Is this a sign of growing old or growing up? Normally in Manhattan any dinner reservation available before 7 (unless it's pre-theater) is to be scorned, then negotiated and/or surreptitiously paid for with bills bearing obscure presidents. However, the Accidental Locavore has recently been in some wonderful restaurants eating fabulous food, and will now spill the beans on why we shouldn't scorn early bird tables.
When you enter a restaurant at 5:30 or 6, there's no waiting as you generally walk into an empty bar, followed by an uninhabited room. You will have the full attention of the coat check person, the bartender, host or hostess and the full front and back of house staff. It will be easy to spot your friends as they're likely to be the only other people not in uniform.
You have the opportunity to sit, relax, peruse the menu and then have a conversation with a well-informed waiter who will help you put together an appealing mix of appetizers and entrees. The music isn't overwhelming and conversation flows.
Then, since the kitchen isn't yet in the weeds, you will enjoy food that was prepared with care, nicely plated and carefully served. Your knowledgeable waiter has time to explain what's in front of you, and even better, what's in the sauce that is making you gasp with pleasure.
He also has time to refill wine glasses and make suggestions about pairings that might be a tad more interesting with the courses to come.
And as everything comes to a close, you look around and realize that the restaurant has filled up, as have you, and you give up the table to those crowded in the vestibule waiting for that coveted 8:00 table.
The restaurant and 5:45 table that inspired this blog? Khe-Yo, on a recent Monday night. I could eat their version of pho for days (with an incredible hoisin, Sriracha, peanut sauce) and am going on a serious hunt for the bang-bang sauce recipe!
Many thanks to Peter for letting me use the beautiful photographs from Paul Wagtouicz (interior)and Noah Fecks (food)!
Follow Anne Maxfield on Twitter: www.twitter.com/alocavore