Welcome to Tough Doors, in which Eater talks to the chefs, GMs, and restaurateurs behind some of the world's most in-demand restaurants and gets the lowdown on how best to get in.
[Photo: Ulterior Epicure/Flickr]
Chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone quietly opened Torrisi Italian Specialties in late 2009 as a Mulberry Street hero spot. But soon after that, when the duo unveiled an affordable four-course set menu, with brilliant and loving takes on Italian-American cooking, it turned the place into one of the hottest restaurants of the last decade. At the beginning of 2012, Torrisi and Carbone briefly closed the restaurant to develop its 2.0 incarnation: a restaurant of the same size (25 seats), but with a slightly more grown-up feel and a second menu option of twenty courses inspired by New York City history. That particular experience is one of the most in-demand reservations in town.
With the ambitious 2.0 transition came several changes to booking policy. Here, in the following interview, Torrisi general manager Nialls Fallon explains how they do things now and the best ways to go about getting in for both the regular menu and the chef's tasting.
Can you describe the two experiences you offer at the restaurant?
We have two menus: one of them is our nightly menu, which is essentially seven dishes. There are four antipasti dishes served family style, then there is a pasta course, then there is a main course where you can choose between fish and meat, and then there is the pastry course. That’s every night. You can make a reservation for it or walk-in and see if we have a table.
The other option is a 20-course chef’s tasting menu. We take reservations for that thirty days out, but we only do a limited number of tables per evening. Those tables book up right when they become available.
How fast does the regular menu book up?
For Friday and Saturday, it’s three weeks in advance. And for most weeknights, it’s three weeks for the 8:00 seating, but other days and non prime-time hours a little bit later.
And this is all by reservation?
We don’t necessarily hold tables for walk-ins. You can reserve for the four-course thirty days out. You basically can reserve any table you like in the restaurant, except the two to four that we hold for the chef’s tasting menu.
So you've shifted the focus from walk-ins. It used to be that you'd have to line up around 4:30 and then you'd get assigned a time for the evening.
No longer the case. But if you come by the restaurant at 5:30, which is when we used to take names, you are more than welcomed to pop your head in to see if we have an open table. More often than not, we usually do have about one that we don’t book out. Friday and Saturdays are typically full, though. So basically you are coming in and instead of putting your name on the list, like it used to be, you’re reserving the open table for the evening.
The opening’s usually at 5:30 or 10. You can also call when we open and reserve the free table for the night.
It used to be that you could only reserve open tables for the night of if you showed up at the restaurant. You can now book it by phone?
We are no longer doing that. You can definitely call and solidify it now.
Do you have a waitlist for the regular menu?
We will take a waitlist the night of for the regular menu, but we don’t really have that many cancellations. We’ll take about three or four names and then cut it off.
Do you recommend calling or using OpenTable?
We have a reservationist Monday to Friday, and if you are flexible, I recommend you call. She can help you a little bit more.
Now let's talk about the chef's tasting.
It opens at 9 AM thirty days out. I recommend calling right at that moment, because it only takes a few minutes for it to book up. It’s only by phone.
And you take a wait list for this one.
We do take a wait list for that menu, which as I explained isn’t the case for the regular menu.
The question is, how often do people cancel?
Surprisingly enough, we have cancellations often for that menu, even though people fight really hard to get tables when they first open up. As soon as we have a cancellation, the reservationist starts calling people. Sometimes people put their names down for a specific day, while others say something like any weekend night or weekday.
So you are flexible about the amount/span of days someone can be on the wait list for the chef's tasting?
Any last words?
All I can say is give us a call. We’ll work with you. And remember that for the regular menu, we’ll usually have one table available after we open for service.