This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Bobby Domenick is is the GM of Philly's most famous restaurant, Vetri. Marc Vetri's eponymous restaurant is known for stunning Italian cookery and wine, but critically lauded for providing the best service on the East Coast, and maybe the entire country. Domenick had some seriously large shoes to fill when he got promoted to GM a year ago. Eater chatted him up about his experiences with Marc Vetri, being offered big cash for tables, and the best kept wine secret in Philadelphia.
How long have you been working in the Vetri family? I've been in the Vetri family three years, now. I'm just coming up on my first year as GM of Vetri.
It's Saturday night at 8:00 P.M. What's the wait for a table? A half-hour to an hour if it's possible. But, typically on Saturday, we're booked about 8 weeks in advance. There are two seatings each night, and if we do for some reason have a table open at second seating, you should walk in around 9 or 9:15. But, that isn't too often.
Any tips for people trying to score a reservation on short notice? Always put your name on the waiting list, and bug us every day. Call the reservation desk every day if it's short notice. If they see you're serious, and it's a name they recognize from calling often, they'll try to accommodate you. Be tenacious. One guy offered me $200 cash for a table. I said no, of course. That would mean upsetting another customer, which we're just not going to do.
Do you have regulars at Vetri? Yes, we have people who have been coming here since 1998 when we opened. We have people who have been here 300 times. Our most consistent regulars come every two weeks, they have standing reservations.
What's the weirdest request you've ever gotten from a guest? Nothing crazy, really, but since our menu is tasting only, it's mainly about dietary restrictions. One woman came here with a list of like 30 items she couldn't eat, and Adam (Leonti, Chef de Cuisine) put together a pretty fabulous menu under challenging circumstances. She was so happy about it, too. Said she had died and gone to heaven. It makes you happy to hear that stuff.
Who are VIPs at Vetri? Regulars and people in the restaurant industry. Marc has made that a focus here for a long time.
Any celebrities come here? All the time. During my stint, it's been Robert DeNiro, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez. Um. Oh, Wanda Sykes.
What are the difficult aspects of working at Vetri? Nothing moreso than the hours, which are very long. But, that's the case in the restaurant industry as a whole. I'm responsible for doing all wine pairings, which is a challenge, for sure, but I love the challenge. It's something I really enjoy.
Are you a trained sommelier or did you learn on the job? I'm trained. I graduated from The Restaurant School, I got my Bachelor's Degree. I took a lot of wine courses there. I don't have a Master Sommelier, though. But, I learned a lot about Italian wine when I was working on the floor at Osteria for 9 months, too. It's great. Each night, we'll have upwards of 30 bottles of wine with the tasting menu.
How long do you foresee yourself staying in the Vetri family? It's the greatest experience of my life, and the best job I've ever had. I will stay here as long as I have a choice. It's that simple. I've learned so much, and am really lucky I got this opportunity.
Service is one of the hallmarks of the Vetri experience. What other spots in Philly have service that impresses you? The Fountain, definitely. And Lacroix does a nice job, too. With the changeover at Le Bec-Fin, I am sure they're going to be up there, as well. I'm excited to see what they do.
When you're not working at Vetri, where do you hang out? I find myself at Oyster House during happy hour, and Pub and Kitchen. The biggest secret in Philly though has to be the reserve wine list at Monk's. Everyone is there for beer, but don't sleep on that wine list. I got a half bottle of 1994 Chateau Cheval Blanc there, and at a really good price. It's crazy. I guess the secret's out now.
You've been named as one of the final 50 on the Eater Young Guns list. What does that mean to you? I was really surprised, but it's an honor, of course. It means I'm doing something right. To be on that final list of over 2,000 nominees is something I never would have expected. I couldn't be happier about it.
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