Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Elizabeth Daniels 9/11
Five months after chef Ricardo Zarate opened Mo-Chica in downtown's Mercado La Paloma, restaurateur Stephane Bombet came in looking for a new chef with which to partner. Four hours later Zarate and Bombet became business partners and three months ago they opened their first joint project (a second is already underway), Picca, a modern Peruvian restaurant that has been packed since day one. And it certainly didn't hurt that Zarate won Food & Wine's top honor of Best New Chef just before the restaurant launched. So, what's the best way to score a last minute seat at Picca?
1) How far in advance do you need to call to make a reservation for Picca? Picca is a 100-seat restaurant and at least 25% is for walk-ins. So, during the week, you can usually try to call the day of or just show up and wait at the bar. For the weekend, I advise to reserve 3 or 4 days in advance -- but we always have last-minute cancellations so you could score a table at the last minute, too. It's all about karma.
2) It's 8PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? If you don't have a reservation, I'd say up to 2 hours. 8pm is the worst time for us to seat walk-ins because that's when we seat the most people in a night. If you do have a reservation and the people that came before you didn't decide to try all 50 items on the menu, then I'd say you shouldn't wait more than five minutes.
3) Is there anything I can do to make my wait shorter? Come at 6pm or 9:30pm or just come with one friend. It's easier for us to squeeze in two people. We also seat people at the bar, which offers the full menu, so if you're up for that, then you should be able to be seated fairly quickly.
4) Has anyone tried to slip you a bribe or name-drop at the door to get a table?I welcome everybody the same way so who you know doesn't really matter. The math is simple: We can seat 100 people at a time, so if we are full, I won't be able to seat you (even if you're Nicolas Sarkozy). We are very thankful to have so many people coming every night to enjoy Ricardo's food and that's what matters. If you tell me that you are going to die if you don't eat his food tonight, I'll definitely find you a table -- but that's about it.
5) Do you find that customers compare Mo-Chica and Picca? Picca is Ricardo's new concept, and it is very different. I personally never compare the two, but I know some people do. But the vibe, the menu, the decor, etc. -- it's so different that as soon as you sit down at Picca, they just want to see what Ricardo has prepared for them. It's incredible to see how loyal our customers are; they never just "like" it -- they "love" it. It always makes me very happy to go around the dining room to talk to our customers. We still get cranky ones -- what restaurant doesn't? But as soon as they eat his food, they chill out. I believe people understand that Ricardo cooks with his heart and then, they totally get it.
6) Do customers compare Sotto and Picca? I don't think so! Sotto has pizza.
7) Do you get a lot of celebrities? If you mean chefs, yes, we do! We are always happy to get all kind of celebrities, but we have a soft spot for chefs and hospitality gurus. We are very proud when they come to see what we do. But, yes, we do have some movie stars, too.
8) What's the best thing on the menu? I can tell you what I like the most, but I don't know if it's the best thing. Every night I sit down around 11pm, and I eat black cod anticuchos, pollo saltado and a ceviche mixto. I wish I could eat the entire 32-ounce rib eye by myself because I do think it's an incredible dish.
9) Are customers generally familiar with Peruvian cuisine? I'd say half of them are. The other half is usually very confused -- at first. We really take a lot of time every night to explain where the dishes come from, why they are on the menu and what is Peruvian cuisine.
10) When you are not at Picca where are you eating? Son of a Gun, Public Kitchen, Yakitoriya, Ray's and Stark Bar, and Mozza.