This is The Gatekeepers, wherein Eater roams the city to meet the fine men and women standing between you and some of your favorite dining destinations.
Since opening on Claude Lane back in November, Gitane has been one of the hottest tickets in town. In its first few months of existence, its interior has received raves for being one of the most flashy in town, Lisa Eyherabide got Rising Star Chef status, and of course, Bauer gave it three stars. Not a bad start. But being a small restaurant with an unique seating situation and big crowds, it's the kind of restaurant that can give a gatekeeper fits. The man who minds the front of this house is Mr. Giovanni Pugliese.
Giovanni Pugliese, GM at Gitane: There are 12 stools at the bar, 36 seats upstairs, and 42 outside. My favorite is the beautiful large family table upstairs because it is in the middle of the room so you get a good vantage point of the whole dining room. 8PM on a Saturday night. What’s the wait for a table? Realistically it is about an hour to an hour and a half...it may seem long, but it is worth the wait!
Is there anything I can say to make my wait shorter? No, we try our best to take care of everyone, but of course we must honor reservations first. Ever been offered gifts or cash? No, accepting cash or gifts is not a policy we endorse because we believe in giving equal treatment to all. Tell us about your favorite customers. My favorite customers are enthusiastic diners, people who are open minded and interested in having a new experience.
Gitane is a small restaurant. How do you deal with VIPs, when there are no tables left to give? We don't have VIP's, we do have customers who visit us regularly and most of them are very gracious and willing to wait for a table. Of course we try to get them in as quickly as we can but not at the detriment of others who have made reservations or those who are already waiting. ...how about the owner’s friends? The owners' friends are aware that we are a busy restaurant and so they usually make reservations before coming in.
What’s the most outrageous request from a customer you’ve had to accommodate? We are pretty new so there hasn't been too many strange requests, but I guess I would have to say that the most outrageous request that I accommodated was seating a single individual at a four top...he requested a lot of space, and on the evening in question we were able to provide it. ...that you couldn’t accommodate? The strangest request that I have not been able to accommodate was having a couple request to have their drinks in the bathroom...I mean, I know we have a pretty nice restroom, but I had to say no.
What’s your favorite dish at Gitane? And what is the most popular dish? My favorite is the chicken tajine...I eat it almost every night!! There are quite a few dishes that are popular, the bacon bon bons are always a favorite because they are quick and easy to share, and the ribs are also one of the best sellers. Where do you eat when you're not here? I try to eat all over the city to get a feel for what is happening in the industry, one of my stand-by places that I find myself going to repeatedly is 1300 at Fillmore, (I love the fried chicken, the shrimp, and grits), and as a native Italian I find myself often eating at La Ciccia in Noe Valley and Capannina on Union street because they make me feel like I am eating at home.
Gitane opened in November, right smack in an economic meltdown, yet it's been packed since Day One. Why has it proven so popular? I think we are popular because we have a very intense and unique decor, good fresh food, tasty cocktails, unique wine list and a friendly staff...but the real key to our success is consistency.
What’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to do your job? My staff is the most important tool that I need to do my job well...from the hosts to the dishwashers...without them Gitane couldn't be what it is.