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.
Lower East Side: When Chef Emma Hearst and managing partner Sarah Krathen opened Sorella on, what was at the time, a mostly untouched block of Allen St. just below Delancey, they stirred up quite a bit of buzz in the food world. Since then, Hearst, a Union Square Cafe alum, has earned a four UG stars from the Robs along with praises. With no reservations accepted, all this can mean some pretty hefty wait times. To snag at seat at the bar or a table in the back, you'll have to get past Sarah Krathen.
Sarah Krathen, General Managing Partner, SK: Between the bar and the room in the back there are fifty seats at Sorella. You and Emma [Hearst, chef and managing partner] go way back, right? Yes. Emma and I have been best friends for years and we traveled to Italy together and conceptualized and created Sorella.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? On a Saturday at Sorella? Saturday is actually your best bet. The wait is maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. At least that's how it's been this summer. What's my worst bet? A Wednesday or Thursday at 8 PM. We've seen wait times up to an hour and a half or an hour and forty five minutes.
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? You can drink at the bar, it will go by faster. ...How about gifts or cash to speed things along? No, God no.
Tell us about your favorite customers. We have some regulars. They're the people who know when to come and they're the people who came when nobody knew who we were. They sit at the bar, they don't need a lot of attention--just good, solid regulars. Any celebs been by recently? Um, not really. We've had two celebrities. Charlie Rose and Claire Danes. Well, they're pretty high caliber. Wait, did they come in together? No, that would have been a better story.
How do you deal with VIP's, when there are no tables left to give? They're the easiest. It's usually a quick conversation with me. I usually tell them to call me in about forty five minutes if we're busy and I'll make sure to get them in. It's a hard room to wait in when we're full. You get four deep at the bar and it's not relaxing and we lose that nice ambiance that we've worked so hard to create.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could accommodate? We don't really have demanding guests at Sorella usually. I can't really think of an outrageous request. How about something you could not accommodate? Hmm. Emma, can you think of any good stories?
Emma Hearst looks up from her computer two tables over from us
EH: I mean, we get a lot of foodies here I feel like. We get the occasional, "I'm a vegan, what can you do for me?" I try not to change a dish if it's possible. But we'll change something up to a point. But if someone is like, "I want the lamb ragu without the lamb," there's no way. SK: We don't take meat out of pastas. If it's not meant to be vegetarian, it will never be vegetarian. We won't make vegetarian risotto because Emma refuses to do it. EH: But there are vegetarian dishes on the menu right now. SK: Or health conscious guests. People who come in and want something simply seared or a salad dressed with lemon. That we won't do.
One of the things that gets thrown around a lot to describe the restaurant is that it's a "wine bar" that serves small plates. How do you think Sorella avoids trapping itself in that mold? I think we're often misconstrued as a wine bar. We are a restaurant. We do have a bar, but the bar is meant to be dined at. It's lower than the average bar, it's a wider surface. We just wanted to make something comfortable and pretty. The story about how the restaurant was created is fun. But we have a knowledgeable staff and an extremely talented chef. We're in a fun neighborhood, it's kind of funky.
Speaking of funky, who controls the music? The chef and the music controls are in the kitchen. It's not a rarity to come in here at 6:30 and hear Biggie or The Beastie Boys blasting when there are seventy five year olds in the back.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? I think I'm in it for the right reasons. And those are? I love people. I love hospitality and restaurants. I never expected to be a New York City restaurateur. All these things—the chaos and the press—are never things that enter my head. I just like to take good care of people and I think that vibe emanate throughout the restaurant and I think the staff knows that. You know, when somebody comes in the back room and looks at the tables and asks me, "oh, can't you just ask them to get up?" No, it's like, I wouldn't ask you to get up, why would I ask them.
When you're not at Sorella, where are you eating? Lately, I'm a big fan of Locanda Verde. I'm a big fan Andrew's food. I've always been a big fan of Joe [Campanale] and the crew at dell'anima and L'Artusi. Fatty Crab I go to more often than not.