Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which we roam the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
[Photo: R. Lopez]
It's been almost a year since the opening of Elisir, chef Enzo Fargione's venture into fine dining in Penn Quarter. And in that time, Fargione's inventive dishes like Italian-style sushi rolls and branzino carpaccio served in cigar boxes have generated buzz, helping earn Elisir a nomination for New Restaurant of the Year at this year's RAMMY awards.
Eater sat down with Hilaire Creamer, Elisir's brand new general manager and sommelier, a native Parisian who worked most recently at Bistro Provence in Bethesda with Chef Yannick Cam. Joining Creamer is manager Nam Kim, who's been there since the beginning when the restaurant opened last fall. Together, they share the scoop on dealing with food allergies, serving a "Matrix" star, and why you might want to drop by on a Saturday night, even without a reservation.
Say it's 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. What's my wait for a table?
HC: On a Saturday night, I would say no more than 15 minutes. We always have space and tables for our guests, with reservations or no reservations.
How do you do that?
HC: We space it.
What if there was a long wait, is there anything I can say or do to make my wait shorter?
HC: Yes, you are more than welcome at the bar.
Has anyone ever tried to slip you money or gifts?
HC: Not at all. We're not the type.
How far in advance should people make reservations?
NK: Maybe a week. But we'll always accommodate, we'll always have a table. HC: We never say no.
What's the most outrageous request you haven't been able to accommodate?
NK: We're pretty good about accommodating all of our guests that come in, whether its something as simple as food allergies, or whatever. We're always able to accommodate. Nothing too outrageous. That's actually one of the questions our servers are trained to ask, when guests sit down we'll ask if they have any food allergies, or any aversions to any food. Part of the reason is because we send out an amuse-bouche to each guest, and if there's a component in each dish they might be allergic to, that's why we ask.
I know the lunch service is a little more relaxed here, you take the linen off the tables during lunch. Are you more relaxed during lunch?
HC: We are absolutely relaxed, lunch and dinner. We are very confident in what we do, we're professionals, therefore there's no, what's the word in English? Tightness? NK: We're very relaxed here. HC: We are very professional. It's true, that some of our people being new, tend to be a little nervous, but with time that dissipates very quickly, because we are relaxed all the way up to the top.
So tell me about some of your regular customers. Do you get VIPs here?
NK: Oh, absolutely. HC: We don't brag too much about who comes here, who's who. We need to know, management needs to know, the kitchen needs to know, but we don't brag. If you happen to be here, and you see John Travolta, you want to say it, you say it, but we don't brag. It's Washington, DC, so, you'll have a lot of people. No less or no more than in other fine dining.
Is John Travolta one of your customers?
HC: No, I was just — he comes to my house for dinner. I was just mentioning that. NK: We've had obviously congressmen, senators, lobbyists, in far as any celebrities, we've had Laurence Fishburne. He's been in here before. I believe that might've been documented on your website. It's not uncommon. And we have obviously other famous people who've been in here as well.
Any other names?
HC: We don't brag about it.
And where do you eat when you're not here?
NK: Me personally, I love going to my favorite spot called Domku. I love going there. Normally I go there on Sundays with my lady. It's just a great neighborhood spot to go to. That' s a spot that we love going to.
Do you have any places you love going to?
HC: Yeah, home sweet home. No, I like French restaurants, Thai food, I'm trying to eat what I don't cook at home. Maybe every two years, Big Mac? But rarely.
And what's the one Gatekeeper tool that you need to do your job?
NK: The one tool, I would say, is always keeping cool. Keeping your composure. Once you lose that, things will go down hill. I think that's a very important tool, or asset to have, for anyone running front of the house. HC: Meditation.
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