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The Gatekeepers: Heather Gurfein

On we go with The Gatekeepers, a photo series we've commissioned from Michael Harlan Turkell. For the next several weeks, we'll be presenting portraits of The Gatekeepers: the very folks that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.

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August is one of very few true neighborhood spots that boasts multiple stars from the Times (Little Owl and The Orchard being two of the more notable others). As such, there is a nightly parade of locals and non-locals, almost all making return visits, of a size that far outnumbers capacity. Waits are easily two hours by prime time Saturday, but are not much better on Monday or Tuesday. The woman you have to know is Gatekeeper and GM Heather Gurfein.

Heather: Dinner starts at 5:30 PM. We've been filling up faster since we starting taking reservations as of Dec 1, 2006. We always leave a portion of the restaurant unreserved for walk in business, but everyone still wants 8 PM seating. We have 65 seats max, so on weekends when everyone comes in at the same time, I've, on occasion, had to quote 2-2 ½ hour waits, although this is certainly not the norm. Although no night is the same, generally wait times vary between 15 and 45 minutes. We try to encourage guests to come in early, during the first seating where there is more availability for seating and more flexibility to be seated in their desired room, which is often the garden.

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There's no place to sit while you wait. We do have a small bar and "nook" (otherwise known as the "holding cell" depending on how you're behaving!) where you can enjoy a glass of wine and an appetizer while you wait. We understand the discomfort of standing and waiting, especially when you're hungry, the place is packed, and you're standing by the open kitchen watching all the food go out. Because of such tight quarters, we sometimes hand out tasters (of tart flambé in particular) to reward patience.

Friday tends to be more 2 tops, Saturday it's groups of 3-4, which stretches the waiting time. If we're not too busy we try and take people's cell numbers and call them when there is a table finishing up. On the weekend 2/3rds of the restaurant is saved for walk-ins, but you can always make reservations, which we accept up to six weeks prior to your reservation date.

If you come by at 5:30 PM and put your name on the list, and then come back at 8 PM, you'll be on the top of the list. Although there is no guarantee of a table at 8 PM, you will be seated as the next table becomes available.

Lunch is an often overlooked. Monday - Friday from 12 PM to 3:30 PM, we serve a mixture of brunch items and dinner appetizers. Yes, the tart flambé is on the menu, and so are eggs en cocotte. Breakfast keeps getting later and later, plus who doesn't want to be associated with the hearth of a wood-burning oven during the winter?

Our neighborhood isn't yuur typical 9-5. Most of our customers don't rise at 6 AM and have breakfast at 8 AM. They get up at 10 AM and have a late breakfast/early lunch. We serve lunch from noon to 3:30 everyday, which incorporates some items from brunch and dinner, as well as some items unique to the lunch menu. It's a great time to come and enjoy the same food without the wait.

Browse previous Gatekeepers.

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