetroot, I reckon it's a bit of an acquired taste for me).
[land] bread crusted guinea hen, cauliflower, black truffle jus, brussel leaves
Good, really good. Rich and flavourful black truffle jus that goes really well with the guinea hen that just has a lot of... body. It's thick and moist (not dried out at all) and capped off with the sourdough bread crust which was good, but in my opinion soaked in a bit too much of the jus for my taste. It could be balanced out with the creamy and silky potato puree/mash that they adorned the plate with (I could eat a whole bowl of it on its own), except about halfway through the plate it all started feeling very heavy, and it didn't help that I had barely any brussel sprout (10 leaves?) to cut through it, since they were more there for aesthetic. But really, other than the heaviness and generous portioning of the dish (which really shouldn't be a complaint), the taste was there.
[sweets] red velvet cheesecake, saba, licorice, raspberry, graham
So the man at my lunch place also told me that the dessert chef at ONE was amazing. He didn't lie - stunning creations. What's on the plate is basically a cheesecake that they spray painted with raspberry, graham crackers scattered around, a scoop of liquorice ice cream (which somehow worked, I don't pretend to know how), and freeze dried raspberries stuffed with balsamic vinegar. Not sure where to start. If you put a bit of everything on your spoon and into your mouth it's delicious, although individually I wasn't all too impressed with the cheesecake since I'm used to denser and a bit cheesier ones, but I reckon a lighter one with less flavour would go well with the raspberry flavoured graham crackers (and just about everything else on the plate). The freeze dried raspberries though - that got me. I didn't know fruits and balsamic vinegar was a thing, but now that I do...
[sweets] autumnal leaves, banana, dark chocolate, walnut
I mean, if you don't get this for the taste, at least get it for the visuals. Those leaves are amazing, and they melt in your mouth. The banana ice cream is flavourful (and not the artificial kind), and it's paired with chocolate. Safe bet with great returns.
chocolate coated cookies and creme ice cream balls
Paying attention to your dining experience all the way until they put the check on your table.
There's honestly nothing like a really, really good meal to make me happy, and I was buzzing by the end of the night. This restaurant is a gem that I see myself coming back to often in the future, especially since the waiter told us that they change their menu roughly twice a week. Not sure if that's a good or a bad thing.
100 Meadowmont Village Cir
Chapel Hill, NC 27517