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The Gatekeepers: Dovetail's Darren C. Ryan

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Krieger, 11/21/08

In what many have noted as the start of a dining migration to the Upper West Side, John Fraser's Dovetail opened up in a subterranean space on West 77th St. just about a year ago. Bruni gave it the tres back in February, and it's been an UWS neighborhood spot ever since. You're not going to have to call four weeks out to get a resy anymore, but if you expect to walk in off the street on a Saturday at 8, you better be nice to Matre D', Darren C. Ryan.

Darren C. Ryan, Maitre D': Dovetail seats up to about 70 people upstairs and 20 in the semi-private dining room. There really are no bad seats in the restaurant. I personally don't have a favorite. Table 14 and 52 are the most romantic tables. Table 25 is great for a 4-top that wants to be fairly private.

8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table?

At 8PM on a Saturday we are usually completely booked, however, we always leave a couple tables open for walk-ins. This past Saturday, for instance, we were able to accommodate quite a few people who came in around that time. We also have a bar area where many people dine and are able to enjoy the full menu. I suggest coming in for lunch, which will start the first week of December.

Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? Like "Open sesame?" Well, let's see...Not really I'd say. We do our best to get people seated as efficiently as possible. There's no secret code word that will really change much. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? Gifts or CASH!? Of course not!

Tell us about your favorite customers. Any celebs been by recently? There are different celebs in every week. Some weeks every night. They like us and the Upper West Siders are polite about it. Nobody is all goo-goo gah-gah about seeing a famous person. You can't name drop just a little? We prefer not to share the names of our guests. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? We always have a table for a VIP. ...the owners friends? Friends? Friends can wait! They know what they're in for and if they have to wait, they know the wait is worth it.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you couldn't accommodate? I had a guest once that wanted everything at the table served rare. Monkfish: rare. Sweetbreads: rare. Lamb's tongue: rare. Everything, everything, everything super rare. We served her and her group all things rare except the tongue. We could not do that because it is a dish that requires braising. You just can't do that, you know? A rare lamb's tongue? No way.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? You've got to be very diplomatic. You've got to be able to always phrase things in the positive. People don't want to hear "Well unfortunately..." this or "I'm sorry I can't..." that. People want to hear what you CAN do for them. I've got to keep all things positive. By the time I finish speaking with a guest on the phone I want them to be sure they're going to have a great experience before they even get here.

When you're not at Dovetail, where are you eating? I like to eat at the small hole-in-the-wall places that don't always break the bank. There are some really great new BYO places in the city that have got my attention. Little French bistro type places where the food is simple, fresh and very well prepared...I'm much more of a "stick with what you know is really great" kind of guy. Nowadays it's so easy to be disappointed. My wife and I always enjoy dining at Veritas and Caselulla.

Dovetail

103 West 77th Street, Manhattan, NY 10024 (212) 362-3800 Visit Website

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