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The Gatekeepers: Corton's Arleene Oconitrillo

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Krieger, 6/9/09

Tribeca: Drew Nieporent opened his new Tribeca baby Corton with chef Paul Liebrandt at the helm last fall. Since then, it's been an avalanche of accolades and awards for the design, the chef, and Drew's ability to sell a high end restaurant in an economy that's crucifying upscale spots left and right. Naturally, tables are booked a month out, so you better try to sweeten up Restaurant Director Arleene Oconitrillo if you want in before July.

Arleene Oconitrillo, Restaurant Director: We have 65 seats at Corton. There’s not a bad seat in this place. I love the corners, I love the fact that I have a lot of corners to play with. 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? Generally on a Saturday night we're fully booked.

So there's nothing I say to get in when you're booked? Not really, just make a reservation. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? No. Nothing monetary.

Tell us about your favorite customers. Any celebs been by recently? We have an older couple who live in the neighborhood who come in a lot, about twice a month. They were here from the beginning, you know, where 5:30 was really early to be sitting in the dining room, where we really didn’t get going until six o’ clock. Now they’re seeing more people which is upsetting them. They have more company at 5:30. They’re awesome.

How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? Oh man. That’s the toughest spot to be in, because obviously, we don’t have a restaurant where people can just come in and have an entrée. So if we had that opportunity, it’d be a little easier to gauge. But once someone sits down for a three course meal, it’s two and a half hours. How do I deal with them? We can offer them champagne. Generally what works is, if they live in Tribeca, they can give me their number and if someone doesn’t show up for their reservation or cancels last minute, they can walk right over. We’ve done that several times because it's to their benefit and ours, because we’re able to get people in the restaurant.

It’s good to know that my table is safe even if a VIP comes in. Yes, you’re table is definitely safe.

What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could accommodate? I don’t know if it’s outrageous, but it was really, really cool. I received a phone call at 10:30 in the morning from someone who wanted us to prepare a meal for three for an in-flight meal. An in-flight meal from appetizer to entrée--I believe it was a five course meal. We cook most of our food sous-vide so we vacuum sealed everything. She was a stewardess, so she prepared it on the plane and they had an awesome flight. Who was it for? I actually don’t know. So if I call up at 10:30 in the morning tomorrow, you’ll do this for me? Well, there are a lot of?requirements that we—a lot of information we took to secure the five course meal for three, so it was fifteen different packages?that was pretty cool.

What’s a request that you couldn't accommodate? I don’t know if it’s outrageous, but it’s the phone call at 7:55 on a Saturday night saying “I’d like a table for two in five minutes.” We are completely booked on a Saturday about three weeks out. It happens frequently, more often then you would think. It’s not outrageous?it’s just far fetched.

What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
Patience and a smile. It goes a long way. A little cocktail if we’re behind on tables, which doesn’t really happen. Sometimes, maybe on a Saturday someone likes to linger a little longer and a guest has to wait ten minutes-- at the bar. That’s a long time for us. We have a small bar, it’s meant for just a quick cocktail. It’s not meant for somebody to wait a long time there.

When you're not at Corton, where are you eating? I pretty much live at Lure for brunch. It’s our one day of rest and I love it there. And they have a great 80’s soundtrack, so you can’t go wrong with that. For dinner, Blue Ribbon Sushi is a late night mainstay. They’re open later than we are and are so close by that it’s a quick jump over there. And Minetta Tavern—I’m obsessed. I’ve been several times in the last few months.
—Matt Duckor


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