This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Menton general manager Alec Riveros has been with the restaurant since December of 2009, months before it actually opened in April of 2010. During that time he was busy hiring and training the staff for Barbara Lynch's Fort Point fine dining establishment, which recently became Boston's only to earn Relais & Châteaux status. Previously, he worked at Clio, Mistral, Excelsior, and Aujourd'hui at the Four Seasons. Eater spoke with Riveros about how the award has changed things and about one highly unusual request.
What's the busiest time of the week? Certainly Saturday. Just from an operational standpoint, Saturday is the day that we focus most of our time and our energy and our resources towards.
Is it mostly reservations? I would say that 98% of the guests that dine with us are guests that have made reservations. We do accept walk-ins but the majority of what we see in terms of guests dining with us are guests that have made reservations.
If someone in that 2% showed up on a Saturday night, how long would they wait? It really depends on the time that they arrive. If they arrive at 5:30 we would probably be able to accommodate them right away. If they were to arrive in the middle of the evening it would just be a matter of how creative we could be to accommodate them. It's a puzzle: the restaurant is 16 tables so we're not a big restaurant, not a huge dining room, and it's a matter of being really creative of how we can shift the reservations to be able to accommodate walk-ins. We won't say you'll have to wait an hour for the table, we'll either accommodate them as soon as they come in, maybe they can have a cocktail in the lounge for a couple minutes, and we'll tell them listen, we can accommodate you now, if not we can accommodate you later in the evening.
How far in advance do people make reservations? For Saturday evenings we begin to take reservations two months out, and it's not uncommon to get calls on the anniversary date of that two month advance. So people will call two months in advance on the date of us opening reservations. Not for every day, but certainly for the Saturdays we do get calls two months in advance.
How would you describe your clientele? So the restaurant is obviously a fine dining restaurant, and we do see a combination of both corporate and social dining here. During the week we see a lot of the clientele that comes from the Financial District. Business dinners, business dinners that are entertaining clients, and then on the flip side we see a lot of social dining - birthdays, anniversaries, special celebrations - and a lot of people who are just curious about food, foodies, gourmands that want to experiment and see what chef Colin and chef Barbara's food is all about. What's very interesting to see, and it's not something that I've seen at previous restaurants where I've worked, is that it's not uncommon to see on a Monday or a Tuesday people coming in doing business, and some of those same people come back on a Friday or Saturday with their friends or family for a social dinner.
Do they seem different then? Oh certainly. They're a lot more relaxed, comfortable. There's a different reason why they're in the dining room, they're really here to enjoy their company.
Any celebrities? We've had our share of celebrities. Most recently we had Julie Chen and Aisha Tyler from the TV show The Talk, and that was the night of the Back Bay blackout, so they were thrilled to be in Fort Point with power. We had one of the band members from Kiss join us recently and that was fun for the staff, to have somebody iconic like him in the restaurant.
Do people tend to mispronounce "Menton?" Oh of course. "Mentin's." We hear it all, and we're not in a position to necessarily correct our guests, but if they ask us, it's Menton. Probably the easiest way to remember is think of "wonton."
So, what's the strangest request that you've accommodated? Okay, so this is probably the most recent one, and we were happy to accommodate. We had a gentleman that was dining here with his family. He was celebrating I think his 90th or maybe 91st birthday, and his entire meal had to be prepared in a puree form. And I'll leave it at that. We go for the ride, we're not here to tell our guests how to enjoy their food.
What's the most popular dish right now? We have three different preparations of foie gras. They're all very different, it's one of the courses that's always on our tasting menu and it's one of the options on the four-course prix fixe, so I would say probably one of the many preparations that we serve of foie gras. We do a terrine, we do a torchon and we do a seared foie gras, and between those three, almost every table has at least one preparation.
When you're not at Menton, where are you eating these days? Gee, there are a number of places that I enjoy going to. There's a place in Brookline called Washington Square Tavern that I enjoy going to, of course Silvertone is always the industry hangout for anybody from this part of town. I'd say probably those two are the after-hours hangout places, or sometimes on my day off where I would go to just not have to have a fancy meal.
Have things changed since Relais & Châteaux? Probably the biggest change since Relais & Châteaux, and it wasn't necessarily due to Relais & Châteaux, but we've completely changed our menu format. We've moved from a traditional tasting menu that lists all of the courses, and essentially we're listing thirteen or fourteen different ingredients the chef is really excited about using and incorporating those ingredients into a tasting menu. I think that's the biggest change we've made to the restaurant and really the reason behind it is to create a more exciting, more diverse, more whimsical, more spontaneous dining experience and for it to not be so "okay, we're going to have this course, then this course..." There's an element of surprise to the menu.