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.
Coppelia is the new Latin luncheonette from chef Julian Medina of Toloache and the Yerba Buena restaurants, with desserts by Pichet Ong. They're currently serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but soon they'll be open 24 hours a day, and they'll have a full bar. Manager Ricardo Palafox, a vet of Medina's other projects, will show you to your table.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait? It hasn't been more than a fifteen minute wait for a table, but once we have the liquor, it's going to be a lot busier.
If the wait is long, is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? The key to make it happen anywhere is to be as nice as possible. I'll find a way to accommodate you, even if there's no space — I'll bring up a table from downstairs and make it happen. What about cash or gifts? I think that anybody would appreciate something like that. I'd never seat you before somebody else because you gave me a tip. But I've worked in other restaurants where the customers come in at Christmas and give you a gift card or a bottle of rum, and that's always nice, because you take the time to take care of them all year.
Tell us about your favorite customers. We have an older couple, Lowell and Sharon, and they're very cute. They live in the neighborhood and they're here almost every day — sometimes they come in the morning and come back at night. They've been here since the first day we opened — they told me that they were looking in the window during friends and family, wondering when they could come in. Any Celebs? Yeah. The first celebrity we had was, I forget her name — Gwyneth Paltrow's Mom? Blythe Danner. Yes. She was here after we opened, and she just sat down and had some iced tea.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated? We do get requests for large groups, and we can accommodate that — twelve people, sixteen people. And that you couldn't accommodate? We're good with substitutions, but we do get requests for some very strange stuff. They want a burger, but they want it to be made a certain way. We pre-make the patties before service, so it's not like we can go downstairs and grind them a new patty.
When you're not at Coppelia, where are you eating? I love to eat out. I had the night off the other day and I went to Beauty & Essex, I love that place. I also went to Theater Bar recently. It's good — it's very similar to Apotheke.
What's your most important gatekeeper tool? For me, it's important to make sure that the service is well-rounded. You don't have to be a three-star restaurant to have good service. You've got to make sure that at some point you come up to the customer and get some feedback, and always make sure that they leave happy. If something didn't work out, you always make up for it.
What's the best thing on the menu? The huevos rancheros, because you can order them any time. We have a Cuban sandwich with shredded pork and ham, and it's delicious. There's also a similar sandwich called a pan con lechon and they put smoked pieces of pork rind in there, so when you bite into the sandwich, there's some crunch and it's delicious. People love the fact that the prices are so reasonable, and the sizes are great. And I love working with Pichet, I recommend all of his desserts.
· All Coppelia Coverage [~ENY~]
· All Previous Editions of The Gatekeepers [~ENY~]