When George Mendes finally opened his Iberian-centric restaurant Aldea three months ago, the place was met with considerable amount of early buzz. Two words: duck rice. Since then, the food world—including an out-going Mr. Bruni—has descended upon the restaurant. All of these things mean you should expect a wait if you try to grab a walk in table. And you'll need to talk to Tanya Holland and Ginger Spencer.
Tania Hallim and Ginger Spencer, Hostesses:
TH: There are about seventy seats between the two levels. A lot of people like the chefs counter. I think it's great. Plus, there are a lot of hotties working in the kitchen. That's my favorite place to be. GS: There really is not a bad seat in the house. Can't go wrong. Who wins in the kitchen hotties race? GS: I'd have to say our boss.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table?
GS: Sometimes there will be a wait on a Saturday night. But we do reserve some tables for walk in seating at the bar and in the bar area. While they're waiting some people will come in and have appetizers at the bar. TH: The bar's great for cocktails. We have fantastic bartenders and nobody really minds waiting for a table and they usually get one.
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter?...How about gifts or cash to speed things along?
GS: Well, it depends on how much money they have.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
GS: Yes. We like friendly people and customers that are patient and understand that it's good food and worth the wait. Those are our VIP's. TH: The neighborhood regulars are really great. Those are the people who come in two to three times a week and they're really sweet. We love them and treat them like a VIP.
Any celebs been by recently?
TH: We've had a couple but I don't think we should name names.
How do you deal with VIP's, when there are no tables left to give?
GS: The reason we like our VIP's so much is that they're patient with us and they understand why they have to wait. So usually they're fine with waiting for something to open up. I'd say Tanya's a miracle worker. She can make anything happen. TH: And Ginger butters up the customers. If they need someone to talk to, Ginger's got that part covered. Together we're a team.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could accommodate?
TH: We had a regular call up the night before for a small get together of ten people for the next night--it was a Saturday--at 8pm. But you know what, we did it, we shuffled some things are around and he was really happy.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could not accommodate?
GS: I don't think we've really had anything like that. TH: Well, I had a woman call me and ask if there was anything "child friendly" only the menu. I told her that really depends on what your kid eats. And she said, "well he really only likes chicken fingers." I was like, "no, I'm sorry, we don't have any chicken fingers on our menu." So that was one request that we really couldn't accommodate.
Speaking of outrageous requests, when we did a Gatekeepers at Corton, they told us a story about preparing a three course inflight meal for three. What are the odds that a VIP could make something like that would happen at Aldea?
TH: Just walk back into the kitchen and ask George!
What's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job?
TH: Patience, a smile and comfortable shoes. GS: Definitely comfortable shoes. We try to treat our guests if this was their home.
When you're not at Aldea, where are you eating?
TH: My idea of heaven would be having Sushi of Gari every night. And for separate reasons I still love Balthazar. GS: I enjoy Balthazar too. But I'm more of a Dean & DeLuca person. It's fast, it's quick and it's on the way. I don't really have a lot of time to sit and eat at restaurants and if I do, I usually eat here.