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The Gatekeepers: Scarpetta's Jeffrey Tascarella

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Krieger, 10/30/08

Scott Conant's West 14th Street Italian joint Scarpetta opened back in May and became an immediate hit with the critics, fellow chefs, and the NYC dining scene. If you want to try the famed spaghetti for yourself, GM Jeffrey Tascarella will gladly take care of you. Just hope Sirs Danny Meyer, Thomas Keller, or Tommy C don't show up at the same time.

Jeffrey Tascarella. General Manager & Wine Director of Scarpetta: We have about 80 seats in the dining room and 30 in the bar and front cafe areas. Personally, I love the high bar tables. It's where I eat dinner every night. A lot of couples like the two corner banquettes so they can sit next to each other.

8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? We're pretty good with our reservation system. If you have a reservation, we get you down pretty quick. Luckily, we don't take any reservations for our front cafe, where we serve the full menu. Usually a walk-in can sit down in about a half-hour. A lot of guests enjoy eating dinner at the bar. The bar is really conducive to eating.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter?

Be flexible. I had a couple come in the other night and they insisted that they would only sit at one particular table (at 8 o'clock) when they made the reservation. We shifted our whole book around to accommodate them at the table they wanted, but they were still upset they had to wait the extra fifteen minutes for it. I don't know; when I go out, I love waiting a bit for my table. It gives me a chance to have a cocktail at the bar. You're out for the night, enjoy it!

...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? We are extremely clear with our door staff: no one is allowed to "sell tables." If the maitre'd does something extra for you- makes your anniversary special, or remembers that you like to sit side by side, and you want to reward them with a small tip, that's really great of you. But no one is going to buy tables at our restaurant. It sacrifices the whole integrity of what we're doing here. We want to accommodate everyone. I think that the whole tipping for tables thing has become a bit out of fashion, anyway.

Tell us about your favorite customers? Any celebs been by recently? It's really a testament to the respect for Chef Scott that I've been fortunate enough to meet almost every chef I've ever wanted to meet: Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, David Burke, all of these guys have been in and really enjoyed it. We've had tons of wine makers and really great people in the business come by, which is super flattering. Celebrities are starting to come by: Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Tiki Barber. As far as my "regular" customers, I have to give a shout-out (for lack of a better term) to Mr. & Mrs. Mintz, and Mrs. Thalia Dergham.

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? It's tricky. You get a lot of the aforementioned chefs or people in the business that want to come to the restaurant. If Danny Meyer or Thomas Keller comes by, you find them a table. We also leave ourselves a little wiggle room in the book to accommodate these people. What are you going to say? "Hey Keller, go back to Napa, we're full"?...your or your co-worker's friends? We've been so blessedly busy, our family and friends understand. They'll come by and visit us, say, 10:30 on a Monday when it isn't a problem. That's the best time to be at the restaurant too- if you're lucky, Scott Conant switches over to playing bartender, makes everybody a little pasta, and we have a blast.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer you've had to accommodate? So many. It's part of the business. The one I'll never forget: I had this British guy come in with a flower arrangement. All white flowers, looked like a sheet cake. Spelled out in red roses was...well, the "C" word. He wanted to have it on the table as part of a joke for a female friend of his. He couldn't wrap his head around why I couldn't let him keep that on the table. We eventually agreed that he could present it, but then we had to cover it with napkins. At least I got a shot of it on my phone to send

...that you couldn't accommodate? I'll say this: don't ask for ketchup. Scott Conant does not like ketchup. We don't have any. And how did the crowds change post-Bruni? The review was something like three months ago, and people still come in all the time with a crisp, folded copy of it from the actual day's newspaper. They order exactly what he recommended in the piece.

When you're not at Scarpetta, where are you eating? I'm a little obsessed with the East Village right now. I'm drinking the David Chang Kool-Aid. Hopefully one day, I'll get into Momofuku Ko. I like Dell'Anima. I love Casellula, this little wine and cheese cafe I live near on 52nd and 9th.


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