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.
[Photos: Matthew Kang]
As the operating partner and general manager of two red-hot restaurants in the South Bay, Jerry Garbus certainly has a lot on his hands. But just three months into Fishing With Dynamite, the seafood spot from chef David Lefevre, Garbus has had to manage a ceaseless wave of diners that pack into the diminutive 34-seat restaurant. Before this gig, Garbus was managing Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica and Water Grill in Downtown, decamping to the sandy confines of Manhattan Beach to open M.B. Post, which remains busy on a nightly basis. Eater sits down with the articulate front man of these two seaside eateries, learning the tricks of landing a table, and managing the oftentimes lengthy waits.
How's it been since opening Fishing with Dynamite? It's been a wild three months. When we opened M.B. Post, we had a much slower build up. With Fishing, we were literally getting done with the final details of construction, doing all the staff training at Post, then had an intense opening. Given the expectations at M.B. Post and how well received the restaurant was, we knew it was going to be a wild ride from the moment we opened. It's by far the smallest restaurant I've ever opened. There's a lot of energy in the small space. It's a very different experience since we have to be creative with the area we have. You have to figure out where to put service stations, POS systems, glassware, equipment.
What was it before? It was local legendary restaurant called Talia's that had been operating for 30 years. It was already a compact place that got smaller after we installed a raw bar that fits up to three cooks as well as refrigeration.
What's the wait like for a four-top at, say, 7 p.m. on a Saturday night? It could be an hour or two, depending on the traffic.
What's the best time to come if someone wants to walk in? Any time prior to 6 p.m. is the best bet. You'll only wait for a short time.
Do you take reservations? We have 34 seats but we have a lot of diners who are willing to come in spontaneously. I think larger groups or people that don't wish to wait in line, or want to go at a certain time would definitely benefit from reservations. When I go out, I don't always have the option of dining early. We allow guests to have that option at Fishing, so we take reservations pretty far in advance.
What happens when someone has to wait for a table, even if they have a reservation? It does happen occasionally, and when people do have to wait, either myself or the assistant GM, Dustin Stredwick, will always be involved. Of course, we have to be willing to let the guest speak, letting them know about the situation and being apologetic. We make amends in some way, and most guests are happy with a glass of Champagne or a cocktail. Others just want to be heard and might want something waiting for them when they sit. There are many ways to handle the situation, but you can't apply a simple formula. I think hospitality professionals should always be empathetic and be willing to take care of guests, whether it's something regarding service or a dish that isn't cooked correctly. At the end of the meal, we always want people to feel like their expectations weren't just met, but exceeded.
What about when people don't show up for reservations? It must be tough to handle with such a small restaurant. We do have no-shows, but I don't claim to know what's going on in people's lives. They could have forgotten. We're human, and guests are human. We're very lucky to have a lot of demand, so we're very easily able to fill seats from the wait list. Not every restaurant has that kind of demand so we consider ourselves very fortunate and humbled to be able to offer seats to the next guests. But we always wait 20 minutes. If a guests calls and tells us they're running late, we'll do our best to push things back and wait up to 30 minutes.
Has anyone tried to slip you a tip to reduce their wait? We always appreciate the gesture but we politely decline.
What's the percentage of guests that are local? It's probably 60-65% local at Fishing with Dynamite, and probably more at M.B. Post.
What's your favorite thing to eat on the menu? The crab cake. It's a purist crab cake, with all colossal lump meat, no filler. It's basically in its naked form with only a layer of bread crumbs on the bottom and sprinkled on top for texture. I also think our raw bar is pretty awesome.
What makes a good raw bar? Oysters are very delicate and are very place-specific, like a wine's terroir. At Fishing, we always list the name of the oyster and where it comes from. Some restaurants list, "oysters" and that's it. But there are so many varieties that have subtle nuances. Chef David has been able to cultivate a lot of great relationships after working with these oyster farmers for years at Water Grill, so we can sometimes get the product more quickly, resulting in a fresher oyster. We make sure the oyster is cut properly and served cold over ice.
What's good to drink? We have 10 beers on draft that have a broad range and spectrum. We have a small wine list of 23 by the glass and 50 by the bottle. We lean more toward the whites, and try to get things that are esoteric, small production, and single vineyard or estate. We mirror this concept with the oysters, wines that have a sense of place.
And cocktails? We have eight drinks that we make from scratch. We build cocktails that are spirit forward that have subtle nuances and flavors that still go well with food. They're geared more toward the raw bar. We have one called Through the Looking Glass made with gin, dry vermouth, and sherry. It's lean, elegant, with a little creaminess on the palate from the sherry. It's gorgeous with oysters. We want to introduce more of the guests to gin since the community already loves vodka.
How many turns are you doing throughout the day? For dinner, up to four turns, and for lunch, on a busy day like today, up to three and a half.
You must get a lot of celebrities here. Who's been by? We get a lot of celebrities. Maria Sharapova, Stanley Tucci, Steve Buscemi, there's a lot of people in the community. The Lakers and Clippers practice facilities are nearby, so we get a lot of sports people. We also get Dodger players that have come in. Most of the time we don't want them to feel like they're being noticed, so we use a delicate touch. We make sure everything is impeccable, like every guest. We've never had an issue with a celebrity feeling harassed.
What's the difference between doing a restaurant here and say, Downtown L.A.? Downtown was upscale, lots of pre-theater and business folks, or people on dates. Diners tended to focus on their own table, which is great. Here, people are happy. People want you to stop by their table and say hi. We're playing music like Led Zeppelin, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, The Ramones. The bar is packed and the place is bustling. It's like everyone's part of the party. Here, everybody tends to know each other and everyone likes each other.
·All The Gatekeepers Coverage [~ELA~]