March 27 2014

Talking Tables with Narcissa's Maitre D'

New York-Table Talk

The Bar Room at Narcissa (Photo: Chris Mosier)

Sent into to exile by the bathrooms or ushered to the privileged corner table, restaurant seating is a social minefield. And which is the best table anyway? At the back, Andy Warhol-style, or is that too lonely? Near the front or is that too exposed? "There's no one answer," says Narcissa's highly experienced and urbane maitre d' Kevin King, "but many choices."

The Standard East Village's new restaurant has two dining rooms - the bar dining room and the kitchen dining room -- and a chef's counter. Each has its charms -- the dining room with its subdued light, carpet and fabrics is more elegant; the Shaker-meets-Bauhaus front room with its canteen-feel and open kitchen, more fun.

The Kitchen Room (Photo: Chris Mosier) Did you catch The New Yorker's review?

"More people request the chef's counter more than anywhere else," says Kelly. "People like watching the preparation of food, and since we have such a high-calibre kitchen, I think people really enjoy it."

But often it's not about the room per se, but about the mix of people. "It's about curating the evening with groups of people," says King. "It's fun. You can sprinkle them all around and see what happens." King is backed up by a reservations office that cues him to the evenings' reservation list. Who can you definitively not sit next together? People in real estate? French philosophers? Wives and mistresses? People in matching outfits? "I've never seen anything like that!," he offers, ever the master of diplomacy.

Old school seating chart for a White House Dinner thrown by Mrs. Kennedy.

The most difficult part of the job is putting people in a room and making them feel comfortable. Music's too loud or the room is too bright, the maitre d' will be making corrections on his rounds. "When you go to a restaurant, it's easy to pick out what you don't like about it. If something's off, you'll pick up on it. So we spend a lot of time trying to make all that perfect. We want you to have a fine time in addition to having a great meal."