BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (TheStreet) -- Some are new and others have been around for a food generation, but they're all the toughest restaurant reservations in America. But before you start trying to crack through Opentable and secure a table online, many of the hottest restaurants aren't even on the site -- at least not yet. Instead, many of the nation's hottest chefs are devising innovative booking policies of their own that could prove a wider trend for America's hottest restaurants.
In New York, old standards such as Thomas Keller's Per Se atop the Time Warner Building on Columbus Circle and Boulud's eternal, epnoymous Upper East Side Daniel, with its Adam Tihany-designed interiors, are consistently a tough reservation to snag after all these years, with weekend and Thursday nights being predictably the toughest to book. Persistent Opentable users will be most successful booking at least a week in advance or calling the restaurants directly for prime time slots, such as 7:30 or 8 p.m., that are sometimes restricted from the Opentable site by the restaurants.
In Tribeca at the Greenwich Hotel, Locanda Verde occupies the restaurant spot quickly vacated by Ago following terrible reviews and lackluster business -- and, unlike Ago, is a sure-fire hit. When asked about a reservation at 7:30 on any night, the attendant advises, "That's our most coveted reservation time and usually fills up 30 days in advance when the time slots are released." Guests come in search of the cozy, chic, celebrity-filled air fragranced by the work of Chef Andrew Carmellini, former chef at Cafe Boulud, who uses sophisticated French cooking techniques on feel-good northern Italian fair.
In Los Angeles, one of the most coveted dining reservations is at the well-known Chateau Marmont. On a recent first attempt to make a reservation, the attendant insisted that the restaurant is for hotel guests only and suggested instead the neighboring Bar Marmont. A second try and friendlier host at another hour, however, got offers of various time slots and a promise that "We'll put in a request for the terrace but can't guarantee it." Famous faces are always seated outside, illustrating the pointlessness of showing up without a reservation. The astute door lady has a list of everyone staying at the hotel as well as booked into the restaurant, so walk-ins are essentially impossible after dark. (A famous face helps. Bring a celebrity.)
Another new L.A. restaurant hasn't even published a phone number yet, let alone started to accept reservations: the much-anticipated and mysterious Il Covo. It's Sean MacPherson, also an owner of the Bowery Hotel and New York's Waverly Inn, who has revamped the former Orso near West Hollywood and run a successful soft opening around construction taking the space from Under the Tuscan Sun to moody Victorian mansion with a gothic flair. The soft opening's lunch service has been mostly by invitation, and there's been hushed dinner service and private parties as well.