This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: Aubrie Pick]
Chad Bourdon is the general manager and part owner of 25 Lusk, which recently earned a spot on OpenTable's 2012 Hot Spot list, and a Design of the Year nod from Esquire magazine. Fancy industry awards aside, 25 Lusk has been drawing consistent droves for a striking Cass Calder Smith bi-level, steel fire-orbed design since it opened in October of 2010. Chef Matthew Dolan's knock-out dishes like cauliflower creme brulee and his light hand with homemade pastas certainly don't hurt. Bourdon recently dished on what it's like getting a table these days.
7:30 p.m. on a Sat. night, what's the wait for a table?It depends on the night, but it’s typically about 15-30 minutes. We have a lot of space to accommodate walk-in diners, and the full dinner menu is available at the bar and the communal table in the lounge, which opens up more seating options.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Begging sometimes works but a magnum of Krug 1985 champagne paired with a beautifully orchestrated little dance number can move mountains.
What's the longest wait you've ever seen? 45 minutes to an hour, but it all depends. Most people don’t know it, but you can call up to 45 minutes before you arrive and we’ll put you on the wait list so your table is waiting for you when you walk in the door.
How would you describe your clientele? Our crowd consists of Soma and South Beach residents, folks from nearby startup offices, and destination diners who’ve heard about us and have made a concerted effort to visit. Everyone from serious foodie types who come in for our five-course tasting menu and want to sit as close as possible to Chef Dolan, to an after-work crowd that hits the bar for cocktails and our Bavarian-style soft pretzels, which are amazing! The wide range of guests changes the restaurant’s energy every night.
As one of the hottest restaurants in SoMa, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried? You name it. Cash, namedropping (don’t you know who I am?!), the relative card (I’m the cousin’s uncle’s brother’s sisters nephew of so and so), and even threats to post negative Yelp reviews. I actually appreciate that some people want to come to our restaurant so badly that they’ll make an effort to get creative.
Talk about your favorite customers. We have a regular named Kully who’s been with us since we opened; he regularly joins us for brunch and dinner in the upstairs and downstairs bars, and has become a great resource for honest feedback and a loyal guest. We also really love having our industry peers in, and are honored whenever they take time out of their 24/7 work schedules to visit us. When I first landed in the city and didn’t know anyone, I went into Fifth Floor and it came up in conversation with my server that I just started working as a Manager at Farallon, and they instantly treated me like family and took great care of me. It left such an impression, and made me realize how tight knit and welcoming the San Francisco restaurant industry can be. Whether it’s a server, bus boy, or manager, we go to great lengths to make sure our industry friends have an amazing time. We know how little leisure time they have, so we feel it’s truly a privilege to serve them.
Who are your VIPS, and how do you deal with them when there are no tables to give? Though we do our best to treat everyone like VIPs, we get creative for our industry colleagues, friends, family, and regulars. We magically create tables, open unused private dining space, and do whatever we can to find them comfortable seats. If there’s no possible way to invent a place for them, I’ll offer to book a reservation on the spot for the next time they’re able to join us, and take measures to recognize them for coming back to see us.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've ever had to
accommodate? Not necessarily outrageous, but on the unusual end of the spectrum of guest requests, the Metallica wives booked our Chef’s Table and asked for it to be set with a theme of snakes, skulls, and candles. Of course we did it. It’s Metallica people... We also had a few ladies in our lounge not that long ago who didn’t understand why we wouldn’t ask two of our guests at the bar who were eating dinner to move to another area because they REALLY liked those particular seats. They were serious. Crazy?
Anything you just couldn't accommodate? We were approached with a request to cook someone’s dead goldfish for them as a way to say goodbye. Turns out it was Esquire magazine, testing us before they included us on their annually published list of the Best New Restaurants in the country. Obviously we let them know that unfortunately we weren’t able to perform that particular task, but we did so in a way that earned us an ‘A’ grade. Nice work people. We also don’t allow Lions in the restaurant unless there well trained.
Where are you eating when you're not at 25 Lusk? I really enjoy the bar bites at District, and Nopa always does a good job. I recently enjoyed a meal at Range. On occasion when I decide to walk home from the restaurant I’ll drop in and visit my Farallon family (where I got my start in San Francisco) for the grand shellfish platter and champagne. My local go-to bar is Bacchus Kirk, and Atelier Crenn is high on my wish list for the next time I’m out for a serious meal.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele? Being named to Esquire magazine’s list of Best New Restaurants in the country brought in a wave of sophisticated diners. We’ve also seen a lot of design industry types through our doors as a result of the buzz and our awards for interior design and architecture. Most recently, OpenTable users voted us as one of the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants in the country, so we’ve seen some traffic from that as well. We’re honored by all of it.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job
done?Champagne. No I would say finely tuned intuition and a balanced approach to management. You need to know how to balance interests, personalities, and priorities, and do it all with a smile on your face, because in the front-of-house restaurant business, you can’t ever let on that you’re having a bad day. They simply do not exist.
Last but not least, what's the must-order thing on the menu right now? If I have to pick favorites: gnocchi with artichoke, white asparagus, and truffle to start, and for the main course, our beautiful gulf prawns served with Japanese pepper grits, carrot puree, and horseradish vinaigrette, with a side of cauliflower crème brulee, which people go crazy over. I have an immense amount of respect for my longtime friend and business partner (Chef) Matthew Dolan, and I am constantly impressed by his ability to create total balance in a dish and his endless creativity and devotion to his craft.