There is an actual book at Café Carmellini where they keep a daily log of all reservations. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Café Carmellini

The One Who Keeps the BookNew York

How to Get Into Café Carmellini


Café Carmellini, which opened in November inside the luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel, has already gained a reputation for its “Gilded Age splendor” and “Old World opulence.” It also has the distinction of being the first restaurant from celebrated and prolific chef Andrew Carmellini — he of The Dutch, Bar Primi, Locanda Verde, Lafayette, and Carne Mare fame — to bear his last name.

When Carmellini first opened the restaurant, he told us he was committed to proving that fine dining isn’t dead anymore, and especially not in New York. That becomes very clear with a look at the menu: There’s lobster cannelloni with osetra caviar, squab en croute, and veal tongue Castelluccio, all of it served atop crisp white tablecloths, attended by some of the city’s best front-of-house team. Now, fresh off of two glowing reviews, Café Carmellini is one of the toughest reservations to come by in the city.

That’s where we come in. Robert Banat, the maître d’hotel, has worked in a long list of some of the city’s finest dining institutions; think the original Four Seasons and, most recently, Le Coucou. In this edition of The One Who Keeps The Books, we sat down with him to talk about the importance of service, the best seats in the house, and of course, how you can get a table.

Resy: When do reservations drop on Resy?

Banat: At 9 a.m, 14 days prior.

And how quickly are they usually getting booked up?

Sometimes within less than 10 minutes, particularly at prime times.

What are those prime times?

We’ll get a strong push around 6 or 6:15 p.m. Actually, even 5:30 p.m. can be quite strong for us here. Then, again, starting around 8:30 or 9 p.m.

Got it. Are you saving any room for walk-ins?

We are not. But we do try to accommodate anyone who might come in without a reservation; we will assess the possibility. We’ll add them to a waiting list. But if everyone with a reservation on a typical night shows up, we’re sold out for the evening.

We’re always helpful and we always try our best, and it does work out sometimes. I do encourage guests, if they’re curious, to pop in if we’re open. Sometimes good karma follows, and that table will happen.

How many seats do you have inside the restaurant total?


Does that include the bar?

No; we do have a bar with seven seats, but the bar is a wonderful place for our guests who have dinner reservations to sit while they’re waiting for their table or for other guests to arrive.

What You Need to Know

Robert Banat, Café Carmellini’s maître d’hotel, mans the book. Photo by William Abranowicz, courtesy of Café Carmellini

Plan Ahead: Reservations drop 14 days in advance at 9 a.m.

The Layout: There are 108 seats inside, with seven bar seats reserved only for guests with reservations who are waiting for a table.

Walk On In: Well, sadly, you can’t. If everyone shows up for their reservation, the restaurant is sold out for the evening. That being said, they’ll do their best to accommodate you if they can.

The restaurant has a total of 108 seats, with a few balcony-level tables overlooking the main dining room below. Photo by William Abranowicz, courtesy of Café Carmellini

Must-Orders: Everything on the menu, says the staff. But if we had to give you some pointers: Italian chicory insalata (while it’s in season); veal tongue Castelluccio; rabbit cacciatore; and grapefruit sorbetto.

Pro Tip: If you’re having a drink at The Portrait Bar, try your luck by chatting with the maître d’, Robert, at the café on your way out, and asking for a reservation for an upcoming night.

Got it. And are you using the Notify feature? How long does that Notify list typically get?

Yes, we are. I recommend it for anyone who can’t find the reservation that they want. We do reserve 14 days out, but let’s say someone wanted a reservation for tonight and they are reaching out at the last moment — sometimes that last-minute inquiry can yield the best results.

Each night is different, but I would say there are usually at least 300 to 500 people [on the list].

All that being said, what’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone hoping to get a table?

A couple of things: If you’re one of those people who are waiting for that 9 a.m. drop, 14 days prior with your Resy app, you can almost always get the table that you want on the evening that you want. I also recommend adding yourself to the Notify list last minute, too.

We’ve had guests pop in sometimes during dinner hours just to inquire, or make a connection with me personally, and have an opportunity to explore the possibility of a reservation. We’ve had guests who are joining us at our Portrait Bar, which is a beautiful place (we also highly recommend guests make reservations there) and, as they’re leaving and walking through the restaurant, they may ask, “Can you take us next Tuesday for a party of two?” If the timing is right, I can always explore the possibilities and, oftentimes, they walk out with the reservation.

Can you take me through the menu? What should people order?

I think for all of us it’s not about one dish over the other. The way that the menu is designed is very personal to the chef. As you know, this is the first time in all of the chef’s career that his name is on the front door and on the menu. Each dish that’s on the menu is not just there for the reason of creating a balanced menu. It’s personal.

Each dish has a sense of nostalgia or some kind of inspiration or experience that the chef has had previously. Not every guest is aware of that while they’re dining, and I think it’s great if they allow the captains to share with them and guide them while they’re here — just leave it in our hands. We will always do our best to make sure that guests have that perfect order. Whatever that is for them.

Set the scene for us. What’s the energy like on a Saturday at 6:30 p.m.?

It’s electric. I’m taking it for granted because I’m sitting in the room right now. The restaurant has a main dining room area with the majority of our seating, but we also have this incredible balcony with semi-private tables. It’s the same menu offered, the same service offered, but there are seven tables up there for parties of two all the way up to parties of six. They’re like the opera booths at Lincoln Center. You’re still part of the experience and the energy in the room, but you also have a sense of privacy and intimacy.

Guests can request balcony seating. We always do our best to accommodate all requests.

Scallops Cardoz are an homage to celebrated late chef Floyd Cardoz. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Café Carmellini
Oysters à la pomme. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Café Carmellini
Squab en croute. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Café Carmellini
Duck duck duck tortellini. Photo by Evan Sung, courtesy of Café Carmellini

A little more personally, can you tell me about your background in the industry and how you ended up in this role?

Certainly. I’ve been working in this industry for many years, and I’ve been very fortunate to have worked in some of the more well-known restaurants in New York, going back to even the original Four Seasons restaurant where I was a tuxedoed captain in the pooled dining room.

I was working for Keith McNally at Balthazar, and I was the opening manager at Minetta Tavern. I ran the executive dining room for Sony Music for many years.

My résumé is quite long, but I’ll make it brief. Most recently before here, I was the maître d’ at Le Coucou for several years. I worked with Josh Pickard, one of the partners here, on two other previous projects. We were talking last summer, and he said, “Let’s have coffee.” And now I’m here.

So this is not your first rodeo in any sense of the word.

No, no, no — I can show you the bruised knees! I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve worked in a range of different restaurants, mostly of this level of fine dining in various roles, as a general manager and as a maître d’ quite often as well.

You’ll find chef Andrew Carmellini behind the pass most nights at his first namesake restaurant. Photo by William Abranowicz, courtesy of Café Carmellini
You’ll find chef Andrew Carmellini behind the pass most nights at his first namesake restaurant. Photo by William Abranowicz, courtesy of Café Carmellini

As somebody who has such a history with fine dining, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of the maître d’ role in creating the best dining experience.

I like that question, because I think that term, ‘maître d,’’ is used quite broadly. It basically speaks about the function of someone at the podium at the entrance of a restaurant.

It’s about ensuring that guests are greeted, seated on time, and making sure that reservations are taken care of, but I think in the more traditional sense and, in many of the restaurants that I’ve worked in previously, the maître d’ is the one who has a pulse on the vibe and the energy of the restaurant on any given night. It can vary from evening to evening, even in a restaurant like this. It’s also being able to identify people even if you don’t know who they are, or if you haven’t met them before for yourself.

I’ve been fortunate that even in these restaurants there’s a great percentage of guests who are joining us here that know me from other projects that I’ve worked on. It’s wonderful and that automatically gives them a sense of assurance that there’s someone here that they know and someone who will take care of them. It’s important to be able to share that experience, with that kind of welcome, with every guest that walks in here.

The term fine dining and, in this context here, sometimes it can seem intimidating to someone. Yes, I have a role and a title, but it’s the humanities, the personal connection that gives me the greatest joy. I also think that that’s one of the things that I can bring to the guests’ experience that makes Café Carmellini a special place to dine.

Is there anything else that you think is really important for people to know before they come in?

This dining experience here is not rushed for any guests. It’s meant to be luxurious, celebratory, and fun, for certain.

How many times in restaurants is there that table that no one wants to sit at? That’s not the case here. Every table has a perfect view. The acoustics are amazing. We have beautiful trees lining the center of the dining room.

And the staff! The thing that’s most impressive is that as we are walking through the room, we’re seeing guests, delivering food to tables, pouring wine, and serving drinks behind the bar. The space just allows the energy to flow. It’s such a great space to work in. The kitchen opens into the dining room space, so you can see chef Carmellini on any given night. He’s at the pass and he’s working and cooking, and I think it’s also symbolic of how personal this is for him.


Café Carmellini is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.

Ellie Plass is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow her on Instagram and X (formerly Twitter). Follow Resy, too.