The One Who Keeps the Book San Francisco
How to Get a Table at Ernest
Since opening its doors, Ernest has been one of the most elusive reservations in San Francisco. The restaurant by Brandon Rice, a former chef at Rich Table, features powerfully flavorful, globally-inspired dishes using the best of the Bay Area’s bounty — think fried rice with English peas, green garlic, and wood-eared mushrooms; and a bright green spring crudité platter with Thai curry green goddess. The restaurant also has one of the best tasting menu deals in town with its Let The Kitchen Cook For You option.
We sat down with its General Manager, James Uryu, to let you in on all the insider tips, including his favorite seats, the music playlist, and the best time to set a Notify.
Resy: How many seats are there at Ernest?
Uryu: Including the PDR, there’s about 65 or 70, depending on how we maximize tables. This doesn’t include seats at the bar, which there are 11.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
So we release them on a rolling schedule. They are opened 30 days prior. Basically, every single day, one day gets released. They get released at midnight currently.
How quickly do seats get booked out?
It depends on the day of the week. Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays are far more sought after. We’re probably at three-quarters capacity within five to seven days, and we’re usually full within 10 days.
Are any of the seats in the restaurant held for walk-ins?
The only seats we hold for walk-ins are the seats at the bar.
What time would you recommend stopping by to snag one of the walk-in seats?
It really depends on the day. On the weekends, on the earlier side. But because of the neighborhood there’s not a ton of foot traffic, so during the weekdays showing up at 6:30 or 7, you can usually get a seat within 20-30 minutes, showing up at peak time.
During peak time, what is the typical wait time for a walk-in?
I would say usually no longer than an hour. Even on the weekends, coming in on 6:30-7, some seats free up within the hour. There are really great bars in the neighborhood — places like Trick Dog and True Laurel — those are great places to grab a quick drink while you wait.
When are your busiest nights?
Friday and Saturday for sure. But Sundays have been busy because a lot of restaurants are closed, so we get a ton of business from industry. It might be our busiest day at the bar in terms of walk-in availability, which is great for us.
How long is your Notify list on average?
Most nights it’s somewhere around 130 on average.
If someone were to set a Notify for Ernest on Resy, is there a certain day or time they’d be most likely to get a reservation?
The best time — because of our cancellation policy — is two days prior to the reservation, at noon. We send a confirmation text two hours before that. So somewhere around 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. two days before the given date. A lot of times if somebody’s schedule has changed, that’s usually when you’ll see things open up.
Of all the places to sit in the restaurant, what do you think is the best seat in the house?
For me? I love sitting at the bar. We have the locally made Heath tiles. It’s well lit. It’s much more lively, and the vibe we set out to make. It’s casual and yet you’re still surprised by everything that comes out. Our bartenders are great and I really feel like it’s a great vantage point to see everything that we do. That’s my personal favorite.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene for us?
The bar is packed. The music is lively. Brandon loves his classic 80s rock. There’s a casual but fun and elevated experience—his food obviously seems as though it’s very adventurous, but he has a way of presenting things that are approachable. People are laughing. Having a good time. Chatting with our staff. We have a comfortable neighborhood vibe. Grilled leeks are being sauced tableside and chocolate being poured tableside on soft serve. People are celebrating and having a good time.
Speaking of music, what kind is played inside the restaurant?
It really depends on the time of day. We do shift the type of music. We’ll start off with classic 80s rock. A decent amount of Prince and upbeat stuff. As it gets later in the evening, it gets a little bit more 90s and 2000s hiphop. A little bit more modern — our clientele gets a little bit younger as the night goes on.
For someone going to Ernest for the first time, what should they order?
The best answer is letting us cook for you. I know it sounds like an easy answer but you see all the things—Brandon’s greatest hits. You’ll see a good amount of stuff from our raw bar—the oysters are so great right now. The sushi rice with beef tartare, salmon roe and nori, it’s obviously a fun way to look at sushi done with beef tartare and getting to make your own handrolls. Every time it’s so delicious. And his tonkatsu—it’s always great and fun. We usually have some kind of pork dish on the menu. Right now we’re getting whole pigs from Olivier and butcher them in house. It’s always a fun, playful comforting yet adventurous dish. And the soft serve — that one is a no brainer with the chocolate magic shell.
Omar Mamoon is a San Francisco-based writer & cookie dough professional. Find him at @ommmar.