Nearby, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of the Food Network's 2 Dudes Catering have followed up the success of their L.A. restaurant Animal with Son of a Gun. An impossible reservation to snag on any day, the compact restaurant is in a familiar space on L.A.'s Third Street that looks like the dining room of a summertime Boy Scout camp. Reservation requests are usually greeted with "How about 5:30 p.m.?" but you can try arriving in the early evening and scouting out a spot at the communal table, which is always on a first-come basis. You can forget scouring Opentable for cancellations. Neither of the chefs' hit restaurants are using the service.
Another restaurant bucking the Opentable trend is San Francisco's new Locanda Osteria by Craig and Anne Stoll, co-owners of Pizzeria Delfina in the Mission District. The cozy, anti-glam space offers innovative Roman cuisine and bar and plans to stay open till 1 a.m. -- a rarity in the area. The owners are using an online reservation system called Rez by UrbanSpoon that allows customers to immediately see available reservations in a pull-down screen on the actual restaurant website, versus Opentable's system of having to enter requested time and submit to a central booking system.
But perhaps the biggest restaurant opening of 2011 is in Chicago, where three-star Michelin Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea has debuted the aptly named Next Restaurant. The restaurant got more than 20,000 inquiries before opening for its new payment system, which has customers buying in advance for the entire meal, gratuity and add-ons such as standard or reserve wine pairings. Getting a ticket, however, is near to impossible; only a select number of applicants got confirmation, which some re-sold on Craigslist -- tickets to Next Restaurant are transferable but not refundable. The process will likely eliminate no-shows, but diners are still asked to show up 15 minutes in advance of their reservations and tell the restaurant if they're running late.
Next Restaurant is also innovative in its rotating menu, inspired by Paris 1906 and the cuisine of Escoffier at the Ritz. It's a culinary sonnet of turtle soup, seared foie gras and breast of duck that unfolds as foodie zealots sneak iPhone shots and tweet to jealous friends.
Next to Next, Achatz has debuted a "Cocktail kitchen" called The Aviary that puts a molecular gastronomic spin on the classic lounge bar with its bite-size food pairings for drinks that mimic flavors such as hot chocolate and truffles. Those that expect to just arrive and be seated, however, are confronted with multihour waits for the first-come seating and doorman small talk. At the opening, some people waited six hours to get in.
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