So there’s this restaurant in Brooklyn called Blanca. I awarded it four stars in my Bloomberg News column today. Naturally, there are some things I like about the joint. The reservations system is not one of them.
Here’s how it works: You call up on the first of the month at 9am. And instead of getting put on hold, you get a voicemail or a busy signal. There’s a very simple reason for this: There’s only one phone line. Yep.
So instead of booking up by 9:20am, Blanca usually books up by 2-3pm, Chef Carlo Mirarchi tells me. The upside is you get more chances to win the lottery. The downside is you have way too much time to win the lottery. I prefer the electronic systems of Momofuku Ko, Alinea, Next and elsewhere, where you know immediately whether you’re in or whether you’re out.
Is Blanca still a four star restaurant? Yes, it is. That’s not just because “no restaurant is perfect,” an aphorism we’re already familiar with. It’s that each of New York’s best restaurants has its own individual irritations.
I’ve often deemed the single meat dish at the end of Brooklyn Fare to be a bit of a letdown. The flavors at Le Bernardin, while pristine, can be maddeningly subtle. Per Se and Masa are just stratospherically expensive. Of course, Eleven Madison Park…well, we’ll talk about that later. And I’ve always found something passively oppressive about all the petits fours that magically appear at the end of long tasting menus (even though they’re meant to provide diners with an individual level of satiation).
The question is, do any of these flaws detract from the overall dining experience? In the case of Le Bernardin and Brooklyn Fare, the answer is: of course not, because the greatness of the meal as a whole overshadows any minor quibbles.
Though in the case of, say, Bouley or Bartolotta, I’ve found my memory of four-star dishes sullied, even years later, by kitchens who seemed almost hellbent on stuffing me beyond belief. Those aren’t four-star restaurants.
So more specifically in our case, the question is this: Did Blanca’s reservations policy detract from my enjoyment of Carlo Mirarchi’s meals? The answer is unequivocally: Not one bit. Over the course of three dinners at Blanca in August, October and November, I never left in anything less than a state of gustatory rapture.
Here’s the way I see things: Reservation systems are like noise in a restaurant. If the food and service are great, I tend to (or try to) forget about the Rihanna blasting through the sound system. But if the steak is overcooked and servers are spilling wine all over me, the Coldplay only makes things more aggravating. So yes, websites, credit card policies, reservation systems are all fair game for a review, but in this case, the food overshadowed the hassle at Blanca.
This is what I tell myself every year when it comes time to make a reservation at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where I’ve spent up to an hour straight on redial making Saturday night bookings, and whose lunacy-inducing piano hold music is perfect for all-night interrogations at a CIA black site somewhere in the mountains of Nowhere-stan (that music has finally been changed thank goodness).
Now here’s another question: Should I be giving four-stars to a place that’s impossible to get into? Of course not. And so it goes that Blanca isn’t impossible to get into. I’ve gotten in. And at least one of my hedge fund friends calls up Blanca at the beginning of every month, and within the hour, he has a reservation. He’s never failed once. There you have it. Blanca, like any other restaurant, has regulars.
It’s a four star restaurant. No two ways about it.
(Previously: My Gripe about Blanca’s Reservation System).