This is The Gatekeepers, where Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
As the follow-up effort to the wildly-successful Town Hall, Salt House came into the game rife with lofty expectations last year, and somehow, the trio of Doug Washington, Steven Rosenthal and Mitchell Rosenthal have managed to surpass them. Probably the edgier of the pair (see Town Hall's Gatekeeper), Salt House has become just as popular as its big sis, and when the SoMa diners come flooding in, Dalia Rassier stands as the first line of defense.
Dalia Yalda Rassier AKA Blue Whale (coined by Chef Robert Leva), Hostess at Salt House: 88 true seats +. The plus because we seem to build tables downstairs and bring them up to accommodate as many as we can. They're all good seats. It's a beautiful restaurant. 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? Wow. Pretty long, but absolutely doable (with patience of course). Usually I quote 45 minutes to an hour because I do not want to make false promises, but usually they get seated earlier.
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Yes, "Is Doug Washington here?" I hear that line at least three times a night. But we stay true to reservations and if I can I will do anything to make them feel at home. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? I have been propositioned on several occasions and $100 bills are usually what appear first?but no! Everyone is treated the same, $ or not.
Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? Favorites are the regulars?of course. Celebs: Natalie Portman, Gus Van Sant, Ian Astbury (The Cult), Joe Montana, Ralphie from A Christmas Story. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Love them and booze them up. Check on them frequently. Make them feel at home and as soon as a table opens up, accommodate them?or build a table from downstairs parts and just seat them in an awkward place?they love that stuff. They feel special. ...the owner's friends? Treat everyone the same! The moment you walk in that door you are automatically a VIP!
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? Not too many outrageous ones, maybe the time when a reservation for eight was made and 16 showed up. What were they thinking? But we made it happen. ...that you couldn't accommodate? A drunk man got down on his knee and asked me to marry him. Couldn't accommodate that. But for the most part we do our best to make everyone happy.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? Just be yourself. The one thing I've noticed most is when a game face is on for the sake of a job. It's not worth it. People see right through it. People see through an unhappy face or a fake smile. As a hostess you are the first person one sees when they enter a restaurant and that is essential for the rest of their dining experience.