New York

Chef Hillary Sterling (right) inside one of Ci Siamo’s open kitchens. Chef Claudia Fleming (far left) is in charge of Ci Siamo’s dessert program. Photo by Giada Paoloni, courtesy of Ci Siamo

The One Who Keeps the BookNew York

How to Get into New York’s Ci Siamo, and What to Order

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The latest opening from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, Ci Siamo (which translates to “here we are” or “we’ve finally arrived” in Italian) has been drawing crowds to the Manhattan West Plaza — a new development located between Moynihan Train Hall and Hudson Yards — since opening in October. And now that chef Hillary Sterling (who previously helmed the kitchen at Vic’s) has been named a James Beard semifinalist (Best Chef: New York State) for her take on simple, wood-fired Italian cooking, a table is bound to become even more coveted.

Still haven’t been? Fret not — you’re in the right place.

Welcome back to The One Who Keeps The Book, a regular series that aims to answer all the most important questions about how to get into a restaurant. The first answer is Resy, of course. But every restaurant manages its tables differently and there are always tips, tricks, and shortcuts to be discovered. So here, we go straight to the source to get them for you.

Over at Ci Siamo, that person would be general manager Megan Sullivan. Here, she divulges all the insider intel you need, including how to navigate that Notify List.

The bar at Ci Siamo. Photo by Read McKendree, courtesy of Ci Siamo
The bar at Ci Siamo. Photo by Read McKendree, courtesy of Ci Siamo
Ci Siamo general manager Megan Sullivan.

Resy: How many seats are there at Ci Siamo?
Sullivan: We have 120 seats in our dining room and 33 seats in our bar and lounge area.

When do reservations drop on Resy?
We open our reservations 28 days in advance, at 12 noon each day.

How quickly do those usually get booked out?
Right now, it’s been a matter of hours. We’ve been very, very lucky. Maybe three to five hours or so. By five o’clock each day, our reservations for the next 28 days out are pretty much full.

How many seats are usually kept open for walk-ins?
We keep our entire bar and lounge area open for walk-ins. There are approximately 13 bar stools and then about 20 seats in the lounge area. And throughout the night, we have a few tables where we often can squeeze in walk-ins, especially early on, and some at the later end of the night. And we keep a waitlist throughout the night also.

What time would you recommend stopping by to snag one of those tables reserved for walk-ins?
Right at 5 or 5:30 is the best time. [Though] on Saturdays, the bar and lounge fill up really quickly early on, with people going to shows and so forth. And then, normally around 9:15 or 9:30 p.m., some people leave earlier than expected, and the lounge starts to have more availability. So, during either of those times you have a better chance of getting a table.

During peak hours, what’s the typical wait time for a walk-in?
It obviously depends on the day, but right about now we generally run between 30 minutes and an hour or so. We’ve got quite a few places that have opened up in the plaza. So, if our bar and lounge is full, then people head out somewhere else nearby for a drink. We send a text when the table’s ready.

The lounge. Photo by Read McKendree, courtesy of Ci Siamo
The Ci Siamo Martini. Photo by Giada Paoloni, courtesy Ci Siamo

When are your busiest nights?
We joke that every night feels like Saturday right now. We just opened for Monday nights, which has been really great, so that more people can have an opportunity to come. We’ve been very, very lucky.

How many covers do you do on a given night?
Around 250 or so — around twice throughout the dining room. Again, it depends on the day and how much foot traffic we have early and late, but it’s usually around 250.

How long is the Resy Notify list usually?
It’s been pretty, pretty big in the first few months of opening. On Friday and Saturday nights, there are around 1,300 people on the Notify list. It varies, of course, throughout the week. But it’s been big. I go through the books very regularly and open up slots where I can, if I see some opportunity to move a few things around. So quite often, a few days out from the date, if you are on the Notify list, and especially if you have alerts on, something available will pop up as we get closer to the day.

If someone were to set a Notify for Ci Siamo on Resy, is there a certain day or time they’d be most likely to get a reservation?
A few days out, and even the day of, around mid-morning is when I do a final look-through of the reservations and move things around and make sure as many table requests as possible are accommodated for. So, that’s often when the last opportunity to get that Notify reservation will come up. And I’ll open up any available slots that might be there. And then quite often on the day of, quite a few things pop up when I’m doing those final touches earlier in the day.

Any other tips or tricks you have for getting a table?
Walking in is a great one. We’re very grateful for anyone that comes in to ask for a reservation, and we’re more than happy to accommodate as much as we possibly can. We’re also opening up for lunches in March, from Tuesday through Saturday. So that’s going to open up more time slots to come and join us during the daytime.

I noticed your website has very detailed directions. Do people often have trouble finding Ci Siamo?
Yes. I mean, look, this is a fairly new area of town, and the plaza just opened late last year. Navigating the plaza itself to get to our front door, depending on which direction or entrance you’re coming from, sometimes takes a little more guidance. Once you’ve found us once, though, it’s very easy to find.

Of all the places to sit in the restaurant, what do you think is the best seat in the house?
I really love being close to the kitchens. We have two open layout kitchens, and I really love the tables where you can really feel that energy and action. There are some booths near the kitchen in the back area of the dining room, where you can really feel all that energy, so that’s probably the best space in the house. And it’s still got a nice cozy corner so you can be intimate with the guests that you’re there with.

The wood-fired trout. Photo by Giada Paoloni, courtesy of Ci Siamo
Ci Siamo’s tagliatelle with tomato and buffalo butter (right) was inspired by Marcella Hazan’s famous three-ingredient tomato sauce. Photo by Giada Paoloni, courtesy of Ci Siamo

What about personally? If you were eating at Ci Siamo, where would you want to sit?
At our bar, we have this really beautiful little bump-out; it’s a little curved area at the corner of the bar, which seats two to three people perfectly. You’re facing the entire restaurant, but you also feel the energy of the bar and lounge. It’s a great spot to feel the energy from both the spaces.

It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene for us?
First of all, it’s full, full, full, of energy. There’s a real buzz throughout the restaurant, the smell of the wood-fired oven is really present, cocktails are being made, and so forth. Obviously, the kitchen is really busy at that time, and our bar and lounge is definitely full as well. That’s normally the time where I turn the music up just a little as well to fill that space.

What kind of music do you play?
Music is really important to chef Hillary and me, and we worked really hard to find the perfect balance of soulful, Italian and European-inspired [music], with some hints of blues and songs that feel familiar, but really comfortable, and also just fun.

What would you say is the best time to visit?
5 p.m. is really a wonderful time. We have really big windows that let a lot of light in. So, when you first arrive, the space is filled with light, and there’s a sense of calm throughout the restaurant that doesn’t really resurface until the next day. And then when you’re here throughout the evening, you know around 6:30 or 6:45 p.m., the restaurant is completely full, and you also get all of that buzz and liveliness. So, you get the best of both worlds.

For someone going to Ci Siamo for the first time, what should they order?
Something definitely not to miss is the pizza bianca, which is this really wonderful aperitivi with anchovies, and salsa verde. That with a Negroni is the perfect way to begin your experience at Ci Siamo. The Ci Siamo Martini is really special; we bring it out with a little sidecar, some extra martini for that last sip when you just feel like a little more. The pastas are definitely something not to miss. My favorite right now is the potato topini with mint and almonds. And we just added a new pasta, stracci with rabbit, which is really perfect for this time of year. And then the whole trout which is done in the wood oven, stuffed with mustard greens and croutons with the mushrooms as the entree is the perfect way to finish the savory courses. And then the two desserts that are a must are the lemon torta which is just incredible, with meringue and a little lemon olive oil, and then the hazelnut gelato. They have to hide that from me in the freezer now because it’s too good not to snack on.

The onion torta. Photo by Giada Paoloni, courtesy of Ci Siamo.
The onion torta. Photo by Giada Paoloni, courtesy of Ci Siamo.

Do you have a personal favorite dish and drink?
The onion torta is probably my favorite. I remember the first time that I tasted it; the flavors of the caramelized cipollini onions and the pecorino pie crust were just a wow moment for me. That with the Ci Siamo Martini. I think the martini is probably one of the best ones that I’ve had. It’s the perfect pairing between chef Hillary’s food and our bar manager Matt Chavez’s cocktails. It really embodies what we’re about.

You mentioned people coming to have dinner before a show. Who makes up your typical clientele?
Obviously, people [come in] before going to a show at Madison Square Garden, or in the Theater District. But we’ve also had a lot of people who have followed chef Hillary throughout the years come to see the next evolution of her culinary expression. And there are a lot of people who follow Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants, who really love the service and hospitality we give and want to try the newest one. And it’s been great to see a lot of familiar faces I used to see at The Modern. Manhattan West is also an area which has a lot of people who are starting to get back to the office and looking for that place to call home at 5 or 6 p.m.

What would you say differentiates chef Hillary’s approach to Italian cooking in a town where there are many Italian restaurants?
She has a confidence about her Italian cooking which is not necessarily region-specific, but really embodies the Italian culture as a whole. She’s not afraid of a little bit of acid, a little bit of spice and heat, a little bit of intensity of flavors, that I think can be a little bit more muted in more traditional Italian cuisine. I haven’t yet worked with a chef this passionate about how food and beverage come together, and that Italian culture of them belonging together.

 

Ci Siamo is open Mondays to Fridays from noon to 2:30 p.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m., and on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.

 

Lauren Vespoli is a New York-based freelance journalist who has contributed to The New York Times, Vox, Atlas Obscura, and more. Follow her on Twitter. Follow Resy, too.