What to Do When You’re Turned Away at Carbone

If I’ve learned anything after a year of crashing restaurants, free of reservations, to see if it’s possible to secure in-demand seats with zero planning, it’s that no table is truly impossible. My tactics may be brutish— arrive at prime time, wait as long as it takes to get a spot — but the city’s restaurant staffers, to their credit, always find a way to make it work. At Tatiana, I glided into luxurious outdoor seating. Lilia’s hosts were almost disarmingly kind. Claud simply had room, and so did Torrisi.

Through it all, there has been one name loomingCarbone. Eleven months into this beat, my feelings on the restaurant could be summed up quickly: How hard can it be, really? Sure, the always-closed curtains present as unwelcoming and the Resy page is laughably useless, likely by design. The fantasy of Carbone is that it’s an impenetrable temple of spicy rigatoni. The reality, I assumed, is that it would be like pretty much every other restaurant in New York.

But the real reality, I discovered recently, is that there is no getting past the giant overcoat-clad bouncer parked outside. “You’re talking about Carbone,” he said after I asked if I could head in. “This is one of the top three restaurants in the city.” While I was curious which two spots he ranked alongside his own, I decided to keep the conversation on topic. Nobody walks in, really? I asked if things were different for celebrities, if A-listers were able to glide in on the nights their teams forgot to call ahead. He chuckled as I asked: “Not a chance.”

I was humiliated, and also hungry. But I was still set to get in somewhere I likely shouldn’t, sans booking. So I walked a few blocks west to the recently-expanded I Sodi. The original, of course, was the size of a small canoe; at the new restaurant, I was told it would be about 45 minutes for a seat at the bar. I was in.

The host was chattier and more congenial than most I’ve encountered, making every party in the crowded waiting area feel seen. During my accurately quoted wait, any sense that I Sodi was a difficult seat to score faded away. Everyone got treated like a regular, whether or not it was the case. Then, almost an hour after my rejection on Thompson Street, I sat right down for dinner.

As the tiramisu hit the table, I knew what I needed to do. It was now approaching 10 p.m., and we’d be heading into the night’s final seating at Carbone. I was full, and less confident, but still curious. As the bouncer watched me approach, however, it became all too clear that this would not be a triumphant return. He laughed, but he never gave an inch. I had no choice but to laugh with him.

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