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 hard-to-get tables.
Alexis Lanman. [Photo: Jon Bolden]
La Condesa is Rene Ortiz and Jesse Herman's modern Mexican restaurant in the bustling Second Street District. As management prepares to open a second location in the Napa Valley, event director Alexis Lanman is taking names and seating guests back home. Below, she talks about her favorite La Condesa meal, the historic landmark dining room under the restaurant, and the time Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top bought a round of tequila shots for the whole restaurant.
It's 8 PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table?
It depends on the size of your party, but generally you are looking at about an hour and a half wait without a reservation. Both our patio and bar are open seating and serve the full menu, though.
What about earlier in the night?
Earlier in the night is usually easier because the open seating sections haven't filled up yet, so if you can arrive around 6pm we generally seat you right away.
Do people ever try to slip you cash or anything for tables?
Some guests definitely try, but we are working with such a tight logistics puzzle that it wouldn't be worth the anxiety to accept a cash gift. It would really throw a wrench in the whole system.
How many seats are in the space?
100 inside, 40 outside, 20 in the bar.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
The best customers are the ones that let us facilitate the experience — for example, we have so many large party inquiries but it is really tough to seat large groups on busy nights. So, if you know have a large party, contact me ahead of time and arrange for one of our prix fixe family style menus. They are a fantastic way to experience our menu and pretty much the only way to get a reservation for a large group on most nights. We also have our amazing underground vault which is a historic landmark that can seat up to 20.
Do you get a lot of celebrities?
We do! Between ACL and SXSW we get a lot of celebrity diners — Robert Rodriguez is a regular, The Strokes eat here every-time they are in town, Jessica Alba was a regular when she was filming here, Kings of Leon, Edward Norton, Spoon. The Strokes joked around with us that they wanted the album cover for their most recent release to be the Mexico City 1968 Olympics poster that we have hanging by the bathrooms.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables left to give? We generally know ahead of time from our publicists or from the owners if we have a guest coming in that needs some extra special love, otherwise the wait is the same for everyone. It's really important to us to be egalitarian about waits.
What's the most outrageous request from a customer that you could accommodate?
Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top bought a round of tequila shots for the entire restaurant after having the servers coerce all of the guests to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to his buddy for his birthday. It was pretty awesome.
...that you couldn't accommodate?
A walk-in 17 top on a Saturday at 8:00PM.
What's your favorite seat in the house?
If I have to choose it would be booth 32, it's cozy but also has a view out the windows. I always sit on the side that looks out on the mural as well.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
I can't pick one thing so I'll give you my favorite meal. Starting with the Tuna Tostadas, Ceviche Aguachile, and the Huitlacoche Huarache. Then it's a toss up between the Chile Relleno and Costillas de Puerco. Platanos and Ejotes — green beans — to accompany. For dessert, pretty much anything, because they are all phenomenal. If we are running great specials I will generally go that route and not order off the regular menu at all.
Where else do you like to eat around town?
I am all over the place. Justine's, Parkside, Mullberry is fantastic for a glass of wine after work, I adore Botticelli's. Your Mom's Burgers is down the street from my house so I have been getting really into that. Me So Hungry banh mi sandwiches behind Cheer Up Charlie's are a staple in my life. I'm obsessed with The Whip In because it's so cute, and then obviously places like Uchi, Uchiko.
· All La Condesa Coverage on Eater Austin [-EATX-]