Embrace the Hot Restaurant Dupe

Embrace the Hot Restaurant Dupe

Many years ago a crowd-averse friend taught me a valuable lesson: Why wait hours to get into a hot restaurant when you could walk right into a less popular restaurant of roughly equal value? This is how I came to love Pizza Moto.

Pizza Moto, now a mobile pizza caterer, turns out incredible Neapolitan pies and was my replacement for Roberta’s. And ever since, I’ve believed that almost every high-end, impossible-to-get-into, give-up-your-first-born-for-a-reservation restaurant has a dupe. (For those unfamiliar with dupe-ology, it’s the study of equally high-quality substitutes for popular products.)

In his recent story in The New Yorker, Adam Iscoe writes that “bots, mercenaries and table scalpers have turned the restaurant reservation system inside out.” He details the extreme lengths diners and scalpers are willing to go to get into Sailor, Roscioli, the Polo Bar, Tatiana, Carbone, Torrisi and others. It’s perfectly fine to keep the dream of dining at Don Angie alive, but I’m here to say that restaurant reservations are not like Beyoncé concerts. They aren’t coming to your city for one night only. And rather than buy into the false scarcity, buy into the dupe lifestyle.

The only way a normie can get a reservation at the Polo Bar on East 55th Street is by calling the restaurant at 10 a.m., which usually means being put on hold for a not insignificant amount of time. If you secure one, you’ll walk into a warmly lit dining room filled with leather booths and more horse portraits than the Kentucky Derby Museum. The menu skews American chophouse classics. (A chophouse in New York City? Groundbreaking.) And don’t forget to dress smartly!

Or you could go to South Street Seaport and dine at Carne Mare, Andrew Carmellini’s attractive surf-and-turf restaurant. It also has, conveniently, large leather booths, wonderful service and Italian-leaning takes on chophouse classics. You can get a reservation just about any time, and it comes with a lovely view of the East River and the Wavetree, the last iron-hulled, fully rigged three-masted iron sailing ship in the world. Order the veal chop, the Wagyu filet, the house “wedgini” salad with pancetta dressing, and the layered chocolate cake for dessert.

Carne Mare 89 South Street, Pier 17 (F.D.R. Drive)

The primary reason that this Lincoln Center restaurant (and Pete Wells’s No. 1 restaurant in the city) is impossible to get into is because it’s so very small. Tatiana is built for pre-symphony dining, not for the kind of Battle Royale-style reservations game more common in Lower Manhattan.

Finding a Tatiana dupe wasn’t easy, because the restaurant’s menu is so unique, blending elements of Caribbean, Black American and African cooking in entertainingly delicious ways. But I would say that the French-Senegalese restaurant Cafe Rue Dix in Crown Heights comes close. It’s eclectic enough to have beignets, Senegalese spring rolls and Spanish-style grilled shrimp on the menu, but serious enough to serve a multicourse menu of Senegalese specialties like thiebou jen (stewed red snapper with jollof rice) and thiebou yapp (braised lamb shank over broken rice).

Cafe Rue Dix 1451 Bedford Avenue (Park Place)

At this point, saying that you ate at Carbone has become more important than the meal itself. No one talks about what they ate at Carbone, just that they were in there and you weren’t and isn’t that kind of sad for you?

Of course I might dine at Carbone one day, but experience has taught me that variations of what it’s selling — modernized, high-end takes on red sauce favorites — are widely available in New York City. Just look at Frank (chicken Parm, baby!), Cafe Spaghetti, Bamonte’s, Cafe Fiorello and countless others. And at the end of the day if it’s the air of exclusivity that draws you to a restaurant, are you really a true restaurant lover at all?

Frank 88 Second Avenue (East Fifth Street)

Cafe Spaghetti 126 Union Street (Columbia Street)

Bamonte’s 32 Withers Street (Union Avenue)

Cafe Fiorello 1900 Broadway (West 64th Street)

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