Saturday, January 16, 2016

How to Crash a Top Rated Restaurant

Because we book all our own travel, and because we prefer a more leisurely pace over seeing absolutely every single thing there is to see or do in any particular destination.... we sometimes, but not always, book dinner reservations way ahead. So here's a few helpful hints about what we've learned along the way ~ about how to crash a top-rated restaurant without a reservation.

If you're like us, we just don't like being locked down to a tight schedule; we don't always know what we'll be in the mood for 2 months ahead of time; and we don't yet have a "feel" for the city or that country's cuisine.  But, fine food (which is not always the same as fine dining) is one of the things we love best about traveling.  

We recently, for example, heard about Lima's Centrale Restaurant, which (by the list we saw) was rated as #4.  Not in Lima.  The #4 Best Restaurant in the world.  

Reservations are, of course, required;  and must be booked several months in advance.   
Here's how we got a table that night ~ 
and a subsequent invitation to visit the kitchen~ 

We learned from our new friend Sebastian, who's the Chef at Urko Restaurant in Quito, Ecuador (see the blog post called, "It's Urko!"), that Centrale was not-to-be-missed. But we knew we were unlikely to get a reservation at just two weeks ahead.

Sebastian gives us the skinny.  He tells us to be there right when the doors open. To be early, to be first in line, if we can.  To tell the hostess that we're going to the bar for drinks (they can be non-alchohol, if you prefer) & appetizers, but.  If a table comes open, we'd love to have dinner.  (BTW, that would be a Travel Tip)

This particular restaurant has a strict "15 minute cancellation policy", Sebastian tells us.  If you are more than 15 minutes later than your reservation time, you lose your table.  And they just might give it to the couple who was first in line, who are enjoying appetizers at the bar right this minute.

And that is how we came to enjoy one of the most unique and delicious meals we have ever been privileged to.  The story well-deserves it's own post, though, so be watching for that one.  Centrale is the experience of a food-lover's lifetime. 

In many European countries, the trick is simply early dining (which suits us much better, anyhow).  Travel Tip:  In cities where they dine very late at night, showing up just as, or just before, they open, when tables are empty, works very well; since most of their reservations will be for later in the evening.  

A restaurant who's tables look like this at 10:10 PM will be crammed to the hilt by 10:30 or 11:00, and positively busting at the seams by midnight.


In Florence, the owner demanded that we "Sit -- Sit!" and have a glass of wine w/bread when we showed up at 7 PM ~ (Florentians don't usually dine till 9 or 10:00 PM) ~ and an invitation to wait for the daily pasta special ~ which we could smell simmering on the stove.  So we were first up for their hand-made linguine with clam sauce.  I can still taste and smell those garlic-y clams in my memory, all these years later.......Travel tip:  And this incident also served as our education to order whatever the hand-made pasta of the day was ~ (simple, right??)  because in every restaurant in Italy they make some, if not all of it, fresh every day.

You can see for yourself that the same restaurant that looks like this ~ when we get our antipasto course @ 8:00 ~ 

~ Looks like this as we are finishing our dessert @ 10:00.  

In Paris, we found the same thing.  Remember, someone is there cooking long before the doors open.  Many times, especially in those smaller Ma & Pa restaurants, they are happy to have an early seating that they recognize will not impact their reservations or their regulars, 'cause they know we'll be long gone before they arrive.

We slipped in first-in-line at this little Trattoria in Paris, where Ma did all the cooking, and Pa handled the front of the house -- including taking orders, serving, and clearing, all without missing a beat. (The food, by the way, was fantastic!).  Our food is already ordered, while they are just now looking over the menu.

Pictures with the chef?  Invites to tour the kitchen?

In Tuscany, Italy ~

~ In Segovia, Spain ~ 

I confess to being authentically interested in the food, the culture, and the people.  I always have my little camera along, and, once we order, I slip away from the table to take a few photos for my Trip Advisor reviews (which I'm religious about doing). When I ask if this is OK, can I shoot a few photos to go along with my review........well, let's just say that many times I get more than I ask for.  I am convinced, though, that if I tried this as a "gimmick", it would no longer being effective.  People who love what they do appreciate authentic appreciation.  Lucky for me, that's one of my strongest qualities.

Sometimes we get turned away, but not often.  Then we use my One Last Travel Tip:  The Trip Advisor Ap for mobile phones, where Mr. C can pull up, "Top rated restaurants -- Near me now", and off we go.  We'll walk a mile or more for a good dinner.  And we're usually always glad we did.


  1. Genius. In some ways, Tabletops are perishable goods like airline seats. And if ya get the first table of the night, they've gotta see that as a freebie. It's brilliant

    1. You are correct about that, Jeff. And in many countries, they don't "turn tables" like we do here in America. Italy, for one; Spain, too; and even in Australia ~ you have that table for the evening. We had to practically break their arm to bring us a check. It's not considered polite to run you off before midnight. So this concept, accidentally learned, but now well-practiced, has served us (pardon the pun) very well.

  2. Such great advise and so many fabulous photos! Nice to know this as there really are so many places that the prime time is already booked.

    1. It's something we've learned by experience ~ sort of by accident ~ but it continues to serve us well!


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