big Chef Bill Fuller, December 2019
For more than a decade, my New Year’s Eve has been pretty established. But this year, everything changes. Because this year, we have added a new restaurant, Alta Via.
In previous years, I’ve started my New Year’s Eve journey at 3:00 when I visit Casbah to sit in on our pre-shift meeting. After we discuss the evening I hurry to Soba to join theirs, hopefully by 3:30. At these meetings, we review the night’s reservations, discuss any unusual requests or difficult turn times, and sample the items from the night’s tasting menus. I like to start the evening with Soba and Casbah because they are close together and I can time it so that I get to fully participate in both meetings.
After wishing the teams good luck, I head down to Kaya, arriving at 4:30 or 5. I’ll catch up with the crew there on the evening’s special menu items, any notable or unusual reservation requests, and chat with the team. I’ve missed the pre-shift meeting but can get a feel for how the night looks. I might ask them to make one of the items if I am not sure of it.
Finally at 5:30 or 6:00, I stop in at Eleven. By this time, the early push of service is starting. The first wave is made up of people that have a later party to go to, the people that have no desire to be out on the streets on New Year’s Eve any later than 8:00, and those that completely forgot to situate dinner reservations until the last minute.
Typical December 29-30 phone call to Eleven by these last-minute-reservers:
“Hello, thank you for calling Eleven. How may I help you”
“I’d like a reservation for two for Tuesday evening.” (Almost always a man.)
“For what time?”
“Oh, I don’t know. How about 7:30?”
“I’m sorry sir, all we have left is 5:45 or 10:15.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sorry. Would you like one of those times, sir?”
At this point, the caller has a decision to make. If he takes the early one, can he come up with a later activity that makes it look like he intended on an early dinner. If he takes the late reservation, can he convince his date that it will be fun and romantic. He also considers making a reservation and calling the next restaurant on his list, hoping for better luck.
“I’ll take 5:45.”
He will have the same conversation with the next restaurant. With similar results.
I hang there through some of this first wave. If they need any help, I do, but the Eleven team is usually pretty set at this point.
I text the restaurants, ask the chefs if they need me to bring them any product from anywhere, and head back up to Shadyside. Usually it is too early to be running out of ingredients but there might be some pre-planned sharing. I stop back at Casbah first to see how the night is developing. I chat with the managers and chefs, wander through the restaurant, get the feel of the night. I take a look at the tasting menu dishes, taste a few things, and mosey on out.
At this point, we are all into the meat of the night. It is around 7:30 or so. The first wave is usually going or gone, home or at their party, and we are into the second wave of diners. This group is the organized group, the ones that made their reservations early. The ones with structure. They want to have a nice dinner, maybe head home to release the baby sitter and ring it in with their kids, maybe hit a bar or a party before going home. This is a critical juncture. We need to get the restaurant reset after the early turn and get this middle turn to their tables and taken care of. They want to stay on their plan for the evening and we want to stay on ours. If this group gets behind, they will be late to their party and we will be late to seat the late diners. Nobody wants that.
I check in with the chefs again to see if any of them might need anything. Maybe the scallops at Eleven are selling better than expected and I need to grab some from Casbah to help them through. Or Soba is low on caviar and want me to swing by Eleven and bring them some. If I don’t have any errands to run, I visit Soba next. I check on service and the staff and if all is OK, I head back to the Strip.
I visit Kaya first. They are usually totally fine but I like to see how the later part of service is going. We have a number of regulars that like to see in the New Year at Kaya and this is when they begin to come in. It is after 9, and we are getting into the third wave everywhere. These are the people who intend to see in the New Year where they are having dinner or at a location quite close.
After seeing that all is well at Kaya, I will pay a visit to Eleven where service will be in full swing. Eleven at top speed is quite a show. Chef Eli Wahl running the window full of tickets, the Sous Chefs and cooks cooking and plating, the hosts greeting, seating, and saying goodnight to guests, bartenders making drinks and smiling, and waiters and bussers flying around the room while big Chris, the General Manager, solves all the little issues of the evening before they become actual problems. Not that all the restaurant teams aren’t doing the same thing but at Eleven, the scale there seems greater.
I might spend some time here, bringing ingredients up to the line, finishing a little prep, or helping at the pass. Often, this time of the night is when I get a desperate text from one of the chefs that they are really running low on an ingredient and can I bring some right now. “Like right now if you can we just sold the last salmon and have 73 more covers so if you could hurry that would be great OK?” I locate the product, get it, and head to that restaurant. I’ll finish the night there usually unless I am needed elsewhere.
At this point, it is close to or is at midnight. I’ll ring it in where I am or head to my family.
So this year, we have Alta Via. We are not quite sure how a big restaurant holiday will run there, how the book will develop, what diners might want to order. So I imagine I will spend a larger part of the evening there, seeing how the night flows, chatting with the staff, wandering the dining room. I am really excited to watch the evening develop there and see how it builds, how the crowd ebbs and flows, how it all comes together. A great culmination to a really good year of a new restaurant! I hope to see the evening all the way through.
Until I get that text.
“Chef, we are really getting low on filets. We have sold like 80. Can you find me some somewhere? OK thanks.”
Happy New Year and Happy New Decade!