This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of New York's hottest tables.
Philippe Barraud is as old-school as they come. A veteran of several different uptown French restaurants, Barraud was hired by John DeLucie to help open the swank Crown about a year ago. As the restaurant's maitre d', he's responsible for keeping the incoming customers happy and catering to the needs of the celebrity and fashion industry-heavy clientele with a minimum of fuss. Eater recently chatted with Barraud about getting a seat at Crown and about what the clientele is like.
It's 8 p.m. on a Saturday, what's the wait for a two-top with no reservations? Philippe Barraud, maitre d': An hour. It could be a little more, to be frank. 8 p.m. in the middle of the week or on the weekend, it's an hour. I say an hour, it could be a little more.
Is there anything I can do to make that shorter? A big smile might help. But no, bribes and cash, that stinks of the past. I consider it a faux-pas. I find it as an insult for myself and for the boss. I work for John DeLucie, who gave me the helm of the door to represent him and his partners. I represent John. I have ethics.
Do you all get a lot of celebrities? We do. We get a lot from the fashion business. The Ralph Lauren family?they love their table. Tom Ford is a regular here.
What do you think draws people like that to the restaurant? It's the ambiance of the place. When they come in, they see familiar faces, people who greet them or know them. They feel like it's a club. And the food is the first draw. The good thing [for us] is that they don't come once, like a trendy stop. They keep coming on a regular basis.
What are your other regulars like? A lot of neighborhood people. I hope that we're able to satisfy their needs in terms of reservation times. When celebrities and regulars are here, that starts to build a buzz [in the room]. Sometimes I'm not able to get a regular's favorite table but I can get a table next to it, and on her way to the table she's going to greet two or three tables and then she understands why I was not able to get her table. When I create a buzz, sometimes the intensity of the buzz draws in, then sizzles, and I can work in the room like my nose in the air and say, "I do a great job."
And who are your favorite customers? Those regulars. This business, Crown, is based on the regulars. Neighborhood people who come in, the base of our business. And for me, after working on the Upper East Side for the past 25, 28 years, [it's] friends. Bringing new friends, new customers, it's the best. You have to work with your heart. Yes, sometimes it is challenging, sometimes there is stress. But most of the time, everything works out.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated? During Fashion Week, I had five beautiful models from Brazil, from France, from this country. "We won't order until the maitre d' sits down with us." And I try to ignore it. The waiter comes to me and I say okay. I sat three minutes with each, enough time for the waiter to take the order and then I left.
I've had some interesting requests though. One day, this couple was getting engaged. The man came to me, gave me the ring, and said, "I want you to bake the chocolate soufflé with this in it." And I know a little about jewels and said no, this cannot happen to this stone. "But then what would you suggest, you're wrecking my plan?" I said, "Just relax." And when the souffle is ready I'm going to drop it on like icing on the cake just there. I brought it, but she didn't catch it because her eyes were right on the guy. But then he started to kneel down and she started to fall in tears and she said, "Yes yes yes," and then she saw the ring and started to cry again. The best is that this happened at a small table in the front, the whole dining room saw me doing it, my regulars saw it and said, "What's Philippe up to?" And everybody stopped dinner and stood up and started clapping their hands for like 10 minutes. The waiters asked, "Can we deliver food?" No, just wait.
Do you have a favorite table? The corners. This [the atelier] is my favorite room. When John interviewed me a year ago he said, "Why do you want to work here?" I said, "The décor." It reminds me of my favorite room in my apartment. It's called the atelier because it's supposed to remind you of a workshop in Milan, Paris, or places like that. This room is very romantic when it rains, but the best is when it snows.
Is that still your favorite thing about working in the restaurant? My favorite thing about working here? I think we make a good experience, a good spectacle. And we put our heads together, we work together. That's what makes people come in.
What's your favorite thing to eat here? The silk handkerchief pasta, a bolognese. People rave about it. And a new thing we do for brunch is the lobster frittata. It's tasty, simple. It's John's pride. Forget the omelettes, let's be Italian, John's got Italian roots.
And to drink? Three of my favorite drinks: the Spicy Pear Tom Collins, one of the latest creations. Also the Bee's Knees, it's a concoction of gin, honey, and wild berry jam. Ladies go crazy for it. And now we have a cross on a classic, not the Moscow Mule but the Mexican Mule.
When you're not here, where do you like to eat? Upper East Side, since I'm an old-timer and started my career at Bilboquet, I like to go there. I know Philippe [Delgrange] the owner, I know the menu by heart. I like Boulud Sud, it's a must. Jean Georges, I was the maitre d' there not too long ago. Downtown I like Valbella, Il Buco, Il Mulino. And Highlands in Greenwich Village, beautiful Scottish place, simple but straight to the point, nice people and a nice crowd, simple service that never disappoints.
· All Coverage of Crown [~ENY~]