Vandaag is hands-down the hottest Dutch/Scandinavian restaurant in New York City right now. If you've got a craving for some bitterballen, hot lightening, smørrebrød or a genever cocktail, it's the place to go. The eatery has drawn raves from the city's big critics, who love the inventive but accessible fare, top-notch drinks program and overall cool vibe. The dining room is also so spacious, you don't feel like you're in downtown Manhattan. If you go to Vandaag on a busy night, odds are hostess Ari Hardjowirogo will be manning the door.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? I'd say maybe 20 minutes to a half an hour. We don't usually get really busy until 8:45. Most of our reservations come late — it's the East Village, so it's par for the course. At 8:45 the wait is probably going to be closer to 45 minutes.
Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? How about gifts or cash to speed things along? No, I'm against that. If you're nice and you're patient, you're going to get a table. I think it's in poor taste.
Tell us about your favorite customers. We have this one customer who was my teacher from high school. I saw him in the book one night, and I was like "I know that name." And he came in with his wife and kids, and apparently he'd been here before and he's come back since. He's like a perfect person, and he's also cute. He was my senior web design teacher. Any celebs recently? Yes, but I don't want to say who.
How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? I think the best thing you can do is accommodate them however you can — give them a drink, let them know something's coming up. Usually when we don't have a table ready and I want to accommodate somebody, VIP or not, I'll just tell them it's going to be ten or fifteen minutes. I'll figure out a way.
What's the most outrageous request that you've accommodated? I think what's interesting about this restaurant is that people don't entirely know what to expect from it. So, we haven't had that many really outrageous requests. I think people come to the table saying "What can you show us" as opposed to "Hey, I want pasta." That's kind of the perk of working here. People are so curious. ...that you couldn't accommodate? Sometimes in the winter time, people want to sit more towards the back, and we can't do that right away. So, I start to seat from the middle out — it's a little seating trick I've learned.
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? A good memory. Sometimes 8,000 things are happening at once, and you just have to smile and be polite — that's the easy part. People are handing you five coats, and asking if their table's ready, and you're grabbing people from the bar. For those few seconds you're like "I may not make it out alive, I may have to run outside." But you get it done and it actually feels kind of rewarding. I like that about it.
When you're not at Vandaag where are you eating out? I really like Marlow & Sons. I love pizza and I live right near Lil' Frankie's, so I go there a lot. My boyfriend is vegetarian, so when he's in town we go to Quintessence, which I really like — it's cool that they can make all these crazy things with raw food. I go to PDT for hot dogs, and Osteria Morini.
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