The One Who Keeps the Book New York
How to Get Into Cucina Alba
Freshly milled grains are the star of the delectable pastas and breads you’ll find at Cucina Alba, the latest restaurant from chef Adam Leonti and partners Cobi Levy and Will Makris of Prince Street Hospitality (Little Prince, Lola Taverna, and Lucali).
Cucina Alba, which opened at the end of summer in 2022 inside the eye-catching Lantern House residential building overlooking the High Line in Chelsea, has since become a see-and-be-seen destination for the art and design set, as well as carb enthusiasts hungry for Leonti’s breads and pastas, plus its tight menu of seafood, salads, and mains, all of which was inspired by trips to Italy. All of this combines to make it nearly impossible to get a reservation, especially at prime dinner hour.
Wondering how to get in? In this latest edition of The One Who Keeps The Book, we interview director of reservations, Jensen Turner, to get tips on how to get in, what to order once you’re there, and what’s on the horizon for the team in 2023.
Resy: How many seats are there at the restaurant?
Turner: So we have about 85 seats indoors, which are a combination of tables, eight seats at the bar, and a chef’s counter. When the weather turns a bit warmer, we’ll have 30 additional seats on the patio.
When guests make a reservation, can they choose where they want their seats?
Absolutely. So, the dining room is reservable and the chef’s counter is reservable, and when the patio opens that will be reservable. And then for bar seats, realistically, it’s mostly for walk-ins. The bar is not reservable online.
How about a particular table? Can someone request a certain table?
I definitely encourage guests to make a note of whether they’d like a corner seat or any details that can help us give them a better experience. We’re happy to accommodate it.
For the chef’s counter, is that a different menu?
It’s the same menu and so is the bar. The chef’s counter lets you look into the kitchen.
When do reservations open up?
We book on a rolling two weeks out, and reservations become available at midnight.
And how quickly do seats usually get booked?
I would say as soon as the date opens up, the majority is booked up. And then we do open a few more [reservations] as we get closer to that date.
So sometimes, trying to get a last-minute reservation might work out?
Yes, we often do get a lot of changes. We do like to have a pretty hefty Notify list that we reach out to if we do have any openings.
What You Need to Know
Plan Ahead: Reservations drop two weeks out at midnight.
The Layout: The walk-in only bar seats eight and has standing room, too; there are 85 seats at tables, and 30 patio seats during nicer weather.
Must-Orders: The agnolotti with black truffle is one of the most ordered dishes, along with the eggplant parmigiana appetizer. The focaccia is a must.
Walk On In: Get there between 5 and 6 p.m. to nab a seat at the bar or a no-show table.
Pro Tip: Arriving at 5 p.m. is your best chance of getting in without a reservation. The waitlist can get long, but if you’re lucky and willing to wait, you might be able to get in if someone cancels.
Prime Times: 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
You mentioned you hold seats at the bar for walk-ins, is there anything else that you keep for people without reservations?
We love walk-ins. We have the bar, which is available with the full menu for walk-ins, but we also do leave on a waitlist as well. So, pending any cancellations or no-shows if we have any availability, we’ll text people on the waitlist via Resy.
What time would you recommend walking in to nab a seat at the bar?
It’s really first come, first served. But the earlier, the better. We open at 5 p.m. so coming in early definitely helps. I’d say between 5 and 6 is when you have the most likely availability, but if you were to put your name in on the waitlist at any time, it’s really just a matter of cancellations or no-shows.
How long would you have to wait as a walk-in if you come in during prime time?
If they’re willing to have a quick dinner, and we can fit them in, we’re very happy to do that. But if it’s a fully booked night, it’s really hard to quote an exact wait time — it’s pretty spontaneous. But, I’d say anywhere from half-an-hour to two hours on our busy nights.
Is there a place where guests can have a cocktail while they’re waiting? Is there standing room at the bar?
If there are no seats at the bar, there’s definitely standing room. It’s a very open, spacious floor plan. So there’s definitely room to stand and grab a drink.
What would you say your busiest nights are?
Definitely Thursday through Saturday are our busiest. Wednesday also is similarly booked up.
What’s prime dinner time?
I would say 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
And what about the least busy?
Sunday and Monday are going to be our calmer days. 5 p.m. on Sunday or Monday is definitely the calmest.
Back to the Notify list: How long is it?
It’s about 1,200 to 1,500. It’s definitely a beast. But then, like a week out, we’ll have 500 or 600 on the Notify list, and then the night of, it’s like double.
If someone is trying to get in via Notify, is there a certain day or time that they are most likely to nab a seat that way?
Sunday and Monday, for sure. But it’s something we’re pretty on top of throughout the week, and things do change.
We look out two weeks ahead and if we do see things opening up, we’ll be reaching out as early as a week before, potentially just to fill in reservations. But it’s mostly the day before that we’d reach out, if cancellations come up. It’s very spontaneous.
Got it. How many covers do you typically do in a night?
I would say 250 to 260 is the average for winter. And then with the patio opening, we’ll probably do more in the realm of 350.
What do you think is the best seat in the house?
That’s a good question. I mean, I love the bar, personally, but I also think table 401 has a really great vantage point of all the happenings. You can you see people coming in from the door, and have a visual of the bar and kitchen. It’s a great table.
Do you have space for large groups, or a private dining room?
For parties of eight or more, we have a prix fixe menu and we have a really special table, a beautiful table in an area of the restaurant that can seat up to 10 people. It’s like a round booth where we can take larger groups. And then we also have an event space for semi-private and private dining for parties of 15 and up.
Do you have a lot of returning guests or regulars?
Yeah, we definitely have regulars. The restaurant itself is situated below the Lantern House, so we have a lot of built-in regulars just through that, but then also from the galleries and other guests who join us from the neighborhood. But definitely a lot of repeat guests.
How would someone become a regular?
I think we appreciate communication. We love to hear people’s preferences and take notes on that. It’s a matter of being able to cultivate relationships with guests who are excited by what we’re doing and that want to come back.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. What’s the scene? What’s the vibe?
Coming in, you’re greeted by a very open dining room. We’ve got some really great music on. Our playlist is very reminiscent of an Italian holiday: we have a lot of jazzy, Bossa Nova style music. There’s just a really good energy throughout the space; it’s got very soft yellow and coral tones, and it’s very light and airy. Even when the restaurant is fully seated, it’s very bustling; there’s still a very relaxed tone to the space. It’s a buzzing atmosphere, but there’s an unhurried, relaxed atmosphere that I think a lot of people come for.
So, nobody’s throwing back shots.
I mean, who knows? If that’s what a holiday means to them. But it’s definitely more of a wine and cocktail focus. It’s more people enjoying spirits like Negronis, or some of our Italian wines.
When, in your opinion, is the best time to be at the restaurant?
I like a quiet night. I’ve really loved Sundays and Mondays, when there is a calm energy.
Let’s talk about the food. What are some of the most popular dishes?
I would say the agnolotti with black truffle is probably one of the most popular, and so are the eggplant parmigiana and the focaccia. Chef Leonti is very bread focused, which translates really well. The focaccia is so, so amazing.
Awesome. And do you have a personal favorite dish?
I don’t want to be redundant, but you know, the favorites are a favorite for a reason! The eggplant parmigiana is really amazing. But in terms of a sleeper hit, it’s the short rib.
What sets these dishes apart?
There’s a layering to the eggplant parmigiana that’s really wonderful. And I think just the intention behind each dish really comes through and really tastes like it’s authentic. Like the agnolotti truly feels like a warm hug when you’re eating it.
And what about cocktails? Do you have any favorite cocktails?
Well, I personally don’t drink, but I hear the spritzes are really amazing — the Capri Spritz — or the Rosa in Bianco Negroni with mezcal and grapefruit.
Anything new happening at the restaurant you want to share?
Yes! On April 12, we’re opening Accanto, which is going to partly be a private event space in the back and a very crudi- and Italian wine-focused bar in the front.
Does it have its own entrance?
It will have its own entrance. The address for it will be 141 10th Avenue. And it’ll be a really great place for drinks and light bites after work or whenever. It’ll be open from 4 to 11 p.m. And we’ll be taking reservations there, too.
Nice, that’s exciting! Is there anything else that people should know before they go or any other tips for getting a reservation?
I think the Notify list is the best way to try to get a table, but also people can reach out to us via email. I would like to direct them to Resy, but if someone’s feeling super desperate, feel free to email us. We want to accommodate. If we’re able to, we are happy to do so.
Cucina Alba is open from 5 to 10 p.m. every day. Accanto will be open from 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Devorah Lev-Tov is a food, beverage, and travel journalist with bylines in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Eater, Vogue, and more. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two children, and senior shih-tzu. Follow her dining adventures (usually at a reasonable hour) on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.